Principle Before Gain

Sometimes, I think somebody should hand Gillard a hardbound copy of Plutarch’s Life of Cato The Younger. If she had read and followed this from the start of her Prime Ministership, she wouldn’t be in the mess she is now.

The latest twist in the Slipper Affair is emblematic of what I mean. Gillard recruited Slipper in the first place to give her more votes on the floor of Parliament. At the time, everybody recognised how much this stabilised her power base. Yesterday, she decided to continue fighting for that power base, instead of taking a principled stand against Peter Slipper’s misogynistic texts.

She did this very well. I haven’t the internet bandwidth to watch her performance on youtube, but from all accounts, it was very impressive. She hit all the right notes against sexism and, once she raised the spectre of misogyny, effectively tunnelled it against her political opponent. Brilliant.

But Gillard’s Ciceronian oratory could not change the truth. Her attack on sexism was a defence for a man who compared female genitalia to seafood.

This contradiction drives at the heart of the Gillard Prime Ministership. She always chooses political expediency over principle.

This is par for the course in Canberra, on both sides of the ideological fence.

But it is nevertheless true. The fundamental weakness of the Gillard Government is that it has always preferred political gain to the moral high ground.

In the short term, this works. Recruiting Slipper was crowned as a coup by most journalists at the time. Reverting to a carbon tax after the election earned the undying support of Bob Brown, his senators and his crucial member in the lower house. The Malaysia solution gave her credence on asylum seekers without admitting she was wrong about the Pacific Solution.

But in the long term, it is destroying her.

Consider a completely different political animal. Cato the Younger was the crankiest, most stubborn, narrow-minded, argumentative and downright eccentric man in the Senate. This made him into one of the most revered, respected and successful statesmen in Rome.

Cato was contrary and cantankerous in his opposition to bad law. He became renowned for his unbending opposition to the dictatorial designs of all the greatest and most powerful men in Rome- Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Crassus, popular demagogues, the whole lot.

This was the path of madness. Without allies, without benefit, without hope of victory, Cato would oppose a law because it was wrong. That was all the justification he needed. If Caesar was wrong, then Cato would fight, come hell or high water. It would eventually cost him his life.

But it worked. Every time Cato defeated Caesar in the Senate house, or in the popular assembly (and it happened many times) Cato won because he held the moral high ground.

Ironically, Cato’s principles were successful because they were unpopular. People listened to Cato because they knew he spoke from conviction, not self-advancement.

It was those years of being sidelined, mocked and criticised for his principles which gave Cato the reputation of being the most honest man in Rome, and it was that reputation that catapulted him to the greatest heights of Roman politics.

Gillard could learn a lot from Cato. So far she has been characterised by short-sighted lunges for political gain, instead of taking the costly and principled high road.

But the truth is that reputation counts in politics, and the reputation of a man, or a woman, who does what’s right no matter what the cost, even at the expense of their career, is nigh-on unstoppable.





A Proxy War

A bill to create same sex marriages in Australia was defeated by 98 votes to 42 in the House of Representatives last week. But the bill had nothing to do with parliament. The whole debate was a proxy war.

In parliament, as part of this proxy war, Rob Oakeshott, the famous (or infamous, depending on your political bent) New South Wales independent, declared that he was surprised that the government was in his bedroom.

This phrase is often used to imply that the government has no right to dictate what happens in our bedrooms and ought to stay out of sexual issues, and allow anybody to get married.

This insinuation is nonsense.

The same-sex marriage debate is not about the government controlling what two men, or two women, or a man and a woman, or more than two, do in the privacy of their own bedroom. Homosexuals can do whatever they like in their bedroom, gay marriage or no gay marriage.

Besides, if we really wanted to “get the government out of the bedroom” then the government would have to cease recognising any sort of relationship. There would be no official married status, no tax breaks, government initiatives or welfare allotments for married or de facto (straight or gay) people.

This means, if anything, less government recognition of homosexuals, not more.

So if it’s not about government policing sexuality, then what is it about?

The argument is about status. It is about homosexuals demanding that society believe that the homosexual relationship is identical to the heterosexual relationship.  And they believe that if the government calls it the same thing, it sends a message that it is the same thing, and then everyone will fall into line. Not only will they fall into line, but they will be almost legally required to fall in to line. If the government has called it marriage, how can you call it a non-marriage?

What government has joined let no man separate.

Essentially, gay marriage advocates have brought parliamentary legal power into society’s culture war over marriage. This is why the gay marriage bill was a proxy war.

Now, the discussion is a good discussion to have. There is a case to be made that homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual ones. I disagree with this case, but that’s the point. We need to have the debate.

But we need to understand the debate is not about laws, or government, or parliament. It’s a bid for social status. Maybe they should have this status, maybe they shouldn’t. But call a spade a spade. It’s a movement wanting social recognition, not legal protection.

So, when you say you support gay marriage, what do you mean?

Do you mean that you believe that society, and its institutions, such as churches, insurance companies, schools and hotels should accept that the gay relationship is the same as the heterosexual relationship?

Or do you mean that the government should treat them alike?

Do you believe that if the government treats them alike, then society should too?

Lucid language is key to a clear debate. So what do you mean?

Allegations and Arrogance, But No Answers

Julia Gillard has refused to disprove allegations that she was involved in a money misappropriation scandal during the 1990s. This is a fundamental mistake.

She claims that the allegations are part of a malicious internet smear campaign, advocated by disreputable sources, and that these old allegations have already been dealt with and have no relevance to her prime ministership in the 21st century, and therefore, can’t we all just move on?

She also claims, as an aside, that the allegations are not true.

All this may be true, and I hope she is innocent. But true or not, it is the wrong answer.

The more she talks about how pointless proving her innocence is, and less about how she actually is innocent, the more the rational voter begins to suspect that she doesn’t want to talk about innocence, maybe, the rational voter muses, because she isn’t innocent.

Gillard claims to be innocent but she withholds the proofs. She has decided that the voters don’t need proofs. They should just go on her word.

The paternalistic arrogance required to announce “You don’t need the truth, I know the truth, I know I’m innocent and that’s good enough for you” is breathtaking. The voters have entrusted her with the highest office in the land. Gillard is answerable to them, and if they want to know that she is innocent, then they have a right to know for themselves.

This attitude of “I know best and I don’t need to explain myself to you” is what the voters will resent, and this arrogance will undermine her prime ministership until she stops this foolish behaviour.