Shirtfronting, Rememberance Day, Political Speeches and other cultural learnings
Haven’t had much time for blogging lately due to a new job but have given it a lot of thought with so much material to read and absorb. Will hopefully find more time over coming weeks for posts on the recent election in New Zealand, US mid-terms, by elections in NSW as well as current contests in Victoria and the ongoing saga of a federal budget whose passage seems to be the political equivalent of the 80s classic ‘Never-ending Story”.
Today I feel compelled to put some thoughts on paper (or keyboard?) following two recent culturally significant events that had some personal meaning: Remembrance Day and the funeral of Gough Whitlam.
I’ve previously mentioned the importance of cultural context in campaigning techniques. Last night I noticed our PM was copping a bit of flak on twitter (nothing unusual there) regarding his recent threat to “shirtfront” Vladimir Putin as well as his recent commitment to send Australian troops back into the Iraq. Yes, that same quagmire created by Bush/Blair/Howard when they invaded and destroyed a largely functioning nation in 2003. I recalled Mr Abbott was also recently found guilty by the Insiders panel of conflating crimes in Western Sydney and the threat of Terrorism from “ISIS’, or “Daesh” as they are called by their local enemies. So following the twitter ruckus I was keen to see what recent statements he may or may not have made that were embarrassing to him or the nation. Disappointingly there didn’t seem to be any recent zingers or clangers. In fact the video statement he released for Remembrance Day was well-written and relatively-speaking, well-delivered.
It was a big improvement on his last video about past wars when he inexplicably conflated the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy with his economic fight “to cut tax” and “open Australia for business” on big projects (obviously ignoring recent raises in petrol tax, the implementation of a new tax on the sick, and decisions to prevent foreign investment in Australian business).
There’s a good write up including some of the more memorable tweets here.
It’s also a shame the Remembrance Day statement seemed to be overshadowed by his recent decision to cut wage increases for the Australian armed forces. Tasmanian PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie even botched together a meme of sorts (presumably using powerpoint?). Despite the poor layout, it conveyed an effective message about the PM’s attitude to the wages and conditions of the service men and women that were often tasked to join him in Putin-like photo opportunities.
There were also no shortage of anti-Abbott memes quick to take the opportunities presented by numerous public photos of the often media-shy PM. Just google (images) Abbott+Putin+meme for big laughs, especially if you’re a Trekky.
What is most disappointing though is that there have been more memorable Remembrance Day speeches made in the recent past. PM Abbott is yet to capture the vision for our nation or pride in the Australian people that is expected from a national leader. Compare and contrast Keating’s speech from the 2013 Remembrance Day about Australians who have lost their lives in war. Sadly the video has been removed on this website.
My favourite parts include:“By 1915 we had no need to re-affirm our European heritage at the price of being dragged to a European holocaust. We had escaped that mire, both sociologically and geographically. But out of loyalty to imperial Britain, we returned to Europe’s killing fields to decide the status of Germany, a question which should earlier have been settled by foresight and statecraft.’ and “One thing is certain: young Australians, like the young Europeans I mentioned earlier, can no longer be dragooned en masse into military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen. They are fortunately too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became: young innocents who had little or no choice. Commemorating these events should make us even more wary of grand ambitions and grand alliances of the kind that fractured Europe and darkened the twentieth century. In the long shadow of these upheavals, we gather to ponder their meaning and to commemorate the values that shone in their wake: courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia.”
Keating’s 2013 speech was similar to his 1993 speech as PM, the audio of which is available here.
Speaking of great speeches, there was an amazing one last week by Noel Pearson at Gough Whitlam’s funeral service. Much has been written about it already.
Here’s the full text of Noel’s eulogy to Gough. And here’s the video:
Anyone interesting in politics and political craft appreciates a great speech. But what makes a great political speech? It’s worth looking at a couple more to try and see what’s in a great speech, and its often art as much as science. A favourite example is Keating’s famous Redfern Speech from 20 years ago. Here is a full transcript of the speech.
And here is some analysis that helps put it into context and explain the significance of its parts.
And here is some video to relive the moment:
Another favourite worth dissecting is Barack Obama’s famous speech at the 2004 American Democratic National Convention when he retold, eloquently, the story of his personal journey (which is described in much greater detail in his best-selling books).
The transcript of that speech can be read here along with some detailed and interesting analysis about its contents.
And here’s another favourite (sadly without analysis).
and just to get back to the original point about cultural context here’s a local favourite that every Australian child should read, listen to and learn! My Country Read by Dorothea McKellar.
Shock of the new – Peter Brent explains how winners like to write their own histories
It’s no secret that I enjoy Peter Brent’s frequent musings on modern Australian politics. He has an entertaining acerbic wit and dry sense of humour that he is renown for amongst fans of Aussie politics. He sometimes strays with his obsession about certain politicians that he seems to personally dislike but by and large his analysis of election results and polling is very good.
Here he muses about a recent speech my Michael Cooney, from Labor’s Chifley Research Centre…
The full article can be found here on the Inside Story website (worth subscribing to) and is definitely worth a read, particularly if you’re interested in recent Labor history and the false image/myth created around John Howard’s electoral success (which Peter has repeatedly and correctly pointed out was due in part to favourable economic times and enormous middle-class welfare and high-spending high-taxing policies).
“A Labor think tank has given a timely warning about the seductive appeal of triumphs past, says Peter Brent … Last month in London, Michael Cooney, executive director of the Labor Party’s main think tank, the Chifley Research Centre, called for an end to what he termed “nostalgia for the new.” In a speech called “In the Shadow of Giants: the Paradox of Modernisation in the Second Generation,” he took particular aim at the obsession within his party with the Hawke and Keating governments of 1983–96, and the implication that this politically successful period can serve as a blueprint for Labor today. Cooney characterised nostalgia for that period – the belief that if only the spirit of those times could be recaptured, all would be well – as a one-dimensional view of the recent past. Beginning and ending with “microeconomic reform,” this account was constructed by the party’s enemies, he argued, with the chief aim of flaying modern Labor. Yet it’s also something many in the party have internalized.”
I really liked this point from Peter, which is an important lesson for political strategists and local campaign directors: “Trying to repeat the past is a recipe for dysfunction. Apart from anything else, any account of what happened is incomplete, selective or just plain wrong. History is often like that: the stories that develop through the years contain truths, yes, but also omissions, exaggerations and falsehoods. Random events sometimes alter the course of those tales, and as they are retold they are remoulded by ideological battles.”
Peter ends this episode with a positive note about Labor (as positive as his overt cynicism allows I suspect 🙂 … “the party will undoubtedly return to office one day. How it behaves when it once more controls the levers will indicate whether the current ailment is temporary or something more enduring.”
My opinion on this topic is obviously optimistic. Having just spent 5 years working in the ACT Labor office I have seen closely the positive outcomes from a hard-working team of representatives and supportive party members. Whenever Labor embraces its values and follows through with team-work it always improves outcomes in government and in the community. There are no silver bullets in politics and occasionally you are under heavy enemy fire, but the progressive side of politics must be united and focused on a better future to succeed. There are lots of good examples of the successes of good Labor policy and government in recent Australian history as well as in current governments in SA and the ACT. I’m sure federal Labor’s electoral success will return with a vengeance and I am confident that Bill Shorten will continue to score goals strengthening the Party for its next electoral test.
Anyway, enough about Labor, Peter’s latest post on the likelihood of the Queensland Premier losing his own seat at the next Queensland State election is a cracker! The answer to the question of “will he survive” is “probably no”!
Campaign gaffes – so many to choose from!
I was looking at some recent campaign gaffes in elections around the world and it reminded me of a recent article on Australian examples by Peter Chen from Sydney University.
I first met Peter Chen briefly in 2008 at a post-2007-federal-election workshop at ANU where he entertained a room of political science academics and practitioners with YouTube clips from the 2007 election campaign. Last year he wrote an interesting piece for The Drum about campaign gaffes http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-19/chen-campaign-gaffes/4895246
Peter Chen has also written a very good and thorough analysis of Australian Politics in a Digital Age, an ANU e-press thesis which is free to download here: http://press.anu.edu.au//wp-content/uploads/2013/02/whole2.pdf
If you don’t have time to read the 2012 thesis you might prefer this shorter article from 2012 “Social Media, Youth Participation and Australian Elections” http://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/research/caber/files/1b.pdf … in a nutshell: ” Social media used for political purposes is likely though, in the first instance, to attract those with pre-existing strong political interests. However, the generalisation of social media use, and its focus on sociality and community building, has the potential to change the way trusted political information is distributed and engagement occurs.”
Dr Chen’s thesis reveals he “is a lecturer in media and politics at the University of Sydney. He holds a PhD from The Australian National University. His research focuses on the relationship between media and political processes, with a particular interest in new forms of communication. He also teaches and researches in the areas of public policy, Australian politics and social movements. Peter is the author of numerous articles and chapters on the role of digital media in Australian political life, and the author of Electronic Engagement: A Guide for Public Managers (ANU E Press, 2007) and the co-author of Electronic Democracy? The Impact of New Communications Technologies on Australian Democracy (Democratic Audit of Australia, 2006). He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics and the International Journal of Electronic Governance.
I can’t seem to find him on Twitter though, which is a bit disappointing.
And here is Dr Chen chewing the fat with Jonathon Holmes from media Watch about politics and new media http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3742753.htm
In the Drum article Dr Chen refers primarily to Mr Abbott’s “suppository of all wisdom” gaffe and concludes “there is some truth in the repression view of gaffes. Where there are cognitive associations between concepts, verbal misstatements may reflect them in unguarded moments. The important question is to be able to delineate between simple error and significant and telling Freudian slip. In the latter case this would be most observable where these errors are repeated over time, eliminating the “momentary distraction” and “linguistic similarity” explanations. Tony Abbott may not have a deeply suppressed anal fixation, but his tendency towards repeated gender stereotypes (ironing and women, sex appeal as an important characteristic for women in public life, talking about Indigenous women simply as passive victims) does provide us with a sense that, in this policy area, there’s something to the slip of the tongue.”
It’s interesting that Dr Chen’s Drum article doesn’t mention Mr Abbott’s most famous gaffe of recent years with Channel 7 news reporter Mark Reilly, which became so famous it always features in every memorable collection of Mr Abbott’s past gaffes such as this one
Perhaps the nodding incident happened after the Drum article? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s hard to live down.
No doubt I’ll come back to this article with some more links about hilarious campaign gaffes here and overseas, although they’re pretty easy to find via google and youtube if you want to try.