Who’s your daddy?

Is John Howard a strong father or just an annoying older brother?

Voters see their nation as a family and its leaders as parents, says cognitive linguist George Lakoff. In the US, voters often see their leaders as the world’s parents — as if it was their job to protect smaller, less grown-up nations from threats like communism and terrorism. What if Australians see the world the same way?

Peter Hartcher’s new Quarterly Essay, ‘Bipolar Nation‘ captures our ambivalence about our adult status. Early in the essay he invokes the Mummy/Daddy metaphor with Labor as Mum and the Coalition as Dad. But in another section we’re all children. Hartcher quotes former diplomat Alan Renouf:

Like a child, Australia has shown a marked inclination to "stay with mother", first Britain and then the US, or as Bruce Grant has felicitously put it, to be the "spear carrier to the chief".

We like to think of ourselves as a nation of larrikins. ANZAC mythology casts the diggers as a rebellious adolescents — willing to lay down their lives for the mother country but at the same time keen to assert their independence through pranks, drunkenness, and insubordination. During the Second World War Prime Minister Curtin asserted Australia’s independence from Britain and sought an alliance with the United States. So while Australians may have left home, we still expect our parents to help us out if we get into trouble.

By joining America’s War on Terror and its military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Howard may have rekindled the sense that Australia is a nation which has yet to grow up. In this dangerous bin-Laden infested world Mark Latham’s adolescent cockiness looked irresponsible and Howard naturally assumed the role of sensible older brother. After all, he and Dad had a special relationship. On an recent trip to Washington Howard made it clear that we couldn’t go it alone:

The world will need America just as much in the future as the world has needed America in the past, and as the world needs America at the present. Those foolish enough to suggest that America should have a lesser role in the affairs of the world should pause and think whether they really mean what they say, because a world without a dedicated, involved America will be a lesser world, a less safe world, a more precarious world.

But our new Washington Dad turned out to be flaky and irresponsible. Perhaps he was having some kind of mid-life crisis where aircraft carriers and stealth bombers took the place of motorbikes and sports cars. However it happened we are now all caught up in a mess we can’t get ourselves out of. People couldn’t help thinking that maybe our big brother should have taken more responsibility for things himself.

Now Kevin Rudd looks like the sensible sibling — even Uncle Dick is taking him seriously. Rudd’s serious and rather dull image contrasts with the Coalition front bench’s teasing and bullying. Costello attacked Rudd by quoting from comic books, Tony Abbott accused him of telling porkies, and the Prime Minister now looks like the head bully in a schoolyard brawl. Few of the attacks touch on serious issues of policy.

As Peter Hartcher says, national security and the economy are typically seen as Daddy issues. According to the theory, if these issues are high on the public’s agenda during an election campaign then conservative parties have the advantage. But what if Australia’s national security isn’t in our own hands? And what if it’s the global marketplace that determines interest rates and unemployment levels? Who’s your Daddy now?


____Want more? _____________________________________

Lakoff vs Pinker

George Lakoff and Steven Pinker go head to head over Lakoff’s 2006 book Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea.

Block That Metaphor! Pinker’s review in the New Republic.

When Cognitive Science Enters Politics. Lakoff’s reply.

George Lakoff’s tendentious theory of everything. Metaphorical Limits. Pinker hits back.

Beyond Beauty and Wonder. Lakoff replies to Pinker’s reply.

Frame Game. Geoffrey Nunberg joins the debate.


Thinking Points: Communicating our American Values and Vision

From the Rockridge Institute:

Thinking Points: Communicating our American Values and Vision is George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute’s handbook for the grassroots progressive community. You, the progressive community, have expressed a need for a short, easy-to-read systematic account of the progressive vision, for the morals and principles that apply across issue areas, and for all the essentials of framing. That, along with extensive argument analysis and an important new explanation of the so-called political center, is what we’ve written. We are confident that this book will empower progressives to express themselves in an authentic, values-driven fashion.


‘Competing Visions of Parental Roles and Ideological Constraint’

Political scientists David Barker and James Tinnick conduct an empirical study to test Lakoff’s theory. The researchers "were impressed at the degree to which Lakoff’s thesis holds up under empirical scrutiny." [Abstract].

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27 Responses to Who’s your daddy?

  1. Robert says:

    With apologies to those who may have read these words on another thread, I’d add this for a long shot idea, having considered this today.

    It’s born of concerns for this election threatening to be the ugliest, lowest in living memory, and Howard’s past form. Has Australia changed since Howard’s last efforts? I’d like to hope so, but past form tells me no.

    It’s to throw down a wild card and say Howard will later focus not on the economy, but security, as his winning strike.

    Behind this is the supposition that Rudd will hit Howard on the economy, reframe it and at the very least muddy the waters for Howard. The talk

  2. C.L. says:

    The mud-throwing was begun by our psychologically pre-pubescent Opposition Leader when he spent days in Parliament besmirching the reputations of three of Australia’s finest businessmen – a baseless and childish slime job which the coward has now dropped.

    None of my “sensible siblings” has ever advised me to associate with convicted criminals or to hire staff who write references for drug dealers.

    The encomiums coming from Rudd Huggers are becoming worshipful and increasingly bizarre.

  3. Lloyd says:

    Nice one CL, the Rudd Huggers. It’s a good thing there’s a few of us out there otherwise we would be condemed to a life sentence of Howard backed up by deludsional fools like yourself. Increasingly bizarre my arse. A tidal wave of ordinary Australians is about to swamp the good ship Howard so enjoy the ride my fiend.

  4. Don Arthur says:

    CL – You’re right, the mudslinging started with Labor’s questions about Ron Walker and Australian Nuclear Energy.

    Do you think Lakoff’s right that people think of the nation as if it were a family? In his review Pinker thinks Lakoff goes too far:

    Lakoff’s cartoonish depiction of progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons fails on both intellectual and tactical grounds.

    Robert – Ok, I understand you’re just speculating, but what kind of securtity issue do you think it will be? Want to have a go at sketching out a scenario?

  5. Fred Argy says:

    Don, I am not sure I agree that labor started the mud slinging. Questioning the Government’s relationship with an energy company which could benefit from government policy is not per se ‘mud slinging’. It is a legitimate target for an Opposition, although I agree that one or two of the questions in Parliament were rude and packed with innuendo.

    It is at a quite different level from questioning the integrity of Rudd simply because his recollections of childhood experiences (backed by his brother) differ marginally from those of other witnesses at the time. That is clearly mud-slinging.

  6. Robert says:

    No precise idea, Don.. heaven help if I did! That’s Howard’s particular talent. I would suggest the Muslim card but I tend to think he and Andrew Robb have given that a test run and have been met more recently with surprising efforts from that community to present as peaceful people. The trick is to look into what ideas threaten people and therein is the pot of political gold, it could be internal or from without.

    Because the Coalition has been in power for so long, and due to the rugged nature of their changes made, it’s difficult for them to stand on a positive platform. They’ve not convinced the electorate the changes they’ve made are fabulous for the country, so they cannot undo that uncertainty and then provide an inspiring, attractive vision of it enough to rely on it for being re-elected. (Of course they will provide interesting and innovative policy). And the economy to him is but an elective tool.

    With nowhere up to go, and under increasing pressure from Rudd’s viable alternative (if ALP doesn’t break or stumble), I see the election process as effectively stripping Howard back to his core. There’s a huge amount at stake. That’s enormous pressure and Howard won’t risk mucking around.

    At his core Howard is all about getting re-elected. He doesn’t care about what he does to the country to do so. He has no philosophical drive or principle closer than that. He is comfortable and in his element when ripping into some sort of divisive, fear based negative action. Nothing is more powerful than security. Strip a country to its core and the economy goes before it does.

    So the speculation is it’s “security” for this one, played much later (unless he has to sow seeds of it and build it up), with a lot of piss and wind positives before then to cover that intention up.

  7. conrad says:

    “We like to think of ourselves as a nation of larrikins”

    Thanks for this overgeneralization. Obviously “we” in this in means white males who need an excuse for either being obnoxious to other people or an excuse for being a failure. This isn’t the majority of the population.

  8. wbb says:

    Of course Howard’ll play the security card. Already we have seen him try it on with the Sri Lankan refugees.

    They washed up on Christmas Island to complete media & public disinterest.

    So what does Howard do? He loudly announces that he’s moving those naughty Sri Lankan refugees to Nauru. All in the attempt to stir up some controversy. However them being Sri Lankans makes it difficult for Howard to get this issue off the ground.

    There is virtually nothing Howard will not stoop to.

  9. C.L. says:

    It was, on the ground in Parliament, actually more muddy than that, Fred. The man being repeatedly hissed and hollered at was Ian McFarlane. Because of his voice defect, he is usually the only man in the chamber afforded the novelty of being heard in silence because he can’t rise to the interjections. On these occasions that courtesy went out the window, as Rudd slimed everyone in sight – including Walker (who also spoke to Steve Bracks about his nuclear business proposals). Subsequently, the government decided that if the debate was about who met with whom and what was discussed where and why, than Mr Rudd had serious questions to answer about his dealings with Brian Burke. McFarlane and Howard answered their questions in the Parliament – evidently to the satisfaction of the Opposition because they dropped the subject. Rudd, however, “answered” his questions outside of Parliament because he intended to lie. He has still not answered those questions – but he was right to discern that Rudd Huggers would protect him, which they have.

    If the nation is a family, McFarlane and Howard on this occasion gave explanations to all at the kitchen table. Rudd did a bunk and dissembled in less solemn environs to the most sympathetic family member he could russle up: the media. This is of a piece psychologically with what we know about Rudd, thanks to his own Log Cabin mythologising. He likes Big Sisters like Julia Gillard to go into bat for him, having never had a no-bullshit father to hold him to account manfully. He can, he believes, get away with fantastic tales of self-referential lionisation: thus the mendacious Mr Potter hatchet job done on Aubrey Low, the invented story about doctors being responsible for his drink-driver Dad’s death, that he wandered into restaurants on the other side of the country three times and Brian Burke happened to be there. And so on.

    WBB, the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia courtesy of people-smugglers is down by hundreds, if not thousands. What Howard has “stooped to” has saved many lives. The left’s come-one come-all policy would, by now, have killed probably dozens. I’ve never quite understood why “progressives” in this country get an almost religious buzz out of boat-people dying. It’s sick stuff.

  10. Fred Argy says:

    There is a myth going around that people on the Left are great haters but that this less true of the Right. I never believed that! I believe it even less now – after the intense venom poured out over the last two weeks against Rudd – a man who at best is guilty of poor political judgment and who (in the absence of new evidence) is basically a decent Australian.

  11. Don Arthur says:

    Can we not have a debate over which side is more virtuous? It always ends up like barracking at a footy match.

    I’m curious about whether anyone thinks this new spin on the Mummy/Daddy thesis makes any sense.

  12. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    CL apparently has heard the judges in TWO counties found High Morgan’s integrity wanting. Not surprised though.
    A pity he relies on two of the laziest reporters for his information on Rudd’s family.
    Neither of whom actually stated Rudd’s father had drunk too much because that isn’t in the report.
    He died of septicaemia. A problem form the hospital. You know doctors and all that
    We do know the much lauded Aubrey Low simply refused to meet a obligation he agreed to of paying compensation for improvements in the building the Rudds were living in.
    This was not an unusual occurrence with share farmers. It happened a lot with banana growers in the Mid North coast of NSW at the same time.

    CL then drivels on about Rudd not making a statement to parliament. HE isn’t a minister. He could only make a statement on being misrepresented. Anyone who understnds anything to do with parliament knows he couldn’t make such a stement under those conditions.

  13. C.L. says:

    Bert Rudd was hammered on beer and whiskey. He crashed his car and died later of complications. The coroner cleared the doctors – contrary to Rudd’s imaginative tale. Villagers in Rudd’s former home regard his Mr Potter story regarding “eviction” as bizarre. Rudd could have claimed misrepresentation in Parliament over the Burke charges but chickened out to a press conference where he could be more casual and breezy with the truth. The official story is still that he strolled into various eateries after flying across the continent and Burkey happened to be there.

    No I don’t think it makes any sense, Don, respectfully.

  14. C.L. says:

    “…after the intense venom poured out over the last two weeks against Rudd…”

    Well, here’s another example of this increasingly strange Big Sisterly orientation to Little Kev. Howard would be the most vilified leader in Australian history but the poignantly innocent son of the Sunrise family gets sympathy from people because he was asked why he meets convicted criminals in restaurants on the other side of the country. Sympathy for Abbott getting ridiculed over his adopted-out son? No. Sympathy for Costello after a Labor speech-writer accused his wife of being sexually loose? No. Sympathy for Howard after having his war hero father and grandfather investigated and mocked by David Marr? No. The difference: the three Coalition personalities are men and adults. Young Kev, not so much.

  15. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    Contrary to CL’s hallucinations The Coroner could have made it very clear if Bet Rudd had been hammered on beer and whiskies. He didn’t. The police couldn’t ascertain how many drinks he had. Rudd di not have the reputation of a heavy drinker.
    Bear in mind in 1969 no-one knew how many drinks could lead you to drive badly.
    We know he went bowling. Few beers and partaken during this. He did have lunch and dinner. given the time involved and the small beers that were served in Queensland at the time even having half a dozen beers and a couple of whiskies would not have been viewed as drinking a lot nor detrimental to driving however we do not know how many drinks he had. It is highly unlikely he had a lot given he had to drive 120 miles.
    The coroner did not clear the doctors of anything but merely stated what Mr Rudd had died of. He didn’t investigate it.

    If CL actually understands what an MP can say under misrepresentation then he would know that MR Rudd could only talk on a very restricted area and not the whole subject which is why he wisely held a press conference which only finished when there no questions left to be asked

  16. Robert says:

    If the method is to scare the heck out of us and then swish around telling us how everything will be ok, it sounds more like a Tranny Daddy.

  17. C.L. says:

    Bert Rudd was drinking all afternoon and drank into the evening. He then drove home, fell asleep and smashed into a pole. What a surprise. The coroner cleared doctors of malpractice.

    Young Rudd could have claimed misrepresetation in the House but chose not to because he knew this was a slippery matter and he’d have to be creative.

    He got away with it, though reporters noticed he appeared panic-stricken.

  18. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    incorrect. The Coroners report stated he was observed to have drunk some beers and whiskies but they did not know how many.
    He was playing bowls, which is in the report, at the time so your theory is blown out of the water.
    As I said previously the coroner could have said if he thought Rudd had been drinking too much.
    He didn’t.
    You should pay proper attention to Piers and Christopher. They did NOT say that at all. They merely implied because it wasn’t in the coroners report.
    The Coroner would have only investigated the doctors if some sort of complaint was made at the time.
    It wasn’t.
    Surely I don’t have to tell a Queenslander that after what has happened up there.

    You again avoid the problems of attempting to claim misrepresentation in the house.

    It is a fools errand as it is stacked in favour of the Government via standing orders which no Government has attempted to change.

  19. C.L. says:

    The coroner said he drank beers, then whiskies, then beers again with dinner. Then he drove home, fell asleep and hit a pole. Clear case of drink-driving but Homer is entitled to his fantasies. The point is Rudd claimed doctors were responsible for Bert’s death. Not so.

    Anyone can make a personal explanation in rebuttal of misrepresentation. Rudd didn’t go that route because he intended to dissemble on his multiple “accidental” eating engagements with Burkey.

  20. C.L. I didn’t follow Kevin Rudd’s ‘sliming’ of the three businessmen. So in my ignorance I assumed the same kind of position as Fred Argy has. Can you cite the things Rudd said that were unacceptable?

  21. C.L. says:

    Rudd repeatedly pursued the Question Time line that private communications one or all of the men had with the Prime Minister (and others) raised a suspicion that the nuclear power inquiry was set in motion to benefit Walker & Co, because they had established – or were intending to establish – a nuclear industries business. The smear implied wrongdoing, collusion and the corruption of government. The canine yapping at a verbally struggling Ian McFarlane underscored how viciously Labor was prosecuting the entirely theatrical charge. Having been targeted by Labor on the subject of meetings and dealings and quids pro quo, the government responded by asking Mr Rudd to explain his multiple tete-a-tetes with a convicted criminal. McFarlane and Howard answered and stared down their accusers in the House. Rudd cried “mudslingers, waaahhhh!” and oozed on over to the press room where he was no longer accountable to the Parliament. The character assassination and mud-pie throwing was begun by Rudd. He has form for accusing Alexander Downer of being Saddam Hussein’s “bagman” and for calling John Howard a liar over WMD. (He was himself far more dogmatic about the existence of WMD than Howard ever was). Now we have hitherto serious bloggers hailing the Womble as Sibling Number 1 or Father of the Nation. Or something. It’s getting creepy.

  22. Well fair enough C.L. I’m not going hunting after the words because it takes a while to find them and it’s not that important. You likewise haven’t quoted any, but then there’s no reason you should go running round in response to a fairly idle request from me.

    But in the absence of fairly damning words from Rudd I’m back with Fred Argy. It all sounds fair enough to me – the kind of thing that the Libs would routinely accuse the ALP Govt of in the past – of (for instance) making deals with unions etc. It’s all fair policy game isn’t it? As were the points scored about Rudd’s meetings with Brian Burke until it all got hyped out of all recognition – that’s how it seems to me anyway.

    That’s not to white wash Rudd. He has presumably been somewhat less than entirely forthcoming. But – go on C.L. come with me this far on this – The idea of the Howard Govt hyping up a lack of candour of their opponents – well it is a little, shall we say, audacious? Don’t you think?

  23. Don Arthur says:

    CL – Chris Sheil has opened up a special thread devoted to your pet issue. He must have read my mind.

    Bye bye.

  24. smiling politely says:

    Re: CL post 9 – “He likes Big Sisters like Julia Gillard to go into bat for him, having never had a no-bullshit father to hold him to account manfully.”

    Seriously mate. That’s just p1ss-weak. You poor, poor, sad little man.

  25. wbb says:

    (Sorry, Don.)


  26. C.L. says:

    Banishing me like Christopher did on one of his earlier posts, are you Don? Chris told me on that occasion that he gets emails from fraidy-cat Troppo readers who don’t like being dominated. The Rudd epirit de flee is spreading apparently. As I’m the only poster so far who has thematically engaged your cockamamie familial analogies in any way whatsoever, I don’t understand the reaction, frankly.

    Pretty soon it’ll be Robert speaking to himself on this blog.

    However, as you wish – adios.

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