What do these two Menzies House campaigns have in common?
It’s not support for the principles around freedom of political expression. Menzies House only extends that support to Bolt. It’s not about demanding that limits be placed on political action or expression. Menzies House only wants that to happen in respect of the Tent Embassy. And it’s clearly not good banner design.
What the campaigns have in common is (1) their crude and lazy opportunism; and (2) that they are both targeted at Aboriginal Australians. The first supports Bolt’s right to make loaded calls about other people’s racial identity. The second seeks to end the right of Aboriginal people to continue a long-standing political protest. They share a basis in a rudimentary understanding that resentments about Aboriginal people are easily awakened and exploited in some parts of the community.
All political groups make choices about how to allocate their scarce resources, how to communicate in a way that activates their supporters, and where they should best try to channel their energies. Faced with all of the issues of interest to conservatives and libertarians in contemporary Australia, Menzies House have initiated two campaigns in succession that target Aboriginal people.
What words should we use to describe such an organisation, and the people who direct it?
Cynically exploiting racial divisions is something that American conservatives are historically quite comfortable with, and rather good at, too.
Tim Andrews, the founder of Menzies House, and one of those responsible for these campaigns, is apparently based in the US, doing political jobs. He describes himself on his own blog as a “classical liberal” – perhaps, while he is in America, he is learning how to throw red meat to the worst of the conservative base, the better to apply such techniques when he returns to Australia.
You may remember Andrews as the political genius who posted a bunch of pictures of “hot young liberal” women online, and then seemed uncommonly surprised when he drew some fire as a result.
Do remember the name, if only to make sure that you and other people you know always associate it with stunts and campaigns like these, wherever his future career might take him. If he’s what passes for a rising star on the right of Australian politics, we probably have lots more divisive, racially coded campaigning to look forward to in the future.
It would be far too much to ask that senior conservative politicians tell people like Andrews to pull their heads in. Indeed, people like Cory Bernardi proudly associate themselves with Menzies House, its campaigns, and its frequently (though inadvertently) amusing content. A sign, perhaps, that Senator Bernardi himself sees the value in divisive campaigning of this nature.
Meanwhile, we should be sure to understand Menzies House for the kind of organisation it really is. And we should see the people who initiate campaigns like this for what they are, too.