The psychopathology and linguistics of politics

12 Sep

Yesterday John Howard and his colleagues provided us with fascinating examples of both of these. The Martian observer would be intrigued. My thought is that The Gnome has repeated, if in a different way, the performance caught on video a month or so back.

When you go to the news conference where John Howard asserted his leadership, make sure you look at the video as well. The tone of voice and facial expression augment the words.

Fronting a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper a short time later, Mr Howard issued a challenge to his enemies within the party.

“That matter [the leadership], was resolved last year,” he said. “It is not in the party’s interests to revisit it. That is my position, my very strong position. I believe the next election will be difficult for the Coalition but we can win it. And I hope people understand from observing me in 30-odd years of public life, that I have never run from a fight before, and I don’t intend to do so now.”

If you watch the video, make sure you study that final clause very carefully. At that moment John’s mask fell off and we saw the control freak and power junkie exposed totally — well, that’s how it struck me. Others have also noted that the rhetoric has shifted from “I will stay as long as it is in the party’s interests” to “the party’s interests are served if I stay.” In other words: I am the state.

On The 7.30 Report Alexander Downer issued a torrent of snarl and purr words but very little substantial. Let me demonstrate. Snarl words are in red, purr words are in blue. Another verbal trick is highlighted thus.

Well I’m not going to go into any details excepting – as you can understand that – but excepting to say this: that inevitably the Prime Minister and I and others have had a talk about our general situation and where we’re at and that’s understandable in the circumstances. But as we’ve worked all this through, we’ve collectively come to the conclusion that given the strength of John Howard’s performance as a Prime Minister and the energy the man has is simply extraordinary, the energy he has for the future, the Government would be best served by John Howard continuing to lead it

Well no, I didn’t have any – well, I did have meetings at the Philip Street offices but they were with people like President Putin and so on, President Bush, not with my colleagues. But I certainly talked with my colleagues during the course of the week about our circumstances and obviously with the Prime Minister. And, you know, it’s been good for us. There’s no point in arrogantly disregarding what the public think and we take that very carefully into consideration and we’ve reflected on it and we’ve come to the view, and unanimously come to the view, that the best thing for us is to lock in behind John Howard. Now why is that? Because John Howard is taking this country in a direction that I think in the end Australians feel comfortable with

… you can understand that in these circumstances and I think at the end of the day we, we take the view that it’s a tough situation but we can win. We need to unite behind John Howard and we have a strong message about the future and we have a strong message about a Labor Party completely dominated by trade union officials

Well, I’m not going to go into all the details of what people have discussed, nobody would expect me to do that. I mean I’m just making the point that needs to be understood. I’m not making any secret of the fact that we had a look at our situation recently and we’ve made our decisions and I think they’re the right decisions myself. You will notice, by the way, through the week when I was asked about this issue, or through the latter part of the week and the weekend, I made it perfectly clear and I think people understand this, that I’m a very strong supporter of John Howard, a great friend of John Howard. We’ve been friends for years and years and that I was with John Howard. But, you know, it’s important that people have the opportunity to express their views and about the broad situation, not just the question of leadership and I think we’ve come to a good conclusion

Well look, I’m not putting out records of conversation. We obviously had good discussions about these issues and we’ve come to a clear conclusion and I think, you know, from the point of the view of the public the conclusions we come to are the important things. I’ll tell you why we’ve come to the conclusion we’ve come to – because I think people think Australia is heading in the right direction and I think they believe that John Howard has the energy to – and he has massive energy, John Howard – to keep taking Australia in the right direction. And at the end of the day by the way, my view is that they’re not very likely to take the risk of having an inexperienced leader with behind him just a bunch of former trade union officials running the whole country

Well, look, understandably we’re going to consider all of our options at a difficult time and make sure that we’re well calibrated for the election. And it’s hardly surprising that a political party would talk. I mean it just would be unnatural for us not to talk frankly with each other about where we’re at

I hate to disappoint you, but at the end of the day we have finished those discussions, we’ve made our decision and we are going to get right behind John Howard because he’s the right answer for Australia’s future

…I think the people feel that Australia, in any case, is heading in the right direction, that’s my view. Look, I’m not quite sure, you know, whether it would be natural for us never to talk about our situation. Of course we’re going to talk about our situation. That is the most natural thing in the world that we would do…

By the way, by the way, how unnatural would it be if in the lead up to an election we didn’t have a discussion amongst ourselves, including with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and others, about where we were at? I mean how unnatural that would be…

… No, I’m making a – by the way, I’m making it absolutely clear that the last thing we are is arrogant and dismissive of the Australian public. We do sit down and talk about how we’re going, how we’re communicating our messages, what sort of messages we’re communicating, our policies and understandably we reflect on those things and our view is that John Howard is the best option for Australia and therefore the best option for the Liberal Party

And so on. Downer is about to write a book called The Joy of Repetition. 😉

See Paul Kelly in The Australian.


I have seen the “line” that has been running from the PM down this evening: 1) it was all John Howard’s idea to “test the waters”; 2) no-one actually wants anyone other than John Howard to lead the party; 3) it’s all *history* now; 4) Howard is the Man of the Future.

Check the interview with the PM on tonight’s 7.30 Report. Trouble is, none of this makes sense of the “steely” “I have never run from a fight before, and I don’t intend to do so now” of last night…

Or of this, from the ABC News, really:

He has told ABC televisions 7.30 Report he believes he can win this year’s election, but he expects Peter Costello to takeover as Prime Minister at some point during his next term.

“I would probably certainly form the view, well into my term, that it makes sense for me to retire and in those circumstances I would expect – although it would be a matter for the party to determine – that Peter would take over,” Mr Howard said.

“Now that’s the honest position.”


For what really happened these past few days, see my latest Journalspace entry: Liberal Party’s search for a scapegoat finds its mark….

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1 Comment

Posted by on September 12, 2007 in Aussie interest, News and Current Affairs, Politics


One response to “The psychopathology and linguistics of politics

  1. Daniel

    September 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Methinks they protest too much!

    And Howard is a control freak. Bring on the election, I say.

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