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Insulting Julia Gillard

The statements by Liberal Party MP Ken Smith criticizing Julia Gillard’s hairstyle and jewelry and linking these criticisms to her understanding of industrial relations – the substance is that she is more style than substance – is ad hominem abuse. They come shortly after Liberal MP Bill Heffernan’s description of Gillard as ‘deliberately barren’ and hence unsuitable for high political office – also ad hominem abuse.

Julia Gillard’s hairstyle and her jewelry have nothing to so with her understanding of IR issues. Nor does her decision, if it was a decision, not to have children have any relevance in determining her fitness for office. Note it is irrelevant whether these claims are correct or not. I point this out because a number of radio commentators raised the issue of whether Gillard chose not to have children or not. The answer to this question cannot conceivably bolster the strength of Heffernan’s claim since, while it might help establish the truth or falsioity of the premise, the premise itself is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

These comments by these Liberal politicians seem to have an ugly anti-female aspect to them. They are also offensive – most people are at least somewhat concerned about their appearance and decisions to have (or not have) children are intensely personal issues that involve obvious sensitivities. The remarks clearly can cause offense even if they are used in an illogical way.

I liked the analysis of these issues at a new blog I came across The Thinker’s Podium – on Ken Smith here and on Heffernan here. The anonymous contributor, Bruce, also has a nice general piece on the declining art of ad hominem attacks.

Of course Labor politicians have long loved the art of ad hominem attacks. The Paul Keating insults page documents the exploits of one noted contributor. Recall:

  • ‘The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on’
  • ‘What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.’
  • ‘…the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition…’
  • ‘I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot…’

The intensity and inventiveness of some of Keating’s remarks made me laugh and Tim Blair points out that Labor often attempts to damage John Howard with compliments. But they are still irrational attacks that prove nothing beyond Keating’s dislike for his target.

They remain a diversion from the political debate.

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