Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Actually, I'm learning a lot from Tony Abbott

What I'm mainly learning is the extent to which political tribalism blinds most of the populace to the actual facts of a politician's actions and words. Take this report in this morning's Age.

How very easy it would have been, were one inclined that way, to run this story under an even more damning headline. I'm a Liar, Says Abbott. But you wait: the spin will start any minute*, if it hasn't already, and the tribally conservative among us will simply see this story as more evidence that Abbott is a frank truth-teller besides whom Rudd looks etc etc blah. Abbott Truthful About Telling Lies.

Abbott seems to believe that if he does or says something then that something is, by definition, okay. It must be okay, because Tony Abbott did or said it. So therefore they can't be, you know, lies. Not really.

His comments as quoted in that Age article shed some light on the way he sees his own behaviour:
Mr Abbott said: 'I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say. But sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark - which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth [are] those carefully prepared scripted remarks.'
By 'you' here, of course, he means 'I'. But people should understand that, right? As for the heat of discussion, yes, sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you [sic] do indeed go a little bit further. But in my experience, the heat of discussion tends to propel you further towards the naked truth, not further away from it.
'All of us when we're in the heat of verbal combat, so to speak, will sometimes say things that will go a little bit further.'
All of us do that. So I'm no different from everyone else. I'm just a bloke. Not like that other bloke, you know, the robotic bureaucrat blah blah blah.

Also, it's combat. Because I'm a man's man, you need to remember that, so I see everything in terms of fighting, and talking is fighting, right? And the point is to win, not to muck around with nancy-boy ideas like telling the truth.

God I hate nancy-boy ideas, they make me feel threatened.

See, I didn't mean that last bit. Not really. Only sort of. And people should know that.
He said his parental leave promise 'wasn't absolutely consistent with what I said the month before'. Many people had pointed out the inconsistency 'and I accept that.'
He accepts it, see? Taking his responsibility like a man's man. He accepts it. Now move on, please, nothing to see here.
He hoped when the budget returned to surplus, a Coalition government would not have to increase the tax burden, 'but nevertheless it was the least bad way of proceeding at the time.'
And anyway, it's Labor's fault.
Mr Abbott used the same rationale to explain his assertion that the argument on climate change was 'absolute crap', later saying he had been loose with his language while trying to make a case for Liberal policy to an audience in regional Victoria.
Ah, there you go; he only said that to keep the Duelling Banjos happy, so it was all right, right? He wasn't lying, you see. He wasn't even 'misspeaking'. He was loose with his language. Why was he 'loose with his language'? To endear himself to those hicks from the sticks, of course. The ones whose votes he needs so badly.

It's astonishing that a Rhodes Scholar couldn't see that one coming, but this remark makes him look abominable either way. Either he really does think 'climate change is crap', in which case he's lying in an ABC interview for all to see, or he's lying to rural voters, a big chunk of his heartland and crucial to his grab for power, because he holds them in complete contempt.
When challenged last night about how the public could know whether what he was saying was rock solid or not, given the climate change incident, Mr Abbott said: 'Well, again, I think that most of us know when we're talking to people or when we're listening to people … when we can put absolute weight on what's being said and when it's just the give and take of standard conversation.'
No, 'most of us know' that when we're talking to normal people they're usually telling the truth. This may be because most normal people don't have all that much to hide.

In any case, the public pronouncements of a politician -- no matter how 'unscripted' -- hardly qualify as 'the give and take of standard conversation'. And even if they did, most of us are reasonably sure that when we're in a standard conversation, we are neither giving nor taking lies being spouted in order to pull the wool over our, or their, eyes. At this point you really have to wonder what Abbott's personal and social life is like, if he thinks 'the give and take of standard conversation' is about lying.
Asked whether he made core and non-core promises, Mr Abbott said this was a subject that was run up and down the flagpole lots of times in March 'because you are not the first person to have noticed what you think is a serious inconsistency.'
What you think is a serious inconsistency. Because of course it's not really. We all know a non-core promise is a still a promise. It's just one that you make but don't mean, and you do it so that you'll get what you want. Everyone does that, right? What is your problem?

UPDATE: This, via The Poll Bludger, is entertaining and informative. Note date of article. This part is my personal favourite: In late August [1998] Abbott set up the Australians for Honest Politics trust ...

*UPDATE 2: And apparently it has. Here's Bernard Keane in today's oven-fresh edition of crikey.com.au:

'The best spin I've seen about Tony Abbott's disastrous 7.30 Report interview is the fact he's willing to admit he lies reflects a commendable honesty, much better than most politicians who lie without ever acknowledging it. Abbott has boldly broken down the fourth wall of politics, turning to the audience and pointed out that he's just working to a script, not actually saying what he means.

In short, Abbott is authentic and honest because he admits you can't believe him. Nice.'


Lord Sedgwick said...

That goes way beyond acceptable jesuitical argument boundaries.

Jesuits wept.

Fred said...

How do you know when a politician's lying? A. His lips are moving.

Anonymous said...

wow i hate tony abbott so much. but then, i dont mean that. & you should know that. this is in the context of a blog-comment thread, where traditionally one is allowed to embellish levels of flippancy & ire. it's expected. most normal people know that. (i'm just saying so in case i ever find myself accepting some kind of grant or prize from tony abbott (i hope i don't though, because i hate him)).

Ampersand Duck said...

I'm sooo glad you're here to clarify why I dislike Abbott so much. I just feel it in my bones, but you give me solid excuses.

cristy said...

Ugh. I am exhausted by Tony Abbott. Thank you for taking the energy to articulate what is so very wrong with him.

zoot said...

More and more, Mr Abbott looks to me like a character who's wandered off the set of "Little Britain".

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

"... yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah ... Wha'evah."

fmark said...

My favourite part is the Liberal Party spin this morning - Ian McFarlane:
"What we are seeing from Tony is very much a straight shooter."

I actually have no idea what this is meant to mean. Perhaps the intended implication is that Tony Abbott is a straight shooter, honest and forthright. This flies in the face of available evidence. Perhaps the intent is to project the image of macho authenticity, while at the same time calling black white.

Lord Sedgwick said...

a character who's wandered off the set of "Little Britain"

"But sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit "Little Britain" further off the set than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted "Little Britain" script - which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth [are] those carefully prepared scripted remarks."

And then there's the local comments for local Deliverance for local people.

Lord Sedgwick said...

"What we are seeing from Tony is very much a straight shooter."

More stringent gun control I say.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

The grammar's interesting, isn't it. Note that McFarlane avoided saying 'Tony is very much a straight shooter.' No, we're seeing a straight shooter from him -- andin the present tense at that. What we may be seeing from him tomorrow? A strong swimmer? A strutting stripper? A strep throat? A bag of fairy floss? A chameleon on a tartan rug having a nervous breakdown?

Lord Sedgwick said...

"Yesterday, today and tomorrow upon the stair, I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today, Oh how I wish he'd go away."

Lord Sedgwick said...

And just when Tony thought he'd painted himself in to a corner Barnaby comes to his rescue.

Colourful Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce was among those coming to Mr Abbott's defence.

"What someone might say to their lover in the heat of passion is entirely different, or should be entirely different, to the lady checking out your groceries at the supermarket," he [Barnaby] said

Yeah, Barnaby that argument would hold water, were one not having extra curricula barcode relationship with Narelle, the eminently nubile checkout chick.

(Not that I am. Just sayin' - in a carefully unscripted way.)

~~Just Me in T~~ said...

Oh My Goodness - an honest politician?

I have often been heard to ask ‘show me an honest politician please’ …. Implying non exist! Tony Abbott has shown me how wrong a person can be. He has also shown to the Australian people, that no matter how much angst and bad mouthing is being thrown at him by Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labour Party – he can hold his head up high, because he has told the truth.


Nigel said...

All I can say is that The 7.30 Report is producing some great drama of late - must be why I've been a fan of the show for the last fifteen years. It's been worth the wait.

Though there's something else I want to say. And it's this. Abbott: here's a hole, lie in it.

Zoe said...

Mmm, yes, M in T. Told the truth that he tells lies to the public.

But can you lie about telling the truth? It certainly sounded pretty unscripted to me. I think we should assume he's fibbing again, and that he lies on purpose all the time. Only safe option.

In any event I heartily agree with your comment "Tony Abbott has shown me how wrong a person can be."

BwcaBrownie said...

Thanks for another great post KG.
Sadly, the ning-nongs in his electorate are not reading it.
RE your 'It's astonishing that a Rhodes Scholar couldn't see that one coming' - may I point out two other Rhodes Scholars are Bob 'the silver bodgie' Hawke, and William*Jefferson*Clinton.
I would promise you that there has never been a truthful application for the award. and that's a core scripted promise.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Just You in T, thank you so much for that magnificent illustration of my thesis about blind conservative tribalism. I see from your blogs that you fit the profile nicely: climate science denialist, medical science denialist, fundie Christian, mostly patronised by Americans, can't spell Antarctica. The whole enchilada.

Tony Abbott has gone on national television and told you he's a liar. Don't you believe him? You don't? Tch.

M-H said...

This post illustrates why we need more humanities scholars. Classic useful deconstruction of the event. Excellent reading.

Frances said...

I love Just Me in T's definition of an honest man:

One who is unabashed by the fact that he tells lies.

It also reminds me of the truism that you cannot change by reason, an opinion that was not based on reason.

David Irving (no relation) said...

As I've said elsewhere, Our Tony's the sort of bloke who'd promise not to come in your mouth.

The people detector (gostrati) seems somehow appropriate.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

DI, there's an image that makes me feel very very sick.