It was revealed this morning by a shocked ABC that a ‘dirt file’ was being assembled on Opposition front-benchers in the Prime Minister’s office which ‘targeted’ events in their lives that occurred not only during, but before, their lives in politics — during, for instance, their student years.
What a big surprise. It has been a commonplace in politics since early Sumerian times but some in the ABC have not heard of it yet, apparently, or not before yesterday. They did not hear of it when the Liberals were ‘targeting’ Slipper, Thomson, Shorten, Gillard, Rudd, Kernot, Evans, Bartlett, McLeay, Campbell, Firth, Brown, Stewart, Rees, Tripodi, Keating, Hawke, Dunstan, Cairns or Chifley.They did not hear of it when the Tea Party put it about that Obama was a Muslim terrorist homosexual Kenyan Socialist drug-friendly Baptist Fundamentalist racist bent on Communising America or when Nixon’s people put it about that a Kennedy had drowned a pregnant girl in a car. They only heard of it apparently for the first time yesterday. And Wow, they said, wow. This is big, big news.
After twenty years in the political backroom, comrades, I can give you this assurance: you do dig up what you can that is harmful your enemies when you are in politics for this is what politics is mostly about. You would not be doing your job if you were not doing it. The very meaning of ‘backroom’ and ‘staffer’ and ‘political adviser’ is people who do this. Yet once again a news organisation is evincing shock that politics proceeds in the usual way, by allegation, denial, motions of No Confidence, dlamaging headlines, resignations, commissions of enquiry, Chinese whispers and televised Question Times.
It has, believe me, happened before. Caesar is husband to every wife, his political foes alleged, and wife to every husband. The Virgin Queen is tupping her bastard son Essex. Lord Nelson’s menage a trois makes his command of the Navy now uncertain. Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea has ended, we fear, all hope of Irish liberty. Mrs Thatcher’s affair with Cecil Parkinson will bring her down.
This has been the basic fare of politics and political contention since Arthur, heeding rumours, ordered Guinevere burnt at the stake for adultery. What is not usual is what Abbott, the Tea Party, Fox News and Murcoch’s Australian papers have been up to lately — what might be called the Politics of the Exclamation Mark.
You say anything, and you add an exclamation mark to it, and an ignorant audience believes a gaolable wrongdoing has occurred. He sent a flirty text-message to a thirty-four year old! He spent eighty dollars in a single night on taxis! He bought one whole Ecstasy tablet out of eight hundred sold that night in Glebe! He said ‘fucking fantastic’ to some schoolchildren! She was rude to a Woy Woy waiter!
Many, many African and Middle Eastern and South Asian migrants do not know that these are trivial matters, and edgily go along with Andrew Bolt or Paul Murray when they call them resignation matters, warily cheering along. This kind if echo effect works well in places without a moral compass, like Penrith or Ipswich. Careers are ruined recklessly by it, as in McCarthyist times.
Footballers in particular are smashed in their careers for, say, committing adultery or accepting proffered threesomes or gang bangs with teenage fans. It goes without saying that footballers cannot do this. They are role models, they are opinion formers, they are local heroes, and they may not do this, never ever. Yet journalists, on the other hand, who are opinion formers, and editorial writers, who are by definition opinion formers, never, never lose their careers if they commit adultery or schtupp adolescents. The exclamation mark does not reach as far as them.
The net result is a world-bestriding Murdochism now able to destroy at will anyone for doing anything. Jacqui Smith’s husband watched porn and she was destroyed for it. Verity Firth’s husband bought a tablet and she was destroyed for it. David Campbell drove to a legal club in a legal car he had a legal right to drive and he was destroyed for it. The exclamation mark, like time’s arrow, was a WMD by then and one by one it brought them down.
Murdoch likes this kind of thing. He can’t win on policy, so he cheats his way to infamous victories with human behaviour. Gore, he said, was ‘wooden’ and so could not be President. Neil Kinnock’s wife Glenys ‘wore the pants in that family’, so we have to vote not for him but for, er, Margaret Thatcher, a real man’s man. Prince Charles used the word ‘tampon’ in a private conversation so he cannot be King. Kevin Rudd saying ‘mate’ to Kerry O’Brien was a ‘meltdown’, so he cannot be Prime Minister. Bob Carr said ’2001′ instead of ’2000′, so he must resign as Foreign Minister.
It’s frightening he can make so much of so little. Judge Welch’s phrase ‘reckless cruelty’ suits him as it does McCarthy.
Things may be changing, however, as Rebekah inches toward imorisonment. Lies, bugged truths and press barons’ crazed agendas are unpopular as never before in England, even, tonight, with his glove puppet David Cameron, and John Major’s claim last week of a straightforward attempt by Murdoch to corrupt him has yet to shake down into into imprisonment for the Dirty Digger himself, but it will come.
And the politics of the exclamation mark may dwindle a bit, perhaps, in the wake of the innocence of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, in Australia as well as England.
There may be good, rare, Rupertless days ahead.
There really may.