Andrew Bolt is intelligent and well read.
This is the inescapable conclusion after reading a compilation of his columns
released last week under the title Still Not Sorry – The Best of Andrew Bolt.

Crikey readers are a leftish mob, which
means the sub-title will strike many as an non-sequitur. But read Bolt’s online forum and it becomes clear that Bolt engages, enrages
and communicates in a way most columnists should envy.

The phenomenon of the conservative
attack-dog columnist should remind us of the continuing power of the written
word in a multi-media age. It is no answer for opponents to behave as though
allergic to reading views with which they disagree.

So what does the best of Andrew Bolt look
like? Surprisingly varied. Bolt does not see himself as being right wing. In a
recent interview with me he described his personal take on the political
spectrum. The Age is “far left”.
Right wing means Nazis. He acknowledges that he might be described as a
conservative.

The book opens with a section called “My
Australia”, followed by the contrasting “Their Australia”. Bolt, the son of
Dutch migrants, paints a rosy picture of the tolerant, knock about country that
he loves. He puzzles over why “the ‘nose in the air cultural elitists” decry
the country as “racist, heartless, ignorant and even genocidal.”

He is opposed to tribes. He is assimilationist.
He sees alternative views as racist. And he doesn’t like the tribes of the left,
with seemingly heterogeneous opinions and “no go” areas for debate.

Mixed with all this anger are genuinely moving
reflections on his family. “Children unlock reserves of love you never thought
you had”. There are not always predictable
views on personal morality, and some skilful skewering. Bolt has been better than
anyone else on the racist hysteria over Schapelle Corby, on the cult of celebrity
around Paris Hilton, and on the damage done by poker machines. He lards his
plain speaking polemic with references that show his learning – which is
selective, certainly, but not shallow.

Yet it seems to me that Bolt lets himself
down too often. Those with whom he disagrees are described as “snarling” or
“shrieking” their views. This is shallow sophistry, the more disappointing
because Bolt can do so much better.

That odd insult word “elite” becomes
self-defining. You belong to it or you hold certain views. Other people whom we
might normally think of as being elite do not belong to it, because they hold
different views.

In his interview with me Bolt said he
thought the Left made a fundamental mistake in its approach to him and other conservative
columnists in thinking of it as a battle between good and evil, rather than a
battle of ideas.

I think he has a point. As David Burchill argued in The Weekend Australian, too many of the Left have
been “out to lunch” over the last decade. They need to get back into the
business of persuasion and engagement, rather than horrified retreat from
mainstream Australia.

But Bolt too often commits the very same
sin. The elite as conceived by Bolt are not only wrong, not mere opponents in
debate. They are dangerous enemies.

The “elite” are “barbaric” “frightening”
“haters”. They “threaten our reason”. They “peddle bizarre untruths”. This
isn’t argument. It is name calling. We should all be able to do better.

Peter Fray

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