Both Charles Richardson in yesterday’s Crikey and John Quiggin on his blog
have invoked the ghost of Marx in making the point that the Howard/Costello
episode of challenged leadership repeats the Hawke/Keating history as farce.
But Quiggin also made another important point – what we are dealing with, and
living through, now is postmodern politics. With a vengeance.

Even Keith Windschuttle might admit that
the way you frame truth is important. After all, what’s the point of opposing a
“black armband” view if there aren’t multiple views that can be argued on the
evidence to start with? Any first year uni student who hasn’t been
taught the Donnelly approved curriculum can tell you that facts are made sense
of through narratives. The stunning thing about the media coverage of
Walletgate is that most media commentators have picked the wrong ones. They’d
do better to pay more attention to Windschuttle and look at observable facts.

Expecting the Hawke-Keating script to be
remade as a sequel, we’ve heard breathless discussion of whether Costello will
“put up or shut up” or “go to the backbench”. But anyone who’s actually been
paying attention to what he does rather than “interpretations” would have
noticed that he has a tin political ear. His tactics of “blasting Howard out”
or underlining a “seamless transition” are the tactics of weakness. Howard was
always going to put Cossie back in his box. All he needed was a “form of words”
– an interpretation.

Ironically, the commentariat has misled
itself by putting too much emphasis on another part of the Hawke-Keating story
which government spinmeisters have long seized on – the importance of the
Howard/Costello partnership. As both Democrats Senator Andrew
Bartlett
and I have suggested, the likely consequence of a Costello
move to the backbench would be that after a while no one would notice.

Costello
is also a postmodern politician – with a barrister’s grasp of a Treasury brief
and a good line in invective. But a person of substance? All Howard would need
is another minister who could put the right “interpretation” on policies which
were always decided in the PM’s office anyway.

Peter Fray

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