Joe Hockey likes dancing to pop songs and smoking cigars while he formulates a budget to screw over the poor and the sick. But it’s only the budget that matters — the personal is not always political.
“Joe Hockey is a prick.” This was the dominant sentiment in my Facebook feed yesterday, and its expression fairly eclipsed pictures of children eating cardamom-flavoured cake. This is no surprise, of course, as the default setting for social media use sits somewhere between righteous and cardamom-flavoured smug. If it were just a timeline that had permitted personal insult to stand in the way of something we might legitimately call an opinion, there would be no urgent cause for worry. But ad hominem is no longer endemic to the yowling children of Facebook. It has found its way into the press gallery.
“Joe Hockey is a prick.” This may be true. Its utterance, however, is embarrassing — destructive, even, when it begins to inform a line of professional questioning.
Veteran reporter Laurie Oakes took his cue from the political-is-personal crowd when he “revealed” this week in an interview that the Treasurer had been dancing to an uplifting pop song in his office before handing down the 2014 budget. “Symbolism matters,” said Oakes, echoing not only the era’s mania for representation over reality but the sound of his own failure to recognise that the private dancer wasn’t a “symbol” until made so by the press …
Traditional and social media have made much of Hockey’s accompanists. Apparently a group called American Authors have a tune called Best Day of My Life, and it was with this “symbolism” Oakes took issue. “The unemployed, the sick, welfare recipients, they’re not going to be dancing, are they?” he asked. “It won’t be the best day of their life.”
Really, Laurie? We’re decoding pop songs and not discredited Chicago School economic theory now? If you don’t yet wish to retire from electronic media, perhaps you can get a gig researching for Spicks and Specks.
In the marketplace of like-and-share, Oakes became hot stock. And it wasn’t just your Facebook friends inflating the smug bubble but Labor politicians …
Recourse to personal insult is not uncommon among politicians, but it is new among reporters whose work it once was to examine ideology and outcomes, not people and “symbolism”. Oakes should be ashamed of an interview that told us less about the ideas and implications of a federal budget than it did about the new press habit of impersonating social media’s foremost idiots.
Thank goodness, then, for Sarah Ferguson, whose 7.30 interview with Hockey shot straight to the broken heart of abandoned promises and faith-based economics …
Joe Hockey doesn’t NEED to be a prick. His impossible premise — wealth concentrated in the hands of the few gives us all more money — is bad enough all on its own. But this doesn’t stop an emerging interest in personal, rather than political, detail.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but this didn’t stop wide reporting on Hockey’s date with a cohiba. Political reporters have joined sub-pundits of social media in the belief that “symbolism matters”. Even the sort of symbolism that Dr Freud, the cigar-smoking father of symbolic order, dismissed.
It has never been easier to familiarise ourselves with the ideology that buoys ruling class interests. Yet on our social networks, we prefer obscene slogans that do not evince any trustworthy understanding but simply serve to make afternoon heroes of us to those with whom we already agree. But fighting to maintain the rules of informal logic on the user-created internet is like fighting for reason in cupcake flavourings. Cardamom has no place in common desserts.
And personal slights have no role in professional political reporting. Symbolism, personal character and musical choices are as irrelevant to an understanding of Hockey’s foul neoliberal techniques as your Facebook rant is to my genuine interest.
There are those who would insist that any damage done to a Tory is a justification for poor argument, that the ailing horse of reason has long since bolted to a pasture grown from lush symbolism. Why not apply the crop of personal attack if it produces a good consequence?
Because the only ends produced by these means is an intensification of the belief that good people make good policies and bad people make bad ones. And frankly, I don’t give a tenth of a shit if good policies — now in various stages of abandonment — like Gonski, the NDIS and the NBN, had cigar-smoking architects who listened to awful pop and flavoured their pastry with cardamom.
Nor should you care about the individual purity of policy makers. Nor should Laurie Oakes. “Symbolism” and personal acts of pleasure matter only if we say they do. And we say they do at every level so vehemently and so often that soon the political will be emptied of everything but the personal.