For hundreds of years, hatters used mercury to stiffen fabric and make felt. The mercury got under their fingernails and into their bloodstream, giving them nerve damage and prompting delirium and delusion. Thus, “mad hatter”. We ask of mad hatters, why did everyone remark that hatters got the disease so regularly and no one else, but never work out the cause? Because the process — molecular chemical poisoning — was more abstract than the world they lived in, occurring at a level of action for which they did not have a framework of understanding.

What other image could possibly come to mind when reading The Australian‘s coverage of the latest Newspoll result? This report, by Simon Benson, is a masterpiece of a lede not so much deliberately buried, as encased in concrete beneath the ocean floor. The Coalition’s primary vote is up by a couple of points; Billy Bob Shorten’s popularity rating is down by a couple. Oh, and by the way, the two-party preferred is still 54-46 to Labor — a shift back from the disastrous 56-44, but still disastrous. If Benson’s report doesn’t sate you, Jennifer Oriel, the ex-Red Queen, also has a seat at the tea party.

Why is the right so wild, people ask, without putting it together with this yet more abstract process. Spend months and years shaping the news with toxins, and it will eventually get under your nails and into the bloodstream and nervous system. Which hat is the Australian right wearing today? The mad one, always the mad one.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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