Undeterred by the flood of public disgust that followed his disgraceful smear of Kevin Rudd last week (and there's a beautiful response today in the SMH by Richard Walsh), Tony "Swiftboat" Abbott has just this minute appeared on the ABC TV news sniggering and smirking about the fact that Queensland failed to get fluoride organised into its water supply while Kevin Rudd was, well, you know, living there. Quinceland full of rotten teeth? Well, we all know who to blame for that.
Given his slurs on Rudd's family and memories, one wonders what Abbott would say of poet Les Murray, whose mother died -- Murray, too, was still only a child -- when the doctor refused to send the ambulance to their dairy farm in time because Murray's father couldn't bring himself to use words like 'haemorrhage' and 'miscarriage' to another man on the phone and had only his anguish, whch wasn't enough, to help him convey the urgency of the situation. Would Abbott say 'Well, there you go, typical dirt-farmer and it was his own fault'? Quite possibly, if Murray got in his way.
Either Abbott doesn't read the Letters to the Editor or he is obsessively staying on-message -- and the same goes for Christopher Pearson, who backed up Abbott in today's Australian. Pearson's version was more temperate and skilful (except of course the shocking, for him, use of the popular misquotation 'gild the lily': it's paint the lily, CP, and I can't believe you didn't know that). The headline was less grotesquely offensive, and less attempt was made in it to disguise the smear as an argument that all smearing should end -- but the net effect was to bolster and reinforce Abbott's suggestion (and this from a Riverview boy; quantum potes, tantum aude, indeed -- audacity is right) that a man who grew up the hard way really didn't have as hard a time of it as he says he did, and even if he did, well, it was his father's own fault. Wasn't it.
Now I'm not a huge supporter of Rudd myself, though his statements and behaviour don't appal me in anything like the way Mark Latham's always did. Rudd is too conservative for me in a number of respects, and considering the implosion of his predecessor-but-one, the arrogance is a worry as well. Anyone would think these people had never heard of hubris, the way they carry on. Rudd may well have mentally rubbed his hands in glee at the prospect of messing with Ratty's mind, but to say so in public was probably a tactical blue and may yet prove to be the equivalent of the Handshake of Doom.
But the idea that Rudd's father's tragic early death and the family's subsequent hardship is fair game in the electioneering stakes is one that only a fellow politician would be sufficiently deluded to entertain. The voters have dads, and the dads aren't perfect. (The dads are also voters.) I'm astonished -- for neither Abbott nor Pearson is by any means a stupid man -- that they haven't got the message that Joe Public despises this kind of thing, and backed off sharpish.
But then, given the effect it's having, why ever would one want them to? From the Letters section of the SMH's website:
'SOME politicians rate pretty highly - on the irritation meter - and Tony Abbott took the No. 1 ranking this week for his piece on Kevin Rudd's background. Deluged, bombarded and overwhelmed would be inadequate to describe the response. And the letters were not short on fruity language. Some of the more publishable included Brendan Rogan's: "Well done, Tony, your latest attack is a new PB in gutter politics." David Marks: "Under Howard and his attack dogs the party has become nothing more than the slime on the gutter of politics." Maureen Chuck: "I don't recall the Opposition trying to make political gain on your rather awkward personal situation in 2004." Gordon and Marie Rowland: "For sheer hypocrisy, Tony Abbott's pontification about 'slippery' Kevin Rudd takes some beating." Colin Kennedy: "If he devoted half as much of his time, spleen and knuckle-headed determination to his own taxpayer-funded day job instead of to his apparently full-time gig of attempting to drag good men down to his own subterranean moral universe, we'd probably have a cure for cancer by now."'
Les Murray, on the subject of making light of a parent's tragic rural death, is kinder:
Perhaps we were wrong
to make a scapegoat out of you;
perhaps there was no stain
of class in your decision,
no view that two framed degrees
outweighed a dairy.
It's nothing, dear:
Just some excited hillbilly -