I have a minority opinion on two big political issues. Michaelia Cash was right and should not apologise for anything. And the new book on the Trump White House, Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff is a great primer in real politics, especially the politics of issues like Cash ‘s one.
The two issues are linked. The real politics in Wolff’s book shows why Michaelia Cash was not only right but why she should go in harder and give them all another serve. Fire and Fury is an inside view of the eccentric workings at the heart of the US government, where the White House is a swirling mass of ruthless rivalries and private plots, where no-one seems to do any actual work other than managing a president in a permanent state of chaos. Pretty much like our federal parliament. Trump and his coterie have condemned the book as a work of fiction and some of the press agree. But whether the book is fact or fiction, it seems to me a ridiculous criticism; politics is such a mishmash of lies, fantasy, voodoo, totem poles and witchcraft that virtually everything written about it is fiction. In any event, the criticism is really a hissy-fit of jealousy from other journalists who missed out on the juicy stories that Woolf got to first. After all, never stand between a journalist and a lie that another journalist might write up first. In fact, the book is a gold mine, most of which has clearly been leaked by Steve Bannon, Trump’s Svengali, who makes no secret of the fact that it was he who got the president elected with his own unique brand of divide and conquer politics. And it is one of the many Bannon pronouncements on practical politics revealed in the book that brings me back to Michaelia Cash. And don’t forget, this same approach got Trump elected, so there must be something in it. Bannon’s theory is that when you touch a raw nerve in the political Left and there is the inevitable reaction that you are racist, sexist, misogynist or divisive, the traditional response is to say you didn’t mean it, were misunderstood, or made a mistake and then you look chastened, withdraw, apologise and promise never to say the same thing again. You imagine that you get marks for compromise and consensus, but in reality your own supporters think you are weak and your opponents know you are vulnerable. If, on the other hand, you double down, appal the Left some more, refuse either to withdraw or apologise and you press on, seeking an even rawer nerve to expose and a deeper wound to inflict, you will send the Left into a greater frenzy of outrage and they will attack you more vociferously.
That is what you want. From that point on, you have galvanised your own side; they become passionate; they know what you stand for, that you will fight for it and will not be diverted or give up. At the same time they see the full horror of your opponent and realise they have something to fight against, as well as something to fight for. It is exactly what happened in the Trump campaign. Some of his so-called gaffes were by accident, most were by design. He never apologised or withdrew, but simply came back with more. Hillary Clinton, the media and all the do-gooders went into paroxysms of rage and masses of the people saw what she was really like. Trump’s supporters being branded as ‘deplorables’ defined Clinton, not Trump. The press and the institutions of the Left claimed many times that he was finished, but in reality what was happening was that his supporters became rusted on, and more passionate and they were joined by others.
The Michaelia Cash issue was a classic case for applying the same principle. There is no doubt she was under attack from one of the prize thugs of the ALP, Senator Cameron, who implied there was some personal hanky-panky in the appointment of male staffers to Cash’s office. She responded and made the valid point that she was entitled to give the same scrutiny to Bill Shorten’s staff as the ALP was giving to hers. The best approach would have been to repeat her point, but at least she refused to apologise. But the official government response was weak and won little support, as we have now seen from the polls. Turnbull was wishy washy and defensive or, if you like, a bit of a grey area. He and his acolytes mouthed the usual platitudes from the book of political failure, crying plaintively that Cash had withdrawn her remarks, an admission of guilt if ever there were one. Peter Dutton was the only one in the Coalition who went in harder, generated more loathing from the Left and the media, won some supporters and strengthened his image. He got the notion across that Cash had a case for defending herself, which she did. He has also succeeded many times by using the same approach to attack the Left on refugees.
If the Coalition wants to win the next election, they will have to learn to take this approach more often. The fact is that Turnbull and his government are in terminal decline: ask not for whom the Newspoll tolls, Malcolm, it tolls for thee. They have lost the backbone that Tony Abbott would have given them and their struggle to appear moderate has got them absolutely nowhere. After all, when was the last time you heard anyone say they knew what Turnbull even stands for? Never, I suspect. But how strong and committed he would appear if he used Steve Bannon’s approach. You may not like it, but compromise is out and conflict is in. It works. And if you are worried about the media harping that this is extreme and counter-productive, they would, wouldn’t they?
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