Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Dog Whistle Politics

Because I’ve been around for a while, I’ve built up a few simple ideas about how politicians operate in this country. Right about now, on the eve of a federal election campaign, is a good time to observe and reflect.

I remember recently, in reverse sequence, the “Children overboard” affair, and the Tampa Incident. Prior to that, there was the rise and fall of One Nation, and before that, the Red Menace that was initially used as the justification for our presence in Vietnam.

Last week, we had Kevin Andrews whistling up the race issue.

These incidents or situations all had something very important in common – the use of fear and loathing by conservative politicians to garner support for their re-election. It’s a very sad and ugly feature of Australian politics, and is used because it’s been successful.

To me, there is something weak and cowardly about using people’s base instincts to control them. It is the antithesis of leadership and a sign of intellectual failure and cynicism.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics, I guess because the metaphor is about whistling up the dog of fear. Another metaphor I’ve used, the origin of which I’ve lost, also uses a dog metaphor –

“The bitch of fear is on heat again”.

Both these ugly metaphors describe the phenomenon pretty well. The fact that it’s still feature of politics in Australia is shameful.

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