Friday, June 20, 2008

Yes Yes Yes

Thanks to Tobias for this link to a new Possum guest post.
How does it apply in Australia? Well, our right-wing think-tanks may be slower of wit and less weighty in terms of policy development than their US colleagues, but who needs them when you can work the Overton window in the Murdoch papers and the blogosphere? Let’s take the Bolt/Blair/Albrechtsen axis, for example. On issues like the stolen generations, climate change, feminism and the “war on terror” they articulate positions that are pretty far removed from mainstream opinion (if election results and polling are any indication). But their rhetorical style and the prominent platforms they enjoy mean that they can run lines that make slightly less OTT positions from the Liberals seem like the soul of reason.

In a variation on the Overton, they also work hard at simplifying complex debates and shift the ground in a debate. “Name just ten”, “global cooling?” and “Rudd is spin not substance” are lines they all run in various forms that aren’t just out-there death-beastery, but active distortions of the topics under discussion. They also selectively misrepresent whole categories of their opponents - academics, artists, bureaucrats, the “guilt industry”, Greens, Left-wing journalists, NGOs - by presenting radical positions taken by misguided individuals as the norm, or taking isolated remarks out of context and treating them as the core of the opposing argument.

The aim is not really to win any substantive policy debate (think of Blair’s blogging style, and you’ll realize it’s simply not geared for that purpose). Rather, the focus is smearing and discrediting opponents, throwing doubt on established premises in policy debates, shifting the goalposts through simplification, and most importantly of all, keeping the conservative base on-message.