Monday, August 11, 2014

The new paternalism of Big Daddy

I have not blogged for a while, but I have an excellent excuse: my firstborn son is a month old today. Thanks for those who have already congratulated me, and those who may do so in comments. Everyone is well, if a bit tired and hungry, alternately.

As a  father, of course now I know everything there is to know about how the universe works, and wish to impose my unique insights into how to live onto others through this blog! In this, I appear to be of one mind with the current Prime Minister, who is treating the country as if he is its stentorian patrician. Voters are not as forgiving as his three daughters of his Pinocchio routine, however. 

Most of his thought bubbles since the interlude of MH17 have been either failures or annoyed his base: budget stuck in limbo so deep that Palmer is calling for a mini-budget, Medicare co-payment no chance of passing the Senate, PPL shelved, Newstart cruelness summarily dismissed by public backlash, metadata collection made a national joke by babbling George Brandis, s18C of the RDA retained despite IPA howls, Tory rumblings about links between abortion and breast cancer squashed. As a father figure, Abbott is becoming a figure of fun. Very little is going right for him, especially for those arguing from the right.

If Abbott wants to be Big Daddy to us all, he's going to have to be less of an Adam Sandler kind of Big Daddy by refraining from pissing on walls. Let's not mention the Bioshock kind of Big Daddy, that's just weird. No, Abbott is much more suited to the Big Daddy Pollitt of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Tony Abbott, the Pollitt politician, with a sequence of polls that firmly puts his leadership in "death's country". Those of us out in the masses of Team Australia are the Brick in this passion play, refusing to bow to Abbott's rules of morality or adhere to Abbott's vision of living as the patriarch deems worthy. 

On the Team Australia meme, it's peculiar that Abbott is invoking memories of Howard's nationalism without also actually immersing himself in it. When Howard donned the green and gold tracksuit or called himself a cricket tragic, he didn't have to say anything more about what team he was on. Sport is one of Australia's great melting pots, where ability is promoted regardless of race or creed. What is Abbott's vision of Team Australia, what are its intellectual underpinnings, how has he interpreted Howard's legacy? It's not a crime that the PM isn't a sport lover - plenty haven't been - but if he's going to talk about the country in sporting terms, merely pilfering the phrase from sporting jargon and Liberal history without also inhabiting the patriotic nature of sport means it loses as a serious talking point in the modern day.

Like the Big Daddy of Tennessee Williams's play, Abbott has a reputation for hating mendacity but is constantly guilty of it himself, as evidenced by his string of broken promises. One of the biggest lies is that his "base" - an Americanism that is creeping into local political discourse through the agency of Andrew Bolt - actually matters a jot to him. It's not a lie he has told, but the right is telling it a lot about him lately, 

With unemployment higher than it has been for a decade after years of failed attempts by the RBA to stop a high Australian dollar from gutting our non-resources export industries, we are not quite a banana republic yet but it does feel like Abbott wants to turn the joint into his personal cotton plantation. Thankfully, the electorate still enjoys universal suffrage in this country.

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