- The Guardian
- Issue #2017
Will politicians stop “playing politics”? Do think tanks do any actual “thinking”? How “strong” is Australia? Well it depends on who you ask in this fortnight’s edition of Weasel Words!
Politics is the job of politicians. The people who do this job – politicians – sometimes do their job by criticising the job as a whole so that we – the non-politicians – will like them more. By and large other professions don’t do this. You don’t get dentists telling you that dentists charge like wounded bulls. Thus, by accusing another politician of “playing politics” with an issue, the accuser – also a full-time politician who thinks of nothing else – puts themselves on the side of ordinary people who just want stuff done. It’s about as convincing as “the dog ate my homework” spoken by a dog.
A recent, extreme example is Scott Morrison telling a right-leaning Christian congregation that nobody trusts the government months after begging the entire country to let him run one.
Why does it work? The system we live in, bourgeois democracy, encourages us not to see the politics that operates in all areas of our life but to accept the political choices that have been made as “just the way things are.” That’s why professional politicians can get mileage out of pretending to stand aside from the things they do full time.
Hey there, are there things you’d like people to think but which you don’t want to argue for yourself, maybe because it would seem too obviously self-interested? Have you got a lot of money? Just start a think-tank, and you’re away!
At first glance, “think tank” suggests a group of very brainy people thinking hard about a topic, giving the rest of us the benefit of their hard work and expertise. In fact, all think tanks are set up to reach the correct conclusions, however much research and hard thinking they might do to get there.
Some of them are more obvious about being lobby groups than others, and some have moments of independence, but they all get there in the end. Top examples at the moment are the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), set up by Murdoch’s dad in the 1920s, which consistently argues for a neoliberal version of freedom and against plain packaging for tobacco products. The IPA is distinguished by not saying who its donors are and festooning its lobbyists with pseudo-academic titles like “adjunct research fellow.”
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is funded by the Australian Defence Department and various arms manufacturers but is treated by the media as some sort of gold standard for commentary on military spending (they always want more) and on relations with China (pro-conflict, also pro-demonisation).
Often used for things that are anything but strong. Does anyone remember Campbell Newman? The one-term Premier of Queensland used the word “strong” twenty-three times in one short speech before losing both his own seat and government in the 2015 election. We will never know if one more use of the word “strong” would have gotten him across the line.
Elsewhere “strong” is often used to describe the Australian-US relationship, which is certainly not going to go the way of Campbell Newman any time soon. The alliance is so very strong, we never get to vote on it or even question it, thanks to our fabulous two-party system. As a descriptor for Australia’s role in the relationship, “strong” always looks like somebody doesn’t know how to spell “servile.”