I’ve been busy with work so this is a couple of days later than I had hoped, but Gerard Henderson’s ongoing descent into irrelevance should be remarked upon.

His Tuesday column this week was simply appalling. In his effort to attack the Rudd government at all costs, Gerard engaged in logical contortions such as:

  • Suggesting that Kevin Rudd has not embraced bipartisanship because, despite appointing former Coalition MPs to senior posts (e.g., Brendan Nelson and Robert Hill), “the favours Rudd provides … are not extended to those regarded as Labor critics.” Apparently, Rudd would only be “bipartisan” if he extended patronage to those opponents who are overtly partisan and uncompromising. In Gerard’s world, finding and acknowledging common ground across party lines is not bipartisanship.
  • Despite attacking Rudd for not being bipartisan enough, acknowledging that John Howard was overtly partisan in his appointments, “appointing many former Coalition politicians to senior positions while all but ignoring similar talent on the Labor side.”
  • Complaining that Labor cannot take any pleasure in the failure of Concept Economics, the firm that provided economic advice (including ETS modelling) to the Coalition and who have advised Telstra, because they’d be giggling at a rise in unemployment and “you would expect that Labor ministers would be concerned about the loss of even one job.”
  • In what might be one of the greatest demonstrations of hypocrisy in recent political commentary, suggesting that the Government should not accuse Glenn Milne of partisan bias. Despite repeating his blanket assertion that “the fact is most journalists are more favourable to Labor or the Greens than to the Coalition,” Henderson thinks that Labor cannot attack a specific journalist as “[the] Liberal Party’s journalist of choice” because:
    • It’s “a harsh criticism”;
    • As noted above, the media are lefties; and
    • They are so far in front that they don’t need to. Apparently, Gerard thinks politics should come with some kind of mercy rule so that the team who’s winning can’t blow out the scoreline against their weaker opponents.

I have never found myself short of reasons to criticise Henderson’s columns and his arguments, but his entire dialogue has been reduced to pathetic whining about anything the Rudd government does. This follows on from his dreadful effort in last week’s Media Watch Dog, where he attempted to score a victory against economist Joshua Gans, who had the temerity to conduct actual quantitative research into partisan media slant in Australia. Unfortunately, as Gans himself noted, Henderson – whether through technological illiteracy or some other form of brain explosion – misattributed statements about research on urinal choice to Gans when they had actually been made by Randall Munroe, author of the (brilliant and hilarious) web-comic, xkcd. (NB: Andrew Leigh has now followed up on that issue with a letter to Henderson that’s worth reading in its entirety.)

All of this follows Henderson’s bizarre decision to publicise his despicable attacks on someone who criticised his work because she works for a government-funded body.

I have previously viewed Gerard Henderson as different from, and deserving of more respect than, some of the other conservative commentators we criticise on this site. He struck me as a politically active conservative who argued for his genuinely-held beliefs and ideals. During the Howard era, he was not just someone who threw pot-shots from the sidelines but who was involved in shaping the political agenda. I may not have agreed with that agenda, but I respected that he appeared to hold a coherent position based on genuine beliefs.

My opinion has changed in the past two weeks. I now see him as nothing more than a conservative polemicist who argues against his enemies, irrespective of the merit of his argument and regardless of what is at stake. Gerard Henderson’s latest actions suggest he is intent on winning – or at least, in the Liberal Party’s current predicament, not losing. Maybe he has always been that way and I was wrong in my estimation, or maybe this is a change as a result of the lost influence and power that comes with electoral defeat. I don’t know.

And who are his enemies? It seems the list grows through association. It begins with “Leftists” and those fellow travellers at the ABC. But anyone who argues in any way against Gerard’s ideology quickly finds themselves on the list – as the Victoria Legal Aid worker who wrote to him last week did, and as Professor Gans has too. Once a target is added to the list, Henderson has managed to throw flimsy arguments, personal smears and even outright inaccuracies into the debate. It’s pathetic, and it reduces the level of political discourse in this country. Surely we can do better than this.

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