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Ignorance is strength

January 28th, 2003

In my discussion of the Canberra bushfires, I observed that Paddy McGuinness had made some ‘typically nasty and ill-informed’ comments, before going on to note that the blogworld does this kind of thing much better (or rather, much worse). In the Comments thread Me No No wrote

the real purpose of a column like that is to generate letters to the editor, so reminding SMH carpet strollers of why they pay an exhorbitant amount for columns that don’t really say much.

When tomorrow’s letters page is chockers with outrage, Paddy will feel useful again.

Looking at today’s SMH it becomes clear that the timing of this particular piece was also intended to provoke a flood of outrage from the chattering classes when Paddy’s AO was announced, to which he could respond with devastating wit. Instead, Lleyton Hewitt got the brickbats and the only response to Paddy was a letter from frequent commentator on this blog, Ron Mead, praising the award.

As a result, Paddy’s piece today was a bit sad. No-one even remembered that he was once a republican opponent of all kinds of honours, so he had to remind us of his own hypocrisy before defending himself. And his subtle self-comparison to Orwell, fighting against the “smelly little orthodoxies” of the left, came adrift when the sub-editor gave his piece the title, When no means yes, principle’s the same. This is Orwellian, but not in the good sense.

The person who should really be nailed on all this is John Howard. While he was saying all the right things about his concern for the people of Canberra, McGuinness, with the AO award already in the bag, was giving vent to the government’s real feelings on the subject.

Update Always vigorous in defence of his intellectual heroes, Jason Soon argues that

Paddy’s output of late has not necessarily been of sterling quality but that placed in the context of his past work his AO was well-deserved.

While I’m less of an admirer than Jason, I agree that McGuinness was a serious and credible commentator in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, looking at the rest of the Oz Day Honours list, I find it implausible that Paddy got his gong, even in part, for pieces like the one Jason mentioned where he argued that “Keating was a better pro-market reformer than Thatcher”.The AO is a reward for the partisan vitriol of the past seven years rather than for his earlier work.

Jason also didn’t like my suggestion that Paddy’s comments on Canberra reflected the government’s real feelings on the subject. Having lived in Canberra for a good part of my life, I think I’m pretty well attuned to these things, and stand by what I said.

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