Pyne’s Poodles and other Faux Pas

By | 2013/12/05

There’s a lot of anger at the moment about Christopher Pyne’s backflip on sticking to the Gonski educational reforms (promises made both before and after the election), and equally a lot of commentary on the backflip of the backflip.

iStock PoodleSo much of the commentary though seems to suffer that perennial problem in Australian politics – resorting to superficial and irrelevant character attacks rather than focusing on the core issue.

It’s easier, it seems, to dismiss Pyne as some prissy preening poodle than to write a few carefully crafted sentences about the core issue.

There’s one thing to write scathingly on someone’s integrity, or their honesty (true, perceived, or lack thereof), or their inability to make a decision and stick to it, or even their deference to the next five minute poll. All of those comments are valid in politics. But when you start attacking how they dress, their real (or imagined) sexuality, or a myriad of other things totally unrelated to the issue at hand, your argument isn’t helped. In fact, it often ends up being layered in such a tightly woven layer of superficiality that the argument is lost.

When Julia Gillard became the first Female Prime Minister, attacks against her were often so centred on the physical that at best they could be called petty personal indulgences. Germaine Greer, the renowned feminist who seems constantly at risk of becoming a living, breathing caricature of herself, decried Julia Gillard’s dress sense.

The worst thing about all these silly, superficial attacks laced around real complaints is that they reveal an attacker’s own insecurities and sometimes even bigotries. They proclaim to be offering a solution at times, but in reality they’re just part of a bigger social problem – picking on people for a perceived difference, rather than actually engaging in meaningful discourse.

I have almost zero time for Christopher Pyne, but that’s because I don’t like his policies, I don’t like his attitude, and I don’t trust him. I don’t give a flying fracas whether he doesn’t have some seemingly necessary traits in how he walks or how he talks, or any other number of irrelevant and superficial complaints.

And if you think it’s OK to attack people for superficial reasons rather than raise legitimate concerns about their actual actions and behaviour, you need to watch this. It may be referring to gay dating apps, but its reach is so much broader and so true of an entirely inappropriate fixation on superficiality: