Sunday, May 06, 2007

Insulting Julia Gillard

The statements by Liberal Party MP Ken Smith criticizing Julia Gillard’s hairstyle and jewelry and linking these criticisms to her understanding of industrial relations – the substance is that she is more style than substance – is ad hominem abuse. They come shortly after Liberal MP Bill Heffernan’s description of Gillard as ‘deliberately barren’ and hence unsuitable for high political office – also ad hominem abuse.

Julia Gillard’s hairstyle and her jewelry have nothing to so with her understanding of IR issues. Nor does her decision, if it was a decision, not to have children have any relevance in determining her fitness for office. Note it is irrelevant whether these claims are correct or not. I point this out because a number of radio commentators raised the issue of whether Gillard chose not to have children or not. The answer to this question cannot conceivably bolster the strength of Heffernan’s claim since, while it might help establish the truth or falsioity of the premise, the premise itself is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

These comments by these Liberal politicians seem to have an ugly anti-female aspect to them. They are also offensive - most people are at least somewhat concerned about their appearance and decisions to have (or not have) children are intensely personal issues that involve obvious sensitivities. The remarks clearly can cause offense even if they are used in an illogical way.

I liked the analysis of these issues at a new blog I came across The Thinker’s Podium - on Ken Smith here and on Heffernan here. The anonymous contributor, Bruce, also has a nice general piece on the declining art of ad hominem attacks.

Of course Labor politicians have long loved the art of ad hominem attacks. The Paul Keating insults page documents the exploits of one noted contributor. Recall:
  • ‘The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on’
  • ‘What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.’
  • ‘...the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition...’
  • ‘I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot...’
The intensity and inventiveness of some of Keating’s remarks made me laugh and Tim Blair points out that Labor often attempts to damage John Howard with compliments. But they are still irrational attacks that prove nothing beyond Keating's dislike for his target.

They remain a diversion from the political debate.


Sinclair Davidson said...

Sorry, Harry have to disagree. When Ms Gillard (my former MP) says 'Labor cares about working families', someone might think 'How do you know?'. That is a valid point. How does she know the trials and tribulations of family life?

Harry says, "These comments by these Liberal politicians seem to have an ugly anti-female aspect to them."

There is more than a little ALP hypocrisy here. See Piers Akerman in the Daily Telegraph.

Piers says, "It's a pity neither the ABC nor The Bulletin bothered to tell the full story, or to ask Rudd why he hadn't been offended in 2006 - or even went the further yard and looked at the history of political attacks on single women candidates.

If they had opened the files, they would have found that John Williams, the Labor candidate in the Victorian seat of Indi in 2003, was highly critical of his rival, Liberal MP Sophie Panopoulos, suggesting she was incapable of representing the area properly because she had no children.

Panopoulos, now Mrs Sophie Mirabella, and still the MP for Indi, dismissed Williams' remarks at the time, saying she found them "quaint and unfortunate''.

She raised it with several Labor women in Canberra who shuffled and looked a bit uncomfortable but, when Julia Gillard campaigned for Williams in the electorate four months later after his attack, she didn't bother to address his remarks either."

I'm happy to agree with you that this sort of thing is grubby and that it detracted from the ALPs pro-union policies.

lucy tartan said...

Sinclair, couldn't she have learned about family life firstly from her own childhood, then later from observing friends and acquaintances, and perhaps even from research and study? By your logic, no parliamentarians' policy statements or votes on issues they have no personal experience of themselves would be free from suspicion.

Sinclair Davidson said...

Quoting Gordon Tullock, "Personal knowledge is always superior to hearsay". Ms Gillard has no personal knowledge in this area that Labor is claiming expertise in. Now she may have some understanding from the sources you mention, but IMHO you cannot know what it is like to be a parent until you have experienced it for yourself.

derrida derider said...

Sinclair, given the backgrounds of our pollies (on both sides) you'd have the great bulk of them unfit for the office they hold. Or is your vision of the average Aussie an Anglo middle-aged male lawyer?

On the ad hominen attacks, I'd just make the point that Keating's viciousness with these was in inverse proportion to the strength of his political position. Like him, the coalition are losing the match so they're trying to start a brawl.

Bruce said...

Cheers for the links Harry ;-)

I was thinking about Keating's ad-hominem and how while funny, don't have the "it's funny because it's true" effect that would make them more relevant and probably funnier.

At least "All tip and no iceberg" on Costello and his 90s "Magoo" attack on Howard addressed some facet of the way they do politics.

I have no idea what desicated coconut means, perhaps "flake" (all talk no policy maybe), but the ones you mention (I've seen the list before), while funny, I agree are diversions.

Just one thing though; I'm not anonymous. My name's Bruce Everett, and I went by this name on my old blog. I just don't use my surname on my blog that much.

Will do when I have my "About the Author" section up and running though.

I'll be keeping my eye on you ;)



Lee said...

I recall last December puzzling over your post entitled "Laboring on Rudd" where you referred to Rudd in the first sentence as a "decent family man", implying that this was some worthy qualification for political office. What, exactly, is a "decent family man"?. And why are high-profile women never singled out as "decent family women"? I wondered why you thought this quality so important as to list it among Rudd's top personal attributes? I also wondered what you thought of Julia Gillard's political prospects since she is, alas, neither a decent family man nor even, by the current popular definition, a decent family woman. I concluded you would vote at the next election for the Family First Party.

Bruce said...

The popular definition of family is pretty narrow, isn't it?

hc said...

I am surprised at some of these comments. I agree with Sinclair that people who raise kids learn a lot. That doesn't mean that you have to raise kids to be an MP or to have a view on WorkChoices. Most of us in our daily life need to make decisions about matters with which we have no direct experience.

Sinclair to the extent that Labor MPs make these types of remarks thyey should be condemned. A tity-for-tat principle should not work here.

I reluctantly agree that Derrida Derrida has a point. These types of attacks spring from fear and show desparation. I think they don't work however.

Lee I think there are plenty of 'good' family women who contribute large slabs of their lives for children and family. I think it is reasonable to recognise such contributions.

I'll change the text in the post to give your whole name Bruce.

But that doesn't mean I would inevitably vote for such women only. I have heard Julia Gillard speak and while I disagree with some of her specific policies, think she is obviously a competent politician.

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