A man goes to a doctor complaining of headaches. “Well it could be stress, a blood clot, dental problems or a tumour,” the doctor says. “We should do a CAT scan but it’s going to be hard to get you into the machine on account of the javelin”.
The Coalition failed to spot the javelin a year or so back. With the spear still in them, they face a period in the wilderness made doubly hard. They no longer have a light of political belief to guide them through the dark. Anti-communism is a nostalgia act, bourgeois values are gone (scattered by consumerism), and the ALP is a suburban consumers’ party, not a working-class producers’ one.
Furthermore, their conduct – cheerful postmodern lying (lying when you know people know you’re lying and asking them to judge you on the style and elegance of your lies – “non-core promises” beats Derrida flat chat) put them, for a crucial section of the population, out of consideration.
Indeed part of the reason they got it so wrong is exemplified in Paul Kelly’s much-discussed essay on subversive rootless cosmopol- – sorry, intellectuals in last months ALR.
The essay is interesting as symptom rather than original contribution, especially when it writes about lying. Kelly chides philosopher Raimond Gaita for allegedly applying an impossible standard of virtue to politics, an area where, Kelly suggests, lying is simply one neutral political tool among many.
Lying is inevitable, but the trouble with being comfortable and relaxed about it is that, as Gaita noted (and Kelly didn’t understand) it’s corrosive not merely of trust, but of your own sense of reality.
Lying is a meta-issue. If people brand you as a liar then, by definition, nothing you say can undo that, because we have no trust in anything you say, and to think you can do so is a category error. It’s similar to the way kids misunderstand the power of language, screaming “I didn’t take the biscuits!” while the jar is still stuck on their hand. They genuinely believe that saying will make it so.
From party survival terms, this was exactly the wrong time in history to fall into this sort of self-delusion – one in which the actual wellsprings of belief from which parties drink have all but dried up.
That’s why Oppositions are in trouble all over the world (with the rule-proving exception of the backward state of the US). Dave Cameron’s Tories go up and down like, well, like a Tory – based more on people’s feelings about Gordon Broom than on any actual attraction to the True Blue. In France leading socialists have joined Sarko’s cabinet, in Germany the SDP is in a meek coalition and on it goes.
With the economic question effectively over for the moment (decided in the favour of centre-right social market politics) any party that gets in and is competent and modest in its changes is in poll position to be the natural party of government.
The Coalition had that opportunity in 2004-5 when it should have geared down from the culture wars, avoided most of Workchoices (cutting with the grain of political tradition) and changed not only leader, but type of leader – to Turnbull or, god, Nelson.
The melancholy fact for the Libs is that their two most recently successful governors – Howard and Kennett – appear to have won their success by using the party’s future as fuel. To make the Libs unelectable in VICTORIA is really an anti-achievement that overshadows everything else Jeff has done in his life, and a decade along Howard may be remembered in the same way.
Hence this election fatigue. As far as many people go there’s only one party in the race because the other party isn’t producing actual statements which may be true or false, but a sort of non-signifying noise like a cat, or a broken fridge. It’s annoying, but no one’s going to mistake it for actual communication.
And with the dark descending, who will stay? The party will become the preserve of the fluoride and social credit crowd. May as well just turn it over to Catallaxy now.
Nevertheless they may get back.
If so I can take two people in Uppsala, four max if we fold out the sofa.