Tony Abbott

Twirling towards freedom

The Thinking Person’s Prime Minister

When I stumbled upon an article in The Age yesterday titled ‘Abbott, the thinking person’s prime minister,’ it did get me thinking. First, when I read the disclaimer at the end of the piece stating that the author is a former Liberal Party adviser and current Liberal Party member, I thought I must have opened the Herald Sun website by mistake.

Opinion pieces like this, planted on The Age website to generate hits and attract comments, mark a dangerous trend. Mastheads, which once aspired to hold politicians more or less to account, instead place precedence these days on raising liberal ire and clocking up page views. The increasing polarization of politics and Abbott’s transformation from National Joke to Future Prime Minister are at least partly due to media coverage of this variety. We long seem to have forgotten that working ourselves into a partisan lather isn’t a national debate, it’s just barracking. 

“If Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard wish to continue to fight this election playing the man not the ball, by tackling the person not the policy,” wrote Nicolle Flint, “then let's assess Abbott on this basis.”

What policy, though? A rousing chorus about stopping the boats and doing away with the carbon tax hardly amounts to policy, and the dull murmurings of just how these lofty goals might be achieved have been few and far between. In the absence of policy, what basis is there to fight the election on other than tackling the person?

In defence of Abbott – the man, the person – the closest Flint gets to justifying her argument is by pointing to the first pages of Abbott’s political memoir Battlelines. “Charges of sexism and misogyny appear truly farcical when measured against the care and respect expressed in these opening pages for his wife Margie…” she wrote. Having not read the book myself, I have no idea what was written in these pages, but I’m familiar enough with the charges and skeptical of how they could be refuted. Abbott’s comment that “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?” smacks of sexism, as does his infamous reference to the “housewives of Australia as they do the ironing.” Having a wife is no defence against misogyny; Josef Fritzl has one, after all. Gillard may not have presented enough evidence in her misogyny speech to permanently tar Abbott with that particular brush, but it did get people thinking.

What will people think if Abbott is elected? It’s unlikely to be: how did it come to this? We know how it came to this. The canker got into the rose once the carbon tax attacks began, and only spread from there. In three years, the only hint of what Julia Gillard really believed, the only time she didn’t sound like an automaton, was in that magnificent tremble in her voice as she made her misogyny speech last October. The Labor Party has been its own worst enemy. Kevin Rudd has systematically undermined Gillard even more than the hungry media have, and so he should. Her role in his overthrow will never be forgotten. Misogyny may have had something to do with Gillard’s troubles, but not as much as politics. Through all this, Abbott has been able to hide, safely out of the limelight, while Labor tore themselves apart. A party leader who has patently proved himself unable to perform in unscripted scenarios is far less interesting than “salty cunts in brine”, discord in the West, and internal strife. Abbott couldn’t have asked for an easier rise through the polls. What we will almost certainly be left thinking is: why did we let it come to this?

Come September 15, it’s unlikely that anyone will take comfort in Flint’s assertion that, “Tony Abbott is the thinking person's prime minister, and to my mind, regardless of what certain women might try to argue, Tony Abbott is the thinking woman’s prime minister."

If articles such as this are what passes for intelligent commentary these days, then I suppose Tony Abbott could pass for the thinking person’s prime minister.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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