Department of Corrections – the conservative commentariat

Where have the intelligent conservatives press-hacks gone?

Last week’s Telegraph cover

Jones. Akerman. Bolt. Devine. Is this really the best that the right can do?

If the answer is yes, then we have a serious problem. The appalling state of conservative political commentary is one of the great unacknowledged cancers killing Australian political culture. Automatons without vision and without nuance, blindly chewing up and spitting out the party line without any self-reflection or capacity to even acknowledge the egregious selling out on their own side of politics has created an apologism which dips into self-parody.

If the answer is no, then where did all the smart people go? It is very difficult to believe that there is not a single young, articulate, and intelligent voice aching to join the mainstream conservative commentariat. Is there a brain drain into law and finance? Do smart people have an aversion to anything political?

Mainstream political commentary, both right and left (and I use these terms I much disdain for convenience and in the broadest and loosest way possible), has descended to hollow echoes of tired one-liners utterly lacking in substance and purpose. The right-wing especially, however, has shamelessly discarded its raison d’être for the very worst type of torch-and-pitchforks extremism, peddling the basest of base fear politics, and encouraging a culture of willful ignorance where politicians are held to no account for their selling-out of a party’s long forgotten founding values.

We need a steadier mix of pragmatism and ideology. Political commentary has become increasingly partisan without becoming more ideological. The utopian ideal of commentary without ideology is impossible, but the subjugation of ideology to partisanship has ensured the death of pragmatism.

When was the last time Andrew Bolt or Alan Jones, or Tony Abbott for that matter, talked about liberty, fairness, and the power of individual self-determination? Having lost sight of these end-goals, commentary has become trapped in an endless cycle of critiquing the other team into non-existence under the false impression that it is the ultimate end.

To be fair, there is a lot to critique. Governments should be held to account. The problem with writers like Bolt and Akerman is not the critiques themselves but their emptiness. Akerman trots out the same tired lines about boats and debt and incompetence without placing his critique within a framework of analysis. Critiquing Labor has become the end game. There is no explanation as to why we need to stop the boats, why the debt exists, or why the Labor philosophy is a damaging one. All we get is that it is so.

We need liberty and fairness and individualism to be brought back to the forefront of conservative commentary. Smart people will come back to politics when they have something to fight for beyond tearing the other team down.

This can only happen three ways. First, we need greater self-reflection from the right. Change comes from within. Conservative commentary must acknowledge the failings of conservative political parties to maintain the standards of its ideals. Pragmatism is born from ideology without partisanship, not partisanship without ideology. Second, we need to bring back the commentator as a valuable part of society beyond merely a taken for granted hack. Journalism plays a vital role in democracy and social life. We will only get respect from our journalists when we respect them back. Stop the brain drain by making journalism as lucrative as law. Third, we need greater discussion of what it means to be right wing. This identity crisis will not be solved by meaningful debate of what it means to be of the ‘right’, but it will at least be mitigated. The distasteful, dumbed-down politicking of our leaders will only be reversed if they are seriously held to account. It’s time for the right to have a look at itself and reconsider who it is that speaks on its behalf.

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