The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Left or Right? I’ll Go With Clever, Thankyou…

The relatively recent extreme polarisation of American politics has revealed some disturbing things about Middle America, the influence of evangelical Christianity and End-Times thinking and the ease with which fringe elements can gain traction in a democracy.

One of the most disturbing facts of American politics is the Tea Party – not so much its influence, which I think is a little bit overblown by a panicky liberal media, but rather the very fact of its existence. It is difficult to understand how we can live in a world where ideas like Libertarianism cause any reaction other than incredulous laughter, but the bare fact of it remains, staring us in the face every time we see a poorly spelt banner demanding that some federal government personage be banished from some room in the banner-holder’s house.

But it’s not just the right who appear to have been infected with this particular brand of stupidity. The partisans of the left have begun to show a worrying tendency to look and sound rather like their Tea Party opponents, right down to the poorly spelt, practically meaningless banners being waved about. It’s a phenomenon that has been aptly described as ‘shouting past each other’, where both sides of the political debate take such extreme positions that there are no grounds for discussion on any issue. Which is the opposite of what adversarial politics is supposed to be about.

But only in America, right? Why does any of this matter to us?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that Australia has caught up with it’s bigger, older cousin and developed a Tea Party all of its very own. And not just that, we have managed to elect one of the most divisive PM’s in our brief history, beginning the alarmingly rapid process of similarly polarising our own political debate.

And here, as in the US, the left is beginning to sound as shrill and loony as the right.

I understand the rationale. The fringe right uses bully-boy tactics, rank and obvious populism and catchy slogans. It must therefore be necessary for the left to do the same, to avoid losing ground, no?


Our position is always going to be more complex, more subtle, less packagable than the right’s for the simple fact that it is always and without exception a more intelligent and considered position. Okay, so we seem academic and distant by comparison, but this is what happens when you throw away the comforting certainty of thousands of years of prejudice and superstition and attempt to solve problems using the intellect as the primary tool. This is why most Western democracies have become more or less progressive. This is why humanist ideas have so quickly found their way into law and into popular morality, a bare century after their conception. It is because in the real world – the real, complex, difficult world that we live in, cleverness is what is required to make things actually work.

We cannot, on the left, lose even the superficial imprimatur of that cleverness. It may be very appealing to put on the warpaint and shout back at the idiots on the other side, but it cannot be done without causing severe damage. Looking and sounding like the Tea Party is not going to convert people of the right – they are largely intransigent. All it will achieve is the alienation of supporters and partisans we already have.

In short – stay classy, progressive left-wingers. It works better in the long run, believe me.

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2 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    So a post from me calling for gigolos in schools is followed by a post from you asking us to stay classy.


    • Chris says:

      I see no problem – there are very few things classier than a gigolo 🙂

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