June 03, 2011

Horse 1197 - "Meowgate" and "Schoolyard Politics"


In case you have been living on Mars (and even then you would have picked up the TV and Radio transmissions), Senator Penny Wong quite rightly put Senator David Bushby in his place after he made a "meow" noise during a Senate estimates committee hearing and accused her of being sensitive.

"You meow when a woman does that ... that's a good idea. It is just extraordinary.
The blokes are allowed to yell but if a woman stands her ground, you want to make that kind of comment. It's sort of schoolyard politics, mate."
- Penny Wong, 1st Jun 2011.

Now whilst sexist remarks are obviously a bad thing, would it have been OK if say Julie Bishop had made the remark?

"When people are carrying on in Question Time and getting personal and vicious, it's just a little thing I do. It's . . . suggesting the girls should put the claws away."
- Julie Bishop, as quoted in The Daily Telegraph, 03 Dec 2008

Would the comment have been allowable if the situtation had been reversed, with Senator Penny Wong criticising Senator David Bushby's manliness or lack thereof?

In both cases it sits squarely in the realms of an Abusive argumentum ad hominem attack and I'm afraid that these sort of things have been employed in parliament since the day it began.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating virtually made a political career out of it, and would quite often attack anyone whom he didn't agree with, like these two attacks on the then Opposition leader John Howard:

"But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It's like 'Spot the eyebrows'."
"I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot..."

Even during what is arguably the single most famous speech in Australian political history, we have what amounts to an abusive ad hominem:

"Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned "Malcolm Fraser", who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's Cur."
- Gough Whitlam, 11 Nov 1975

Heading back even further into the realms of political history we can find abusive ad hominem attack in the British Parliament as well. British PM Benjamin Disraeli said of Robert Peel that:

"The Right Honourable gentleman is reminiscent of a poker. The only difference is that a poker gives off the occasional signs of warmth."
- Benjamin Disraeli

If you really want the ultimate example of "schoolyard politics" though, you need to look at Oliver Cromwell who whilst as Member of Parliament for Cambridge had a pillow fight in the House of Commons and after he had signed the warrant for King Charles I's execution had an ink fight with Henry Marten with the quills they'd been using (It's true, look it up).

Senator David Bushby's remarks were uncalled for but the truth is that before this event, he was a nobody in Australian politics and will probably return to being a nobody. As far as insults go, it wasn't even particularly creative either. Maybe he should have started a food fight or something... Brendan Nelson almost did...

... well not really.

1 comment:

http://www.abc.net.au/perth said...

Doctor Brendan Nelson is now Australian Ambassador to Benelux and the EU isn't he?