Impotent outrage from toddlers and trolls is too late. They already lost the argument
The querulousness of the vanquished was perhaps summarised by Ian Macdonald’s fury at Derryn Hinch’s rainbow scarf.
The Queensland Liberal really wanted that scarf off. Hinch wasn’t inclined to take it off. And so it went, as the Senate crept towards legalising marriage equality.
Calm entreaties that the public was watching didn’t disrupt one man on a mission to feel aggrieved and put upon by Derryn in his rainbow scarf, and scorned by the progressive peanut gallery who were collectively underwhelmed with Macdonald’s previous efforts to remove discrimination for gays and lesbians, and by the fact he knew a couple of atheists.
So Macdonald’s impotent outrage grew, a thing in itself, but somehow symptomatic of the impotent outrage that is now prompting a rudderless government to turn on itself in full public view.
As the Senate inched towards doing its job, delivering the outcome on marriage a majority of Australians asked for, Macdonald raged inside and, outside, various conservatives lined up to blame Malcolm Turnbull for failing to “lead” during the marriage equality debate.
By failing to lead, the critics meant Turnbull had failed to engineer a situation where more socially liberal colleagues would meekly cop the conservative position on religious protections.
In the words of the National Andrew Broad, Turnbull had been “sneaky” in the way he had handled the internal debate about religious protections. This view was backed by the still in-house dissident George Christensen, whom colleagues sense is on a mission to martyrdom.
Seriously, the collective numpty in Canberra at this point can be so enormous it is almost noxious.
Voters are treated to a daily spectacle of feelings first, consequences second, as a dangerous, disorienting fog descends. Right now, the key performance indicator for the professional dissidents of the government seems to be bagging someone else on Sky News: the prime minister; someone else who looked sideways at you in the lunch line. Mainly Turnbull though.
If we can take a breath for a minute and just look at the facts, the record shows the alleged failure wasn’t Turnbull’s.
If there was a failure, it was the stunning lack of judgment and tactical smarts by the naysayers, who could have brought a concrete proposal to the Coalition party room ahead of the postal survey result, when their internal bargaining power was at its height.
They could have called out the artful ambiguity of the prime minister’s public position on religious freedom by doing some work and forcing a decision.
They could have brought a finished bill to rival the private member’s bill drafted by the Liberal Dean Smith and demanded a party room debate and some concrete undertakings – or at least produced a list of bullet points outlining the specific undertakings they wanted colleagues to accept.
Yes supporters inside the government were, in fact, bracing for precisely that outcome in the final party room before the postal vote – but the concrete challenge never came.
So, as we move to the settled outcome, a yes vote in both parliamentary chambers, the debate in some quarters is being re-prosecuted – this is not our failure but someone else’s failure, and it may as well be Turnbull’s failure.
By this deeply strange rationale, Turnbull, a long time yes supporter, in a conscience vote process, is supposed to try and undermine the yes cause, to get an “outcome” with no prospect of passing the parliament, because ... you know ... leadership.
This is pathetic. There is no other word for it.
Also pathetic is the ready resort of the reactionary rump of the conservative right to full victimhood every time they lose an argument.
The right foisted the postal survey on the public, some to force a solution on same- sex marriage, some to delay it. This was the right’s process, not some sneaky conspiracy by the prime minister to let progressivism rip.
They determined the rules of the game and they lost. That’s the long and short of it. The end.
Social conservatives in the parliament are entirely justified in sticking up for their values and principles, right until the end. It would be appalling if they didn’t use the parliamentary debate to express their convictions. It would be a betrayal of themselves and their supporters.
But fighting the good fight with dignity and respect seems beyond the capacity of some of the toddlers and trolls who inhabit the chambers of our parliament, whose primary task now is, seemingly, feeding the media ecosphere that encourages their antics and trades in only one zero-sum commodity: outrage.
Fortunately for all of us, for the intrepid politics watchers who these days have to counsel themselves against hopelessness and despair at the unhinging, the Senate chamber on Wednesday pushed past the strange battle of the rainbow scarf, past the churlishness, past the professional victimhood and into a tangible result.
While the minority rumbled and roiled as the world turned, a clear majority of senators came together, constructively, with good will, with deep intellect and sincere emotion – to carry out an act of representative democracy, to turn the aspiration of a majority of Australians into reality.
Even Macdonald was a yes vote, in the end.
‘Ian Macdonald really wanted that scarf off. Hinch wasn’t inclined to take it off. And so it went.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian