Attila the Pun
Friday, July 09, 2004
Greg Barns is a former Howard government advisor, and is now a member of the Democrats. Today he writes about the 'politics of character', arguing that it has gone too far.
The seemingly relentless inquisition into Mark Latham's past by the Government and sections of the media is dangerous for our democracy, not only because we ought to be focusing on policy and not personalities, but because in the past week the line between legitimate questions about a political leader's previous public life and illegitimate questions about his personal relations has been rubbed out.
He doesn't provide details of any relentless inquisition into Latham's past by the Government. Why? - because there wasn't any. All the rumours and innuendo were spread by the media (who Latham furiously courted, but has lately shunned) and Latham himself. Whilst not doubting that the Government has enjoyed the last week, there is no evidence that they are behind any 'inquisition'. Latham talking about an alleged 'dirt unit' is not evidence.
But drawing attention to the peccadilloes and behavioural lapses (unless they involve proven criminal conduct) of politicians and individuals involved in public discourse simply confirms the immutable fact that humankind is flawed.
But some humans are more flawed than others. And why is only proven criminal conduct relevant?
The attempt to suggest that such lapses and flaws should disqualify an individual from contributing through political life to advancing Australia's common good is abhorrent.
'Lapses and flaws' sounds much nicer than 'lying and violence'.
I think it is good that a modest amount of privacy is still afforded politician's families in Australia, but the suggestion that a person's character is irrelevant to their fitness to hold a position of public trust is absurd. What else do we judge them on? Policy certainly. but if their character suggests that they will renege on a policy, or modify it arbitrarily, then that is a valid concern.
Latham's character suggests that he is either a) a bully, who crumbles when any pressure is put on him or b) overwhelmingly cynical, and attempting to play for the sympathy vote.
I am undecided, though I favour a mixture of the two.
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