George's silver bullets


Today our politicians and media are hullabalooing
about Liberal Senator George Brandis allegedly calling Prime Minister John
Howard a ‘lying rodent’.

Brandis denies he uttered these words. The
whistleblower of the moment, former senior Queensland Liberal Party official
Russell Galt, maintains he did. Expect more he said/she said, tit-for-tat(tling)
and media scrum on this one.

How can two little words be such a big
deal? After all, if Brandis did speak as alleged, wasn’t he just expressing what
many Australians have thought for some time? Including very many schooled in
what used to be the much broader church of the Liberal Party. I was in a taxi
with one of them recently when Howard came on the radio. My fellow traveller’s
verbal reaction made ‘lying rodent’ sound like a compliment.

They’re a
big deal because Brandis chooses to work within the political system that is the
Liberal Party under Howard’s leadership. Anyone who makes that choice knows they
have to toe the line or they won’t get ahead – as Dawn Service explained in last
week’s issue.

Today, that means more than shelving your personal views
on the Iraq war, on imprisoning refugees and their children in the desert, or on
Guantanamo Bay. That’s bad enough. Now it means saying black is white and lies
are truths and two plus two equals five. And not just saying it, also being seen
to Love Big Brother.

In that – yes, Orwellian – world, two little words
turn into silver bullets. The tone of delivery and the context become
irrelevant. Humour, passion, nuance, ambiguity, imagination and humanity are
ironed flat.

As I suggested last week, Howard is not the Great Satan. Nor
is he Stalin or Hitler. But as a politician, he is a top-down, authoritarian
control freak who is profoundly threatened by difference. He will strategically
kneecap dissenters to retain power. As Australians, we need to think about
whether that’s the kind of man we want to choose again as national leader. We
must also ask who is really prepared to do things differently.

Some time
ago I met an Israeli who has one of the most challenging jobs in the world. She
teaches Jewish and Palestinian children to live together without hatred and
violence. Her method is based on interviews with Righteous Gentiles, people who
risked their own lives in World War II to save Jews. These people shared a
number of characteristics. Not what you might expect: not religiosity, not
political affiliation, not formal education, not income or professional status.
Apart from optimism – a belief that one day things would change for the better –
they were all critical thinkers. Put simply, they were prepared to question,
when claims paraded as truths just didn’t add up. They didn’t take important
things on trust.

Hey George, and John – two plus two still equals four.

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