Political campaigning – it can be different

Given the state of politics in the USA, the UK and Australia it would be easy to think that it had become partisan beyond repair.

Indeed, given also the extent of the influence of various fundamentalist Christians and other fundamentalist ideologues it might even by judged as Manichean with the good and/or evil being determined by who is speaking when and about what.

So it is heartening to see that successful political campaigners can be different. The obvious candidate for approbation is Tiernan Brady who was director of the referendum campaigns in Ireland and Australia (a postal plebiscite here to be precise) to deliver significant majorities for gay marriage.

According to the Weekend Financial Times (15/16 September 2018) he has been compared to Lynton Crosby of Oz and UK fame (where he got a knighthood and consistent characterisation as a crazed attack dog in Private Eye). Yet Brady is arguably more successful than Crosby in their past two outings with Brady’s Irish and Australian success compared with Crosby’s efforts in the last London Mayoral and UK national elections being far from strong and certainly not resulting in stability in the latter. And as Brady says: he doesn’t get paid us much as Crosby.

Indeed, as Theresa May danced across the stage to Dancing Queen at the recent Tory conference, she looked far less robotic than Meryl Streep dancing in the latest Mamma Mia franchise, and it may have been the constant repetition of the Crosby strong and stable slogan in the election which earned her the Maybot tag.

Brady argues that beating up the other side isn’t as successful in social campaigns as taking the higher ground. He told the FT: “How do you show leadership on your own side? The tone we have to set is the tone we have to live with and we can’t allow those clarion voices who are more interested in the war than the peace (to dominate)”.

He describes the key to successful campaigns as talking ‘to’ people rather than ‘at’ them reminding us that the most powerful weapons in communication are conversations, empathy and authenticity.

Brady is now off to a Vatican synod on young people with the aim of challenging Catholic teaching on homosexuality which is a bit of challenge when it involves an organisation which has almost two millennia of talking at rather than to and with people plus a certain lack of authenticity when those who are holding forth on matters of sexuality are celibate (well a few of them anyway) and are cloaked in gorgeous raiment which the early church leaders would have found a bit over the top.

The blog does have to concede however that today – at least in many contemporary churches and other religions outside Africa and the Middle East -the religious don’t generally murder or torture dissidents, homosexuals, adulterers or believers in other faiths but simply try to impose their religious views on the rest of us. Although when that condemns American women to searching for backyard abortionists, as many will be in the coming years with the Supreme Court’s new majority, it may feel that not much has changed in the past few centuries.

So, for instance, while what Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has in mind exactly for his own freedom of religion to impose religious views on the rest of us legislation is unknown it may include making discrimination in employment legal; fighting the imaginary war on Christmas – another political ploy imported to Australia by our local US epigones; and could include protecting the rights of anti-abortion protesters who want to molest and harass women entering abortion clinics. It also probably won’t be progressed and debated with the Brady principles to the fore.

On the other hand it should be recognised that the Brady approach is not only important for the Crosbys, the Morrisons and the Abbotts but also those who imagine themselves as leftists but who support ‘trigger warnings’; denying platforms to people with whom they disagree; and, constantly portraying themselves as victims. They are a mirror image of the people on the other side of the debate as highlighted in a new book – The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

While the problem is apparently with today’s young – aren’t all the problems so throughout history? – one could equally blame the blog’s baby boomer generation of parents who, for instance, obsessed with eliminating risk in their children’s upbringing stopped them from playing in the dirt and thus made them more likely to develop allergies later in life. Now the same children (or in some cases grandchildren) are continuing to inculcate new forms of risk aversion by refusing to hear contrary views; communicating within social media risk averse safe space ghettos; and, failing to discriminate between the abhorrent and the discomforting.

What is also apparent – but hopefully mistaken – is that the Brady approach will not be uppermost in the forthcoming Federal election.