strangedave (strangedave) wrote,

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Goodbye to the Mad Monk

TL;DR - sometimes i like to have a big politics rant, this is one of those times.
Of course Turnbull is still a monstrous plutocrat, trained in the financial dark arts at Goldman Sachs, a company so caring and sharing its nickname is 'the vampire squid'. And in many respects the better political instincts Turnbull has learnt since he was last Liberal leader are not a good thing, as they appear to mostly have been manifested as a willingness to sell out his vaguely libertarian principles to serve the agenda of the authoritarian and paleo-conservative right (which he appears to have done in spades to get the numbers.). Of course he will still head a government of angry conservative idiots willing to make morally grotesque decisions if it lets them continue to maintain a pose that appeals to angry conservative idiot voters and the greedy wealthy.
But thats not really the point of what happened last night at all. Abbott was a very particular political monster, and we are well rid of him no matter what happens now. His political instincts have always been to see politics as moral warfare. It wasn't just that he was bad at evidence based policy, but that his political instincts actively rejected it. As a minister he was notorious for not reading or understanding policy proposals he thought he wouldn't like. And more perniciously, when you see morality as a battlefield, its all too easy to let genuine morality be abandoned for tactical advantage (it happens to all politicians, of course, compare Rudd citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he was leader). Abbotts moral compass had pointed reliably towards conservative Catholicism, but it broke utterly as leader in his efforts to exploit war and xenophobia.
What was perhaps his worst failing, and the one that made him perhaps the worst prime minister we've had, was that he had managed to base virtually his entire political career on negative campaigning. He'd been successful as attack dog for Howard, he'd managed his successes as Liberal leader almost entirely on negative campaigning against a divided ALP. And as leader, when those tactics started to fail him, his instinct was to double down. Then double down aain. Until it become beyond parody. It was literally all he knew how to do. He got through his entire political life with no negotiation skills beyond bullying and occasional wheedling, even though it had cost him government once already. Everyone will be talking about the culture of negativity and attack politics he personified. The flip side of this is his almost complete inexperience at developing a positive policy agenda (and by this I don't mean positive in the sense of good or progressive, but simply a policy based around what you will do rather than what you will not). When called on to define himself at least in part by what he was going to create rather than what he wanted to destroy, he was an abject failure, a bumbling amateur who simply had almost never tried, and had neither the right skills (he couldn't consult or cooperatively build to save his political life), nor any developed ideas. We got inane thought bubbles (like knighthoods) based around nothing but a vague anglophilic nostalgia, and an enthusiasm for national security theatre (compare Gillard/Rudd policy like NDIS or NBN, Howard policy like GST and national infrastructure funds, etc), and bunch of stuff on climate, internet, that was designed only to provide a vaguely plausible minimalist alternative to actual ALP ideas. Virtually everything else in two years was defined by what he disliked (often for no reason other than people on the other side of politics liked it eg wind power), there was almost no sign of what he wanted to build. And this policy incompetence translated into policy Dunning-Kruger syndrome - he not only was incompetent at policy, he couldn't recognise competence in others, and instead kept buffoons like Dunning and Hockey in positions manifestly beyond their level of competence (rumours about Hockey question even basic numeracy), because he judged them by amiability, ideology, and loyalty. His government was terrible in a way that was hard to believe beforehand, and we'll look back on and shake our heads about for years to come.
Yes, Malcolm Turnbull will be government by the rich, for the rich. Yes, Turnbull will very much be politics as usual, and his government will continue to be anti-union and pro-business, continue to try to take money from the poor and give it to rich, and continue to gradually drift towards a more authoritarian state, as the right wing does. But Abbott was not politics as usual. His was a uniquely broken and disastrous government that made us both a laughing stock and a cautionary tale, charging full steam ahead down the worst avenues of xenophobia and paranoia, but stumbling about like a child whose shoelaces were untied when it came to adult policy areas like the economy. Lets all just breathe a big sigh of relief, and try to get back to taking politics seriously if we can.
Tags: politics
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