The political terms “Left wing” and “Right wing” were already in serious need of being totally re-defined, if not dropped altogether, given how much they have been twisted, distorted, inverted and conflated over the past few decades.

But that is nothing compared to Kevin Rudd’s latest leaps of logic in his effort to reinvent terms like “neo-liberal”, “social democrat” and “conservative” and use them as political weapons against his opponents. Rarely has there been a better real-life example of overnight Orwellian redefinition. Yesterday’s conservative is today’s social democrat, while the Howard government — whose economic policies were among the most anti-liberal in our nation’s history — has been relabelled as evil neo-liberals, barely a year after Rudd declared there was not a cigarette paper’s difference between his “unapologetically” conservative economic policies and those of Mr Howard.

Even in industrial relations, the area where Mr Howard most fervently indulged his ideological obsessions, the result was not a freeing up of market forces or individual liberty, but rather an increase in regulation and constraints which reduced freedom to negotiate and bargain — it just did so in a way which massively advantaged Howard’s corporate mates.

Mr Rudd’s rubbish, published in this month’s issue of The Monthly is being widely pilloried by commentators in the media and the blogosphere. But he is unlikely to care much, as long as some of his efforts to define and blame his opponents sinks into the public consciousness.

Paul Keating’s comment on this shows how hollow Rudd’s rhetorical flailings at “neo-liberalism” are when he said “it depends how you call neo-liberalism”. Quite. Presumably in Mr Rudd’s world, it means whatever he wants it to mean on any given day.

None of this makes the Liberals’ response to the current economic mayhem any better. Julie Bishop’s insistence that cutting taxes in the teeth of a recession in an attempt to “increase the tax base and increase revenue” is being rightly pilloried from all sides.

But all the nonsensical rhetoric does create a sinking feeling that both major parties are more focused on how to get the best political positioning out of the looming recession, rather than how best to assist the community.

As Tony Wright bemoans this morning — “where are the grownups?”

Peter Fray

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