One of the more chilling aspects of presidency of George W Bush was the rise of the Machiavellian apparatchik, Karl Rove. Rove was the master of the art of manipulating public opinion and controlling the political agenda through the use of language, particularly in the mass media.
After the attack on the World Trade Center, Bush declared a “war on terror.” When this type of rhetoric becomes pervasive, it effectively frames the political debate and as a consequence, the political and military actions that will flow from it. In a state of ” war”, the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without the right of habeas corpus and rendition of prisoners to countries with brutal and totalitarian governments becomes acceptable.
During his time as Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff to Bush, Rove lifted this practice to an art form.
Neal Gabler, Los Angeles Times; October 25, 2004 wrote “All politicians operate within an Orwellian nimbus where words don’t mean what they normally mean, but Rovism posits that there is no objective, verifiable reality at all. Reality is what you say it is,”
Or as Humpty Dumpty put it to Alice:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Politicians around the world, particularly right-wing politicians were quick to learn this lesson. However, the subtle art of influencing public opinion of which Rove was a master practitioner, degenerated into a perception that, if you keep saying something, no matter how stupid or illogical, over and over again, people will come to believe it.
Tony Abbott and his associates in the rabid rednecked media used this technique to great effect against Julia Gillard’s government. The rhetoric around the “budget crisis” is a case in point. Unfortunately, the Abbot government continues to think that simply shouting loud enough and often enough is enough to shape public opinion.
The seemingly endless series of political fiascoes, back-flips and tumble turns on policy matters is paralleled by assertions from the coalition government that simply defy rational belief. The assertion by speaker Bronwyn Bishop that the abolition of the Carbon Tax was supply bill and could not be amended by the opposition is a marvellous example of the Humpty Dumpty’s claim
However, Bronwyn Bishop’s appalling misuse of her power as Speaker pales into insignificance in comparison with the antics of Education Minister Christopher Pyne last week in his defence of his backflip over the Gonski reforms.
There are signs in the polls that this trend in public is beginning to tire of this particular approach to politics
- Bronwyn Bishop’s first test? Epic fail (theage.com.au)