Saturday, December 16, 2006


I see in today's Advertiser that Peter Costello, en passant while discussing the likelihood that he will be in a wheelchair before he gets the top job (if then), has paid what he obviously thinks is tribute to the departed Kim Beazley by calling him 'a decent man'.

This must be the fourth or fifth time since he lost the leadership that I've seen this word applied to Beazley, and every time it has been said as though 'decent' were a high accolade, the nicest thing you could possibly say about someone, and a truly rare occurrence in the sulphurous air of Parliament House.

(No prizes for hearing the other shoe drop at this point.)

There are two very scary things about this.

(1) It suggests that decency in general is a rare and prized commodity, rather than the norm one would hope and believe it ought to be. Basic decency ought to be a starting point in the human character, not some kind of rarefied hard-won personal quality.

(2) It lends itself to one of the classic fallacies of Logic 101: 'Beazley is decent and lost the leadership, therefore he must have lost the leadership because of his decency.' This in turn suggests that only bastards should ever be elected to leadership positions.

It is of course in many people's interests to believe that a decent man is a man who will get the elbow. It provides such a magnificent excuse, after all, for behaving like a psychotic prick.

But five minutes' thought will recall that Beazley lost the Labor leadership for other reasons. He lost in spite of his decency, not because of it.


kate said...

Everyone talks about how he lost because of Tampa, and they talk about how decent he is, because they forget how indecent his 'me too' reaction to Howard keeping the Tampa and its refugees off Australian soil really was.

I don't doubt that Beazley was decent to his colleagues, and nice enough to the Liberals, I have pretty big reservations about his decency when it was really tested.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I'd have to go back to the archives and have a look; I don't remember exactly what he said. He's always been a border-protector and so his lack of resistance didn't really come a surprise; at least he wasn't underhand or hypocritical about it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it indecent, but I certainly think it lost him a lot of voters.

jenny said...

But he wasn't decent. He never stood up for David Hicks, for example. And it wasn't just Tampa. What about the detention centres? Under his watch, as main opposition party leader, he let democracy, and decency, down.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think those who have called him 'decent' have mainly been his political opponents, and I'm quite sure they were talking about things other than Tampa and Hicks and the detention centres. I can't remember exactly what Beazley said about any of these things, and I don't have time to look them up.

'Decency' is so vague a concept that one could argue forever about who is and isn't. I've got no desire to get into a bingle about Beazley's shortcomings as a Labor leader, which I agree were many. As far as Costello's remark is concerned, what I'm interested in is what I'm usually interested in, which is the way people use language and what it reveals about them, especially in public life.

Fyodor said...

I think examples like Tampa and Hicks demonstrate how hard it is to be Decent in politics, and that's assuming we can all agree on the meaning of the word.

When faced with a population that wants queue-jumping coloured people to fuck off to some place where we don't have to worry about them, the DECENT thing to do is to tell the population they're wrong and change their minds. The EASY & POPULAR thing to do is to lead from behind [I'm looking at you, Ratty] by giving the dumbfucks what they want. Likewise Hicks, the bloke that's guilty of terrorism, despite never facing a court on the issue.

Leaving aside the Beazer's own views on the issues, the brutal mechanics of politics are such that there were probably more votes to be lost than won on both issues, and he took the soft option. That doesn't make him an indecent man, but it does leave much to be desired.

Anonymous said...

I'm well below par for thinking these days, but I do wonder if 'decent' as an accolade hasn't always got a consolation prize sort of flavour to it. With Light Brigade type connotations.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Cannon to the right of him,
Cannon to the left of him ...'

kate said...

I suspect in this case the Liberals are using 'decent' to mean 'polite' and 'turned up to meetings when we asked him', or 'didn't find any ingenious underhanded ways to get us out of government'. Which I don't think is quite the same thing as being a moral upstanding citizen, or even being their first choice for an amusing dinner party companion.

The refugee detention centres, incidentally, were opened by the Labour government of which he was a part. They were merely expanded by the Liberals.

Jenny said...

I think Beazley was well and truly within the comfort zone of Howard, Costello, et al. He was one of them. They could live with him and vice versa, without too much angst or expended real passion. Unlike, by comparison, Keating or Latham.

Ergo, they thought he was "decent".

Zoe said...

Speaking of decency, someone was going to post a recipe for cherry ice cream.