October 1, 2012
Conservative shock jocks such as Alan Jones function as a battering ram for the Coalition and the conservative movement. They have routinely used political communication in the form of the tactic of personal attacks on Gillard that have been vicious, confrontational and continuous. Theirs is an anything goes model of politics premised on political political warfare as opposed to political governing.
These attacks are designed to both cause harm and to incite anger, outrage and resentment amongst economically working-class, socially conservative, older people. The Australian version of the Tea Party movement see this bile as a no-holds-barred, rough and tumble politics. They thrive on extreme rhetoric and dismiss the disgust that their over-the-top-comments cause as an example of the hypocrisy of their political opponents.
The vitriol of the political discourse of the shock jocks crowds out the policy debate and argument in the public sphere of deliberative democracy, and it is an illustration of the degradation of Australia's political processes. Political incivility and polarization is now the norm, and the animosities it has engendered continue to deepen the political enmity in a highly partisan political climate.
The partisans are not interested in any resolution of policy issues. It is about power and the negativity rhetoric to humiliate political opponents is used to achieve that power. Going negative “works” in terms of turning elections and drawing devoted radio and television audiences even if it undermines the liberal ethos of rational and informed decision making. The democratic public spaces for reasoned discussions on matters of public importance are shrinking.
People have turned off by the political outrage carnival, even if they still tune in to their favorite sideshows whilst the reputation of Parliament has never been lower. Are we reaching the point when there is a shift to a restoration of at least some civility brakes on political discourse, in at least some contexts? Many would see a call for more civility as the regulation of the form of political speech and a denial of free speech.