Sam Dastyari: Why I Care About Tony Abbott's Happiness
I’ve been thinking a lot about Tony Abbott recently.
Which is odd. I never really thought about him when he was the Prime Minister. I knew that I hated him and that was enough.
It’s genuinely hard finding time to think about Tony Abbott between the articles on Scott Morrison’s politicisation of religion and the angry rants I read about Peter Dutton. A steady media diet of opinions I already agree with. The take away fast-food of journalism.
Tony Abbott isn’t exactly a popular figure in my circles. He probably prefers it that way.
I’m sure he’d be well aware that the soy-latte sipping, inner city, lefty, craft beer drinking, atheist vegan crowd isn’t his fan base. They barely like me and I fit their build.
I saw Tony pop up again last week, breaking the self imposed silence since his election loss to comment on wind farms. He looked tired. Detached. Exhausted from the self reflection that comes from the most dangerous drug available to a former public figure... time. Lots and lots of time.
And so I wonder -- does he eventually emerge happy?
I dared raise this with my friends.
“Are you crazy?” they answered.
“He’s rich and privileged,” they pointed out.
“Why do you care?” they pertinently asked.
Some will go further. They will tell me that they hope he’s miserable -- a punishment for the stain he left on Australian politics. And they will rattle off partisan lines relating to immigration, health funding, education and so on. I’m familiar with those lines. I crafted many of them.
And they were my views too. Once.
I grew up as a labor apparatchik. Political staffer, Young Labor, General Secretary of the Labor Party... career politician. All those things that everyone dislikes about politics. A real hater of those I fought with. Ask me what I thought a few years ago, and (if I was being honest) I would have told you that I wouldn't readily spit on an opponent’s burning corpse.
But I’m also broken enough to now realise that says more about me than the people I fought with. That the polarisation of politics has pitfalls. The dehumanisation of the people whose politics you dislike has consequences -- not only for the national discourse but also for yourself.
A lot has been said (and written), about the polarisation of political debate. Growing partisanship. Red vs Blue. Everyone being in their corner, fighting for their team and unable to tolerate the views of others. But this conversation is mostly focussed on what partisanship has done to the national debate. What it's done to our inability to reach national consensus; to the impact on policy outcomes.
But what about what polarisation does to the people themselves? What happens to those who are embedded in these constant political fights? The ones who express themselves through harsh social media posts -- Twitter rants and vitriolic Facebook shares. What happens to them?
Politicians know what to say when there is a camera on them. “Oh, I like them... I just don’t like their policies”. But with only a handful of exceptions; that’s mostly a lie. To survive you need to have a viciousness that drives you to attack those you argue with.
Hate. Anger. It makes you a better politician -- and a far worse person.
And so I go back to my earlier question: Does Tony Abbott come out of all this a happy person?
Well, I'll never know the answer to that. But what I can address is the follow up question my friends posed: Why would I care?
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I like to think that I care because I’m an altruistic person. That I have empathy for someone who rose far higher in my chosen field than I ever could have -- and then lost it all. I like to think that I believe we all have a responsibility to care for each other, regardless of political views. Some bullshit selfless reason like that.
But I’m self-aware enough to know I’m not that person.
Here is the truth: If I can care about Tony Abbott’s happiness then, maybe, just maybe, I can convince myself that I’m not a junkie feeding myself on a steady diet of social media rage. Maybe a life of partisan politics didn’t destroy all vestiges of my humanity.
If I can care about Tony Abbott, it means I’m a better person than I thought I was.