We may despise the deregulatory excess of the Keating era. We can never rue the excess of the Keating mouth. “I want to do you slowly” or “the honourable gentleman’s hair, like his intellect, will recede into darkness” are the sorts of things he said to politicians. This talkback in 1992 — with brute sincerity, Keating urges voters to acknowledge their racist flaws — is the sort of thing he regularly did. He was, and remains, comically frank. You could even call him an exception. But he was an exception made possible by an age — an age whose end was recorded and broadcast last night on Four Corners.
You may have taken the good decision not to watch as Sarah Ferguson put public political candour to its final death. You may have avoided Q&A, whose first minutes were given over to Ferguson’s spouse to talk of the talk just aired. It is unlikely, however, that you were not made aware that former US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had consented to a long-form talk with the ABC. Promotion by the national broadcaster was intense and so various, it got to zero-level with this “insiders” guide on just how one prepares for an interview with Hillary Clinton.
Here, we learn that Ferguson was very keen to (a) learn from Clinton how Those Russians so deviously managed to undo her record US$1.4 billion campaign and (b) have a brain scan while interviewing a big name like Clinton, because, “you are making so many decisions and there is a lot of crazy activity going on in a really short space of time and all while you’re appearing, obviously, completely calm”.
Personally, I’d prefer a psychological assessment of journalists to an fMRI. Not only are we yet to see if neuroscience image interpretation is anything more than phrenology, we are yet to answer why, why, why a guy like Trump could win an election. And, yes, as Ferguson was as eager to indicate as her interview subject, Clinton won the popular vote. Still. Trump, Trump, persuaded more than 60 million persons that hot air was preferable to cool calculation.
This is a moment in history. We all know that the world’s most powerful liberal democracy is no longer so powerfully upheld by the faith of its citizens. We all know that Europe has been politically rewritten by a monetary policy many good economists railed against long before the first note was printed. We know that neoliberal — or market-friendly, if you prefer — policy has failed to the degree that even the IMF pretends not to like it, while enacting it anyhow. These are big questions and no longer the sort of thing that only macro-economic hobbyists or Socialist Alliance talk about. These are questions posed by our mortgage repayments, our diminished access to social service and the arguments we have about politics on Facebook every day.
This is history. Ferguson had an enviable responsibility to document it. She says in the piece about the very photogenic shape of her brain that she read a lot to prepare for this interview. Where was the reading about this great historical shift so many of us feel? There are plenty of books that attempt, and sometimes succeed, to draw us a picture of how political and economic failure so often coincide. There are plenty of books that shed historical light on the political use of racism. Ferguson had an enviable responsibility, and a great chance to read widely. Really, it seemed that she had largely read Clinton’s book.
There is no need for anyone to read Clinton’s book. Well, not unless one is interested in campaign trail exercise routines and healthy low-carb snacks. If you must get a sense of it, read the review by Sam Kriss or that by Thomas Frank. Kriss writes, “This not how a 69-year-old woman writes. It’s an imitation of how some of her fans write, a sterile, chatty facsimile of a first-person blog.” Frank is frank when he says that Clinton blames everyone but herself.
This is what we see on Four Corners: a big and uncritical book plug, informed by blind consensus and no other text at all. We even have the false candour so exactly described by Kriss. Ferguson is complicit in building the “real” Hillary and says, “I’ve been covering Hillary Clinton since the mid-’90s in Washington. But the woman I met recently in New York took me by surprise. She is angrier and less filtered than the consummate politician we’re used to seeing.”
Setting aside that even Clinton’s fans find her political speech more constipated than consummate, this is no more “real” than the fake news Clinton decries.
“As you’ll see in her interview, she’s not holding back.”
Well, that may be kind of true. Clinton may be holding forth in her delusion that it was the Russians, Julian Assange and misogyny that led to her defeat. She may truly believe that she was robbed, and probably believes, as so many members of the political class do, that what voters crave is a professed “expert”. A person “qualified” to keep driving the nation in the direction so inimical to so many pay packets.
But Ferguson is not required to believe this malarkey as well.
There was no meaningful interrogation of a politician who has long supported market-friendly policy. In fact, Ferguson appears to agree with Clinton that she was a brave warrior against the global primacy of finance. The problem was, you see, that voters were not, in this fake news era where people are idiots etc, ready to listen to her totally great plans.
Clinton has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposal that voters see as consonant with more job loss, a “gold standard” as recently as 2012. You’d think Ferguson might have mentioned this, given the comment was recorded by the ABC. You’d think she might have mentioned that Clinton’s chosen running mate was in favour of the TPP days before his appointment. You’d think she might have mentioned the US problem of underemployment, the rapid disappearance of the middle class or even, as might be very pertinent to an Australian audience, the way in which racist fears are exploited for political gain.
Nah. The Russians did it. Or, they employed Julian Assange to do it. Not that there was anything in those WikiLeaks dumps, like, say, a speech to Goldman Sachs that said she held both a “public and private” position on economic policy: the real one for the bankers; the fake one for the voters.
Sure, Comey, who was discussed, did a bit of it. But the problem here is that I do not believe Ferguson did her job. And if well-paid journalists on a publicly funded broadcaster whose editorial policy clearly demands fairness cannot do their job half as well as even John Laws could back in 1992 with Keating, there will be no more political candour. No more politicians who, however offensive their policy, at least take the trouble to describe it, rather than screaming at The Russians.