The Ruddite Framing Must Die or Julia, Meet Luke
I bumped into Michael P., an old colleague, at Melbourne Airport as I was about to board a plane to Wellington this time yesterday. We worked together in the NZ Labour Parliamentary Research Unit in the early nineties, and always had something of a fractious relationship. He is a caricature of an inner-city lefty and he stills smells a little like a rarely-dusted, windowless room. In return, I suspect he regards me as an alcoholic buffoon and crypto-fascist. I have stopped drinking altogether and my politics has drifted relentlessly leftward since I last saw him over a decade ago, but he could not possibly know this — and thus his look of disdain at the sight of me was both poorly-concealed and somewhat justified.
As if 15 years had never happened, we found ourselves in a heated argument within seconds, the content and context of which triggered in me a kind of panic over the framing of the previous night’s election. He had only been in Australia for a week, so his understanding of the country’s politics was meagre — but usefully so. It revealed what a bombastic yet ignorant person (i.e. the average voter) may be thinking. Here is our conversation in the form of radio play:
General aeroplane hubbub in the background, clinking and murmuring, humming and revving.
Phil: Well, bugger me.
Phil: Who woulda thought it, eh?
Michael: Shut eh.
Phil: What brings you to town.
Michael: I am here with the benk.
Michael: The benk. I work in government relations with the ANZ.
Phil. Oh, a bank. I see. Great timing. Big night last night.
Michael: Yis, bugger then bug.
Phil: The ALP campaign was a complete fucking disaster.
Michael: Yis. Serves Gullard right for stebbing Rudd un the beck.
Michael: The beck, Phul. Between the shoulder blades.
Phil: Oh, the back. Well, she didn’t really. He is despised to the point of nausea by all but a small handful of his caucus colleagues, most of whom deservedly lost their seats as a reflection of their stupidity and poor judgment. Labor would gone down in a landslide with that friendless turd at the helm.
Michael: Bullshut. The whole Labor Party looks pretty friendless to me.
Phil: Well, they won 50 percent of the vote, and a great deal more in Victoria where intelligent and thoughtful people live.
Michael: Those right-wung machine men have only themselves to blame, Phul. Gullard stebbed Rudd in the beck then rushed to an election. Thet uz more then a wee but sully, Phul.
Phil: Well, I have to disagree with almost unbelievable levels of ferocity, not to mention immeasurably superior knowledge. Anyway, this is my seat. Keep moving, you intolerable Trot. Cattle-class must grate on a vegan like yourself.
Michael: Fuck you, you Nazi lush.
Phil: Why don’t you crawl “beck” to your “benk”, you hippy-crite.
Phil: Oh, I was hoping you’d get that without me having to explain. Damn. This really deadens the impact: I rather slap-dashedly conjured up a new word by combining “hippy” and “hypocrite” to point out the irony inherent in an avowed socialist such as yourself peddling his wares as a financial sector lobbyist. And the “benk, beck” thing was accentuating your New Zealand pronunciation for comic effect.
Michael: (long pause, quiet coughs, aeroplane suddenly, awkwardly silent). I have nothing. Goodbye, darling. Forever.
Michael and Phil loudly smooch their farewells, both (upper) cheeks, and part ways, as the pilot’s voice echoes faintly in the distance, along with inexplicable but instantly recognizable clip-clop of a horse’s leisurely canter.
Now, the last part of the exchange may not have played out exactly as I depicted, but the rest is fairly accurate. As I said, it worried me because it made me realize that the Ruddite framing — that the election result would have been better had the ALP not changed leaders — is in very serious danger of taking hold. It is easy to ignore the possible impact of such a narrative if you make the age-old mistake of limiting your analysis to reasoned common-sense and forget the pervasive powers of well-aimed bullshit.
Gillard and her supporters must knock this Kevinista lie on its head as a matter of extreme urgency. She will simply not survive as leader if it is allowed to stray into the realm of conventional wisdom. But I am nothing if not a helpful bystander, so here is my unsolicited advice on precisely how to deal with it.
There is an extremely effective framing/media training technique that I have coined “Luke: The Teen Smoker”. It goes like this: a 16-year old boy’s mother finds a joint in his lunchbox. What can Luke do? Straight-forward denial demonstrably will not work unless the Mother is a moron or a member of the Corby family. The ‘Luke’ approach has been aiding arse-covering for millennia:
Cue suburban home noises, a whimpering mother, a slammed door, then Luke:
Luke: Mum, I promise you: that is not mine. It came into my possession by accident, but I kept it in my lunchbox as a reminder to myself what I must not do, a harbinger if you will. But, Mum, I do have something to admit. Last Saturday, at Justin’s party….(sobbing would help here)…I had a puff of a cigarette…I don’t know why…must be hormones or the burden of peer pressure or the negative influence of popular culture or some combination thereof, but…Mum….(inconsolable sobbing really helps now)…I confess I smoked a very small portion of a solitary cigarette, exclusively comprising tobacco. I am so sorry that I kept this from you. Can you ever forgive me? Can you, Mum? Where did that horse come from?
This will work in almost every case, except in rare instances where the mother is such a hard-arse that pot-smoking would be the very least the child would do as a legitimate coping mechanism.
‘Luke’ expertly demonstrates that people are much more likely to believe you are innocent of a crime if you cop to a misdemeanor. In the case of the election outcome, Gillard must employ the technique by first making a concession large enough to overwhelm the Ruddite Fallacy. It seems pretty straight-forward to me:
Cue 7.30 Report theme music, then Julia:
Gillard: Kerry, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it is true to say I decided to go to the polls too soon. I felt bound to seek a mandate as soon as practical, but it now seems glaringly obvious that, by doing this, I did not give Australians sufficient time to digest the change or for people to adjust to my leadership style. It was a mistake, Kerry, and not one I am afraid to admit.
Then pivot sharply:
Gillard, cont.: But let me say this, Kerry. The notion that the Labor Party would have performed better without the change in leadership has absolutely no basis in fact or evidence. In fact, Sky News exit polls showed the exact opposite. It suggested that we would have lost outright to Tony Abbott if I had not stepped in as Prime Minister. Yes, we may have taken a hit in Queensland, Kerry, but that is only part of the story. It is my view, and the considered view of my colleagues, that Labor would have lost all but one seat in WA and there is no way we could have gained seats in Victoria under Mr. Rudd, or held on to seats like Robertson and Dobell in NSW. This opportunistic revisionism, being promoted by our political opponents, is completely false and entirely unhelpful. Kerry, am I expected to ignore this horse?
This might just work if deployed early enough, not to mention frequently and consistently: The rush to the polls was dumb in retrospect, but Rudd is, and will forever remain, a complete dick.
IMHO, this is Gillard’s best shot to defang the ‘Rudd Woulda Won’ narrative. And, as it so happens, it has the added benefit of being true*. This is not the case with ‘Luke’ who, truth be told, turns tricks for smack.
*The phrase “the added benefit of being true” is also the title of one my unwritten books. I have many titles. No books yet.