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The myth of political sameness

We are pleased to offer this piece by Ad astra – the well known and popular writer from the long running blog The Political Sword. In this article Ad astra closely examines a way of understanding differences between the thinking of progressives and conservatives, as expressed through the work of cognitive linguist, George Lakoff.

The myth of political sameness: Why progressives and conservatives think differently.

Cock your ear at your local watering hole, listen to the boys as they clasp a frosted schooner of VB, and you’re bound to hear: ‘They’re all the same these pollies. Ya just can’t trust em’. Of course they are right to some extent. The deception and deviousness we see day after day from our politicians has earned them that condemnation. On the other side of the coin, by and large politicians enter public life to make a difference, to do good things, to make life better for their electorates, indeed the whole nation. Only the Eddie Obeids of this world have self-interest as their driving force.

Similarly, political parties have good intentions and many comparable policies. It’s not surprising then that many voters perceive politicians and parties as ‘all the same’.

This notion of sameness needs debunking, lest too many entitled to cast a vote swallow the myth that the ‘sameness’ of the parties absolves them from making a critical decision about who is best equipped to lead the nation, who has the best policy agenda, who has the most acceptable ideology, who has the most suitable approach to policy development, who can take us to a better future.

Politicians and parties are not ‘all the same’.

In his book: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002), George Lakoff, linguist and cognitive scientist, tells us how very different are conservatives from progressives, and how the major differences in their mindset affects their approach to politics. Because he studied US politics, he uses the term ‘liberal’ to describe ‘progressives’ (in the US, Democrats; in this country Labor and perhaps the Greens), and ‘conservative’ to describe conservatives (in the US, Republicans or their extreme variant, The Tea Party; in this country the Liberal National Party, the Coalition). Most of the quotes in this piece are from this book. I quote him extensively; my words could not do a better job than his.

His underlying thesis rests on a central metaphor: ‘Nation as Family’. He elaborates on this as follows:

  • The Nation is a Family.
  • The Government is a Parent.
  • The Citizens are the Children.

We know that the metaphor is not wholly applicable, but many people find it a comfortable one with which they can identify readily. They can accept that family dynamics and economics might be seen as applicable to the nation’s dynamics and economics, even though there are many fundamental differences. Our politicians often use this metaphor, making reference to the family budget to argue that the nation, like a family, must ‘live within its means’.

Building on the Nation as Family metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. When applied to the Nation as Family metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:

  • The Strict Father model, and
  • The Nurturant Parent model.

At the center of the conservative worldview is a Strict Father model; the liberal (progressive) worldview centres on a very different ideal for family life, the Nurturant Parent model, which encompasses both parents.

Lakoff asserts that the Strict Father model is a metaphorical version of an economic idea. He explains:

It is based on a folk version of Adam Smith’s economics: If each person seeks to maximize his own wealth, then, by an invisible hand, the wealth of all will be maximized. Applying the common metaphor that Well-Being Is Wealth to this folk version of free-market economics, we get: If each person tries to maximize his own well-being (or self-interest), the well-being of all will be maximized. Thus, seeking one’s own self-interest is actually a positive, moral act, one that contributes to the well-being of all.

Lakoff goes on to cite some words and phrases used over and over in conservative discourse, words that reflect the Strict Father model:

Character, virtue, discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, backbone, standards, authority, heritage, competition, earn, hard work, enterprise, property rights, reward, freedom, intrusion, interference, meddling, punishment, human nature, traditional, common sense, dependency, self-indulgent, elite, quotas, breakdown, corrupt, decay, rot, degenerate, deviant, lifestyle.

How many times have you heard Coalition members use these words, particularly those who have responsibility for the economy: Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann? Countless times!

Lakoff continues:

Liberals [progressives], in their speeches and writings, choose different topics, different words, and different modes of inference than conservatives. Liberals talk about: social forces, social responsibility, free expression, human rights, equal rights, concern, care, help, health, safety, nutrition, basic human dignity, oppression, diversity, deprivation, alienation, big corporations, corporate welfare, ecology, ecosystem, biodiversity, pollution, and so on. Conservatives tend not to dwell on these topics, or to use these words as part of their normal political discourse.

How often have you heard Labor members and Greens using these words? Over and again!

Lakoff summarises:

The conservative/liberal [progressive] division is ultimately a division between strictness and nurturance as ideals at all levels—from the family to morality to religion and, ultimately, to politics. It is a division at the center of our democracy and our public lives, and yet there is no overt discussion of it in public discourse.

He continues:

Yet it is vitally important that we do so if Americans are to understand, and come to grips with, the deepest fundamental division in our country, one that transcends and lies behind all the individual issues: the role of government, social programs, taxation, education, the environment, energy, gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and so on. These are ultimately not different issues, but manifestations of a single issue: strictness versus nurturance.

In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives. This division results in the striking differences in attitude, behaviour, rhetoric, policy, and indeed morality, which day after day define our own conservatives and our own progressives. It explains so much of the contrast we see.

Lakoff summarises the relationship between morality and politics as follows:

The Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models of the family induce…two moral systems…

The link between family-based morality and politics comes from one of the most common ways we have of conceptualizing what a nation is, namely, as a family. It is the common, unconscious, and automatic metaphor of the Nation as Family that produces contemporary conservatism from Strict Father morality and contemporary liberalism from Nurturant Parent morality.

According to Lakoff, conservatives cannot understand the thinking of progressives, nor can progressives understand conservatives. Conventional logic does not help; it is only when the two methods of parenting are used as explanatory models that understanding comes into view with a startling flash of insight.

To assist understanding, Lakoff compares conservative and liberal (progressive) moral systems:

Conservative categories of moral action:

1. Promoting Strict Father morality in general.
2. Promoting self-discipline, responsibility, and self-reliance.
3. Upholding the Morality of Reward and Punishment.

a. Preventing interference with the pursuit of self-interest by self-disciplined, self-reliant people.
b. Promoting punishment as a means of upholding authority.
c. Ensuring punishment for lack of self-discipline.

4. Protecting moral people from external evils.
5. Upholding the Moral Order.

Liberal categories of moral action:

1. Empathetic behaviour, and promoting fairness.
2. Helping those who cannot help themselves.
3. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
4. Promoting fulfillment in life.
5. Nurturing and strengthening oneself in order to do the above.

He clarifies these concepts as follows:

In the conservative moral worldview, the model citizens are those who best fit all the conservative categories for moral action. They are those (1) who have conservative values and act to support them; (2) who are self-disciplined and self-reliant; (3) who uphold the morality of reward and punishment; (4) who work to protect moral citizens; and (5) who act in support of the moral order. Those who best fit all these categories are successful, wealthy, law-abiding conservative businessmen who support a strong military and a strict criminal justice system, who are against government regulation, and who are against affirmative action. They are the model citizens. They are the people whom all Americans should emulate and from whom we have nothing to fear. They deserve to be rewarded and respected.

These model citizens fit an elaborate mythology. They have succeeded through hard work, have earned whatever they have through their own self-discipline, and deserve to keep what they have earned. Through their success and wealth they create jobs, which they “give” to other citizens. Simply by investing their money to maximize their earnings, they become philanthropists who “give” jobs to others and thereby “create wealth” for others [trickle down economics]. Part of the myth is that these model citizens have been given nothing by the government and have made it on their own. The American Dream is that any honest, self-disciplined, hard-working person can do the same. These model citizens are seen by conservatives as the Ideal Americans in the American Dream.

We can now see clearly why liberal [progressive] arguments for social programs can make no sense at all to conservatives, whether they are arguments on the basis of compassion, fairness, wise investment, financial responsibility, or outright self-interest. The issue for conservatives is a moral issue touching the very heart of conservative morality, a morality where a liberal’s compassion and fairness are neither compassionate nor fair. Even financial arguments won’t carry the day. The issue isn’t about money; it’s about morality.

What we have here are major differences in moral worldview. They are not just differences of opinion about effective public administration. The differences are not about efficiency, or practicality, or economics, and they cannot be settled by rational argument about effective administration. They are ethical opinions about what makes good people and a good nation.

Lakoff illustrates his thesis with an example from America that has application in this country:

Take a simple example: college loans. The federal government has had a program to provide low-interest loans to college students. The students don’t have to start paying off the loans while they are still in college and the loans are interest-free during the college years [similar to our HECS – HELP loan program].

The liberal rationale for the program is this: College is expensive and a great many poor-to-middle-class students cannot afford it. This loan program allows a great many students to go to college who otherwise wouldn’t. Going to college allows one to get a better job at a higher salary afterward and to be paid more during one’s entire life. This benefits not only the student but also the government, since the student will be paying more taxes over his lifetime because of his better job. From the liberal [progressive] moral perspective, this is a highly moral program. It helps those who cannot help themselves. It promotes fulfillment in life in two ways, since education is fulfilling in itself and it permits people to get more fulfilling jobs. It strengthens the nation, since it produces a better-educated citizenry and ultimately brings in more tax money; and it is empathetic behavior making access to college more fairly distributed.

But through conservative spectacles, this is an immoral program. Since students depend on the loans, the program supports dependence on the government rather than self-reliance. Since not everyone has access to such loans, the program introduces competitive unfairness, thus interfering with the free market in loans and hence with the fair pursuit of self-interest. Since the program takes money earned by one group and, through taxation, gives it to another group, it is unfair and penalizes the pursuit of self-interest by taking money from someone who has earned it and giving it to someone who hasn’t.

Lakoff explains:

I started with college loans because it is not as heated an issue as abortion or welfare or the death penalty or gun control. Yet it is a nitty-gritty issue, because it affects a lot of people very directly. To a liberal, it is obviously the right thing to do. And to a conservative, it is obviously the wrong thing to do.

I trust that these extensive quotes from Lakoff’s book paint clearly the differences that he postulates exist between the mindset and thinking of conservatives and progressives.

Although Lakoff’s description of the extremes of conservative and progressive thinking might lead one to conclude that there is a spectrum along which this thinking is distributed, somewhat after the fashion of a bell-shaped curve, which could throw up ‘moderate’ or ‘middle of the road’ conservatives and progressives, Lakoff maintains that there are no such politicians. He acknowledges that sometimes conservatives may have a progressive view on some issues, and progressives may have a conservative view on other issues, but insists that there are no moderates. A conservative is a conservative, and a progressive is a progressive.

Lakoff spells out in detail just how conservatives and progressives see the world:

It should now be clear why, from the conservative world-view, the rich should be seen as “the best people”. They are the model citizens, those who, through self-discipline and hard work, have achieved the American Dream. They have earned what they have and deserve to keep it. Because they are the best people – people whose investments create jobs and wealth for others – they should be rewarded. Taking money away is conceptualized as harm, financial harm; that is the metaphorical basis of seeing taxation as punishment. When the rich are taxed more than others for making a lot more money, they are, according to conservatives, being punished for being model citizens, for doing what, according to the American Dream, they are supposed to do. Taxation of the rich is, to conservatives, punishment for doing what is right and succeeding at it. It is a violation of the Morality of Reward and Punishment. In the conservative worldview, the rich have earned their money and, according to the Morality of Reward and Punishment, deserve to keep it. Taxation – the forcible taking of their money from them against their will – is seen as unfair and immoral, a kind of theft. That makes the federal government a thief. Hence, a common conservative attitude toward the government: You can’t trust it, since, like a thief, it’s always trying to find ways to take your money.

Liberals, of course, see taxation through very different lenses. In Nurturant Parent morality, the wellbeing of all children matters equally. Those children who need less care, the mature and healthy children, simply have a duty to help care for those who need more, say, younger or infirm children. The duty is a matter of moral accounting. They have received nurturance from their parents and owe it to the other children if it is needed. In the Nation as Family metaphor, citizens who have more have a duty to help out those who have much less. Progressive taxation is a form of meeting this duty. Rich conservatives who are trying to get out of paying taxes are seen as selfish and mean-spirited. The nation has helped provide for them and it is their turn to help provide for others. They owe it to the nation.

He could scarcely make it any clearer. How relevant is this exposition to the contemporary dispute about the Gonski model for school funding here!

Lakoff goes on to assert a worrying trend:

The conservative family values agenda is, at present, being set primarily by fundamentalist Christians. This is not a situation that many people are aware of.

These groups have been most explicit in developing a Strict Father approach to childrearing and have been extremely active in promoting their approach. On the whole, they are defining the conservative position for the current debate about childrearing, as well as for legislation incorporating their approach. Since the ideas in conservative Christian childrearing manuals are fully consistent with the Strict Father model of the family that lies behind conservative politics, it is not at all strange that such fundamentalist groups should be setting the national conservative agenda on family values.

In short, conservative family values, which are the basis for conservative morality and political thought, are not supported by either research in child development or the mainstream childrearing experts in the country. That is another reason why the conservative family agenda has been left to fundamentalist Christians. Since there is no significant body of mainstream experts who support the Strict Father model, conservatives can rely only on fundamentalist Christians, who have the only well thought out approach to childrearing that supports the Strict Family model.

The claims to legitimacy for the conservative family values enterprise rest with the fundamentalist Christian community, a community whose conclusions are not based on empirical research but on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. And that…is based on Strict Father morality itself. Thus, there is no independent or non-ideological basis whatever for conservative claims about family values.

Is this group of fundamentalist Christians representative of conservative attitudes about childrearing? I don’t know, but they are in charge. They are the people setting the conservative family values agenda.

We have become aware of the influence of fundamentalist Christians in The Tea Party on the recent debt ceiling debate in the US, which resulted in the closure of some government departments, and threatened the government with the prospect of defaulting on repayment of its borrowings. They pressured their less radical Republican colleagues and almost succeeded in overwhelming them.

Lakoff comments on the funding of policy think tanks:

Because of the way conservative think tanks are funded – through large general block grants and virtually guaranteed long-term funding – conservative intellectuals can work on long-term, high-level strategies that cover the whole spectrum of issues.

Liberal [progressive] think tanks and other organizations are not only out-funded four-to-one, they are also organized in a self-defeating manner. There are three general types: advocacy, policy, and monitoring the other side. The advocacy and policy organizations generally work issue-by-issue. Few are engaged in long-term, high-level thinking, partly because of the issue-by-issue orientation, partly because they are kept busy responding to the current week’s conservative assaults, and partly because they constantly have to pursue funding. The funding priorities of liberal foundations and other funders are also self-defeating. They tend to be program-oriented (issue-by-issue) and relatively short-term with no guarantee of refunding. Moreover, they tend not to give money for career development or infrastructure. And liberal organizations tend not to support their intellectuals! In short, they are doing just the opposite of what they should be doing if they are to counter the conservatives’ successes.

I’m sure these words will resonate in Labor hearts in this country, where we have seen several well-funded conservative think tanks (the IPA is a classic example) outperform the few progressive ones, set the policy agenda for the Coalition, and fashion the most effective framing of these policies. Labor has not been able to match this, has been manipulated to use the frames set by the Coalition, and thereby has repeatedly failed to get across its message.

It is heartening to see that the Centre for Policy Development, a local progressive think tank, has this year written a book: Pushing Our Luck: ideas for Australian progress, about which reviewer Ken Wolff tells us that it ‘presents a wide ranging picture of the changes needed in our economic and social structures if we are to maintain our “luck” into the future’.

Finally, in another Lakoff book: The Political Mind – A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to your Brain and its Politics (Penguin Books, London, 2009), he asserts that the different thinking of conservatives and progressives has a neural basis. He argues:

To change minds, you must change brains. You must make unconscious politics conscious. Because most of what our brains do is unconscious, you can’t find out how people’s brains work by just asking them. That is why neuroscience and cognitive sciences are necessary.

There is not space here to elaborate; that will have to wait for another piece.

book2 To me, Lakoff’s thesis was a revelation. As one who applies logic to resolve puzzling matters, Lakoff showed how pointless this process is in attempting to understand how conservatives and progressives think, and why they think so differently. He also showed the pointlessness of expecting conservatives and progressives to explain why they are so different; they don’t know themselves!

Lakoff provides a plausible explanatory model. I for one believe he has tapped into a rich vein of understanding that for me explains the extraordinary differences between our own conservatives and progressives, which until I read his thesis, defied explanation. What he says makes sense. Hereafter, it will enable a depth of comprehension for me that was not previously possible.

Try keeping Lakoff’s thesis in mind as you now listen to political dialogue, no matter what the forum. You might be surprised how much more sense you are able to make of it!

What do you think?

 

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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27 comments

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  1. John Kelly

    I can’t say that I am surprised by this parenting style of Strict Father model identifying as Conservative and Nurturing Parent as progressive. The difficulty in Australia today is that Labor has of necessity moved closer to the Conservative model and the Conservative model has moved further again to an even stricter father model. That fundamentalist Christian values are deeply embedded in this process is no surprise either. I fear that nearly 70 years on from the end of Nazism, the conservative side of politics is taking a much closer look and interest in the earlier success of that ultra right wing body and applying much of its broader operational procedures. This time, however, the ‘enemy’ is not the Jews but Islam. Why? Because they control the means to the wealth.

  2. kathysutherland2013

    John, why would you say that Labor “of necessity” moved closer to the Conservative model?

  3. John Fraser

    <

    Here in Australia, not only do we have the christian fundamentalist running the show from the rear, we also have ex army running the show front and centre.

  4. Rob031

    Excellent post. The general thrust could be summarised as:

    Pro-life and Anti-life – and I’m not talking about abortion stuff where these ideas are reversed.

    The current mob are anti-life. They’re fascists in the sense that they are for a government that is run by business interests. And as we have seen they use the usual methods (in no particular order) employed by fascist governments.

    – Endless repetition of lies and slogans
    – Appeals to common prejudices – leaners and lifters
    – Incitement of Xenophobia or fear of the ‘the different’
    – Appeals to spurious patriotism – Team Australia,
    – The importance of obedience and authority
    – Fear campaigns – Terrorists (rattle the Commie Can), Debt and Deficit Disaster…
    – Threats and intimidation – this will happen if x doesn’t happen (eg if x is blocked in the senate)
    – National emergency – the Russians are coming. We’ll all be ruined etc.
    – No time to dilly-dally discussing things
    – Scientists are a bunch of self-interested egg-heads who can’t agree on anything
    – People only go to uni to get better paid jobs
    – Everyone is as cynical and self-serving as we are (projection)
    – Without us you’d all be stuffed
    – People who see things differently are badly motivated
    – The working class can kiss my arse. I’ve got the forman’s job at last. (projection)
    – It’s all part of a pernicious syndrome
    – Infamy infamy. You’ve all got it it in for me
    – Etc. Etc.

    And it’s not very nice. It’s like Billy the goat:

    Ode to a Goat
    As cold as a Laplander’s stern and glum
    As cold as a polar bear’s bum
    As cold as charity – and that’s bloody chilly
    But there’s none so cold as our poor Billy
    And he’s dead.
    F*ck him!

    We have a goat as a government at the moment.

  5. Krystal

    So what you’re saying is giving handouts and not making people responsible for their.own destiny is progressive….and willing people to have a crack is conservative. Right.

  6. Florence nee Fedup

    Why is welfare always seen as handouts . Why does one assume, getting help when in need, weakens the person. In fact most welfare, or handouts as some see them, are formulated by the Productivity Commission, adding to the nations growth,

  7. Ruth Lipscombe

    I earnestly hope this blog is circulated widely.Best explanation of differences between the Labor and Liarberals I have seen.

  8. Möbius Ecko

    Yet Krystal this government states that giving handouts, and far more generous ones, to the wealthy and big business is helping them be responsible for their own destiny. On the one hand they say taking necessary assistance away from those in need is helping them be independent and in the same breath they say giving billions to those who don’t need assistance is helping them be independent.

    But to your point, that’s not what is being stated.

  9. John Kelly

    Kathysutherland2013, I say, ‘of necessity’ because Labor changed its policy on the treatment of asylum seekers to counter the perceived impact the Liberal policy was having on voting preferences. They felt it necessary. They were wrong, but they didn’t know that then.

  10. John Fraser

    <

    "Character, virtue, discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, backbone, standards, authority"

    Krystal as predictable as ever …. jumps into the deep end.

  11. Roswell

    It’s good to see something from Ad Astra here at the AIMN. He is a great writer, as are the regular AIMN authors.

  12. bill miller

    This family model of our system of governance is facile, patronising, authoritatrian and way off the mark; same applies to the hugely infantile (sporting) “Team Australia” construct. (He thinks we can understand that and get behind the “captain” to get the ball over the line). If that’s how politicians think then small wonder that we don’t like their style. A better model would be the cooperative society model; after all we are all adults. Moreover we the people own the economy and the government. They are ours, not “theirs”. Governments are merely custodians, for a very short moment of time. Its time we took back ownership and gave “them” some instructions. That at least would be better starting point.

  13. Hotspringer

    I do not think our two main parties are the same; that is why I give my preferences to Labor and put the LNP last. That said, Labor left me when they adopted the neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation and globalisation. What happened to its former vision? Today they are a centre right party as opposed to the far right Tea Party of Murdoch, Gina and the IPA.

  14. stephentardrew

    Lakoff is a breath of fresh air. The critical biological differences between conservatives and progressive are now well documented. Global warming, overpopulation and environmental degradation point to the fact that conservatism is no longer an adaptive strategy. Science is much more amenable to progressivism because it demands we let go of ideology and rely upon provable facts. Progressives need to be scientifically literate by making scientific methodology accessible to all from pre-school on including paradoxes, counterintuitives incompleteness and uncertainty.

    To proceed from ideological authority to atheist dogma will not help change human demands for metaphysical meaning. Research demonstrate that people generally need a sense of meaning and purpose to survive so we need to think deeply about those things that can make science conducive with metaphysical hope. It is easy to rabbit on about atheism however if psychosocial evolution runs counter to determinism then we need to provide some meaningful alternatives. We need to move beyond the religious, atheist, agnostic divide by expanding the possibilities mapped onto subjective space that allows for empirical facts as well as subjective innovation and imagination.

    Each time we discover something new the complex web of possibility configure out to ever higher degrees of diversity in subjective space so we need to map evidentiary facts with peoples subjective wishes, hopes and desires. In an apparently primitive epoch it is ridiculous to claim absolute knowledge when we are so far from a unified understanding of existence. People need facts however they also demand a sense of mystery, awe and wonder. This is no mythical falsehood but a reflection of the evolutionary impact of complexification and self-organization upon unit volume complexity of subjective minds. Too many know-it-all dogmatists for my liking. These questions can neither be resolved religiously nor empirically because they are philosophical questions which demand critical thinking and reasoning free from dogmatic assumptions whether ideological or empirical.

    Progressivism is the ability to discover facts, accepting the unknowns and recognize their constraints upon the known. The biological basis of kinship, empathy and altruism are now reasonably well understood providing a good foundation from which to proceed. We all want security, love happiness and meaning so why deny the possibility of the vast potentialities wedded into deep time and infinity. If you want to supplant religious dogma then, due to biological genetic constraints, some alternative will have to replace the need for metaphysical awe and wonder regardless of deterministic logical empirical posturing by atheists. Evolution is abroad matrix o potentialities played out in infinite universes in a vast web of context that is only visible to us from a miniscule window of sensory experience. Maybe we all need a lot more humility and a deal more more empathy and compassion.

  15. Douglas Evans

    As usual AA signs of with ‘What do you think?’
    Well this is what I think. Nice piece as far as it goes but AA’s attempt to apply Lakoff’s thinking to Australia’s political landscape is silly. I have no quarrel with either Lakoff’s argument or Ad Astra’s summary until we reach the sentence:
    “In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives.”

    There we part ways. Ad Astra, an articulate, energetic and persuasive writer has always held to this simplistic division of the Australian political landscape – a point which I regularly took up with him in his Political Sword days. My (not very original) criticism, derived from the writing of many others, is that both the Coalition and Labor have been in radical transition for decades. Within the Coalition paternalistic small ‘l’ liberals who adhere to the sort of conservative values set out by Lakoff (Mal Washer, Petro Georgiou, Ted Baillieu, Malcolm Fraser) are just about extinct, replaced by an altogether more savage tooth and claw brand of servants of self interest (any of the current government front bench) How well do the things they do (as opposed to the things they might say) fit Lakoff’s characterization? I suggest not very well at all.

    For three decades in virtual lock step with the Coalition, Labor has increasingly promoted the adoption of neo-liberal economic policies that are increasingly in conflict with its purported social equity goals. While the Labor platform is still filled with inspiring social democratic ‘light on the hill’ rhetoric; objective analysis of what they do (as opposed to what they say) and the results of this far too often reveal a distressing gap between stated objectives and outcomes.

    Simply put there is a tussle going on within the ALP over what the Party stands for in the new millennium that is too often reflected in the gap between one policy area and another. Here compare their very damaging, conservative energy policies with their modestly progressive but useful climate policies. Alternatively it is reflected in the gap between policy outcomes and the rhetoric in the National Platform. Here compare the evidence of Australia’s rapidly growing social and economic divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ with the glowing rhetoric of the Platform.

    It is quite simply silly to characterize Labor as ‘progressive’ in the manner Ad Astra insists is the case. The current version of Labor is a worrying collision between an historical commitment to progressive values and a growing awareness of the pragmatic virtues of cuddling up to the conservative big end of town.

  16. diannaart

    @John Kelly

    …Labor changed its policy on the treatment of asylum seekers to counter the perceived impact the Liberal policy was having on voting preferences. They felt it necessary. They were wrong, but they didn’t know that then…

    They just did not listen – so many of us pointed out that trying to play the same game as the Libs only results in a plunge to the bottom. They’re still not listening – Is Shorten going to announce change to on-shore assessment (hate the word ‘processing’) any time soon? or promise to cancel all new and proposed fossil fuel mining developments?

  17. Jason

    @Douglas Evans.

    Spot on. Very well said!

  18. mark delmege

    Lib Labs ha
    I notice that neither Labor or the Greens have attempted to alert the public to the fakery of the headless wonder and former cia front man who somehow morphed into a CPR dummy on the sands of Spain or was it a studio somewhere in the UK US or maybe even Qatar. A spaghetti western stuff video which is quite clearly fakery – as anyone would know who took the time to view. Yet somehow this propaganda emotionalism will drive TAbbott Cameron Obama and all the usual suspects and adoring media puppets into battle against – who knows who, where or when but for glory for Empire.
    Did I say FAKERY – and before you laff at me check out the video yourself and I dare you then to tell me I am wrong. And as I am not you must once again question every lying dog in the media the ABC Murdoch etc and ask yourself AGAIN why and how can they continue to lie like this and so often – and on virtually every matter of international importance.

  19. kathysutherland2013

    @ John Kelly, I think I see what you’re getting at – Labor thought it was necessary because it was driven by its vote-catching agenda, not by its ideals, which have sadly gone missing. The Labor I used to love has long gone.

  20. Ad astra

    Folks
    Thank you for your comments, which I enjoyed reading.

    Whenever categorization of individuals or groups is attempted, the fit is seldom perfect. Behaviour is especially difficult to classify. Lakoff would concede that his categorization of individuals into progressive and conservative camps is likely to be less than perfect. On the local scene too this is so. Douglas Evans, with whom I have had many thoughtful exchanges, believes that current Labor does not fit well in the progressive camp, because of what he sees as its lurch towards the ‘conservative big end of town’. Martin Ferguson is an individual example. Some Liberals do not fit well in the conservative camp. Malcolm Turnbull springs to mind.

    The value of categorization is to assist understanding of how and why groups, and the individuals within them, behave. As individuals and groups evolve, what was previously a good fit, may become less good.

    Both the Liberal and Labor parties are different to what they were a decade ago. Nonetheless, as we witness the contemporary behaviour of spokespersons for the parties, their words and actions do contrast sharply. Attitudes and political morality do stand in stark contrast. Reflect on the recent utterances of Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Mathias Cormann, Christophe Pyne, Barnaby Joyce and Andrew Robb, and compare them with those of Bill Shorten, Penny Wong, Chris Bowen, and Tanya Plibersek. The former group still talk incessantly of the ‘budget crisis’ and the need for punitive measures that they acknowledge affect the lower paid, but they scarcely ever use the word ‘fairness’, while the latter group lead off their comments with mention of fairness and the inequity of the budget. Both groups acknowledge the need for budget reforms. The Strict Father morality of the Liberals demands immediate and radical action that punishes most those whom they see as deriving the largest benefit from ‘welfare’, the ‘leaners’, while going soft on the well off, whom they see as the ‘lifters’. Contrast this with the Nurturant Parent morality of Labor that shows concern about the less well off and those in need of nurturing being forced to shoulder an unfair and ongoing burden.

    It seems to me that despite the evolving nature of both major political parties, the fundamental differences in their political morality show through and match Lakoff’s categorization of them into conservatives and progressives. While we can debate where Australia’s major political parties now sit on the political spectrum, and argue about how they have evolved and changed over time, the value of the Lakoff characterization of political morality based on the ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor is apparent, cogently explaining as it does why the parties behave as they do.

  21. Kaye Lee

    We have had punitive conservative governments before but nothing like this lot. I wonder if the religious upbringing may be a contributing factor. I found the following comment interesting. It comes from a traditional catholic professional forum.

    “Over the years I have become quite disgruntled with Catholicism. Why? Because it’s basically based on fear. In my mind everything I do I’m going to wind-up in hell. Sure, I go to Confession but there is always that nagging fear that I’ve forgotten something and therefore am not in a “state of grace.” No one knows if they’re in a state of grace. Going to primary school in the 1950’s we were going to hell for just about everything. The place was run by a bunch of jack-booted thugs dressed-up as “nuns.” They’d beat the hell out of one for the least little infraction using thick heavy yard sticks. First they’d have you hold out your hands, Palms down, and then whack you as hard as they could over the knuckles and keep doing it until one was in tears. One of these tyrants used to take kids out of class and slam them up against the lockers bashing their head until they were half-unconscious. Growing up with that kind of brutality during ones’ formative years leaves a mark that is never forgotten. One wears the fear like a second skin. But, of course, it could be argued that that has all changed now. To paraphrase George H. W. Bush: We now have a “a kinder, and gentler” Church. Traditional nuns would never do anything like that. I wonder? Well, I’m tired of living in fear. And, then there is the “to-do” lists: pray your Rosary everyday, wear a Scapular, make sacrifices, say prayers morning and night, do spiritual reading, go to first Fridays and first Saturday and every other devotion imaginable. Then maybe, just may be, you’ll make it. But there’s no guarantees. What if you’ve forgotten something? What if you do something you think is innocent enough but it isn’t. Gotcha!”

  22. Ross

    I used to think people went into politics to try and make things better for everyone, but not any more.

    A Queensland saying of the 70’s said the quickest way to become a millionaire was a ministers job in Joh’s government. ICAC tells us not much has changed in forty years.

    We see today the conservative side of politics is one vast Great Sandy desert of ideas. No vision and no clue.
    As for Labor and the greens, they have a hard time and lets face it are not that good at getting their vision, what ever it is, out into the public arena.

    If our ABC begin could begin a general education program of how the Australian Fiat economy actually works then maybe, just maybe, the ill informed bleating and outright lies used to push the neo-liberal agenda we are witnessing would stop.

    That feels better, rant over.

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    I can see no reason why one cannot enter politics as a career. Why it has to be cloaked in doing good works, ahs always puzzled me.

    What one does expect, that the role is carried out with professionalism.

    That one acts honestly at all times.

  24. mark delmege

    Labor certainly cuts the cake differently to the liberals and for that we can be thankful – but they lack a vision and are constrained by a neoliberal outlook and work within that realm of outpost for empire – as I keep saying within the confines of a vassal state mentality. Shorties comments today re mh17 (or to be more correct B777 MSN 28411 )for example – as one of those who shoped his movement to US intelligence (see wikileaks) his comments on rejecting Putin come as no surprise as he continues to push the US agenda. And may I say this attitude is apparently reflected in most of the opinions of those on this site (and this site itself) and as I pointed out above with the headless wonder absolutely by our lying media – ABC included.

  25. mark delmege

    and before you know it we are sucked into another war – led by the nose terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror terror

    you see there is a connection

  26. Pingback: THE MYTH OF POLITICAL SAMENESS – Written by AD ASTRA | winstonclose

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