Brown Study

Masochism and sadism

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

STOP PRESS We have just had to stop the presses that were printing the new edition of Brown’s Political Dictionary and Thesaurus. The meaning of words changes as the years roll by. We are therefore inserting a corrigendum for two words and one popular expression into the coming edition of Brown to bring it up to date.

Masochism; a personal campaign to win the Democrat party’s nomination as its candidate for the presidential election. Sadism; encouraging someone else to seek the Democrat party’s nomination as its candidate for the presidential election.

I have been agonising about the presidential election. When the president was always a man (except when they got cold feet, as with Obama’s hollow threats, warning Assad not to cross the red line of germ warfare in Syria), wives were known as the First Lady. When it looked as if Crooked Hillary might win last time, the presidential spouse was to be called First Dude. Now we have one of the front runners for the Democrat nomination, Pete Buttigieg, who is gay and married, but his better half is not his wife, but his husband. If young Pete were, by some miracle, to win, how will his partner be described? So far, the suggestions have been rather pedestrian, like First Gentleman. But we think readers of The Spectator Australia can do better and we are therefore inviting suggestions. Some have already arrived, the best I think, being First Decorator and others that are less dignified. We await your suggestions. My reading of the primaries, incidentally, is that Sanders and Warren have no hope, as they are too left wing and will frighten the horses. Buttigieg is too inexperienced. Biden is harmless and is the safest in a lacklustre field. He would look respectable as a candidate with Amy Klobuchar as his running mate.

On the same general subject, we watch the gyrations of the US political system with a mixture of awe and revulsion and, if we are sensible, we reflect on how lucky we are that we do not have such a terrible system of government here. Well, not yet. But we are flirting again with a republic and if we abandon our present system without first thinking through what would replace it, we will end up with the US system, with all its attendant horrors. So you will have fixed terms for a president whom you will not be able to get rid of, even if he or she is wrecking the economy; you will have brawls in the Senate to confirm the appointment of federal judges, senior bureaucrats and diplomats, with characters blackened and judges branded as radical or conservative and picked solely because of their political allegiances; if you are uncomfortable about populism, you will see crazy fights for popularity between the elected prime minister and the unelected president; and you will have secret pacts between the president and foreign powers of the sort we saw with Ukraine. That is what a republic is and does. Our system of government really does have checks and balances that keep governments under some sort of control, which the US system does not have, as much as it pretends it does. We have a stable system of government here and we would be mad to abandon it.

But it is not perfect. There has definitely been a change during my lifetime – in fact, during quite recent time – in one of the principles underlying our constitution, and not a change for the better. The constitution consists not only in the printed clauses of the document itself but in conventions of behaviour, the unwritten rules of what you can do and what you cannot, or should not, do. They really make the constitution work. Until recently, I had never seen the practice of a politician, especially a front bench member, so blithely trying to have elected colleagues and others subjected to investigation by the police in the hope they will be prosecuted and sent to gaol. And yet the shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, does this as a matter of course by ‘referring’ his opponents to the police. The object, of course, is not to promote the noble cause of law enforcement, but to stir up political dirt and embarrass the government. On several occasions, he has initiated this procedure, including an attempt to ‘refer’ Angus Taylor to the NSW police over the City of Sydney’s travel costs. Then he asked the AFP to investigate an appointment to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. But the worst case was his ‘referral’ to the Attorney-General’s department of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney and one of its star speakers, Tony Abbott as, wait for it, agents of foreign influence! This undoubtedly is the knock on the door at midnight, the attempt to drag law enforcement bodies into censoring and punishing political opponents. It is an appalling trend and should be stopped. The Leader of the Opposition should have enough sense to stop it being done in the name of the opposition and the Labor party.

Nor is our administration all that red-hot. I cannot believe the Morrison government’s solution to the sports rorts saga. They propose to assuage the wounded feelings of organisations and local MPs that missed out on a grant by re-activating the scheme and putting more millions of dollars into it. If your club did not get a grant last time, it will certainly get one this time. The government seem to have ignored my point that the real cause of the scandal was the Commonwealth being in it at all, quite apart from the extraordinary amount being spent. The Commonwealth should stick to national issues and responsibilities and keep out of hockey sticks and change rooms. Now, with millions more being thrown at the new scheme and inevitable waste, get ready for more headaches and criticisms, grants that will be hard to justify and a few human stuff-ups. When will they learn?

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