Girly man? Banter from current crop of politicians is sadly lacking

Girly man? Banter from current crop of politicians is sadly lacking
October 20, 2014 – 1:02PM
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Tony Wright
Tony Wright
National affairs editor of The Age
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Mathias Cormann goes meta
Is his “girlie man” sledge a nod towards a Mathias Cormann parody on ABC TV? Or a homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ripped the line off an SNL sketch parodying his Austrian accent?

The Pulse Live: Stephanie Peatling blogs live from Parliament
“I wouldn’t vote for you if you was Jesus Christ himself!” a disgruntled woman was once supposed to have roared at prime minister Bob Menzies during a rowdy town hall meeting.

“Madam,” replied Menzies. “If I were Jesus Christ, you wouldn’t be in my electorate.”

Political banter, sometimes so witty it fair takes the breath away, sometimes so shrivelling it takes the target a lifetime to recover (“a shiver searching for a spine to run up,” Paul Keating once hissed at opposition leader Andrew Peacock) has long been a national delight, the better barbs recounted from dinner table to outback pub.

And what have we now?

“Girly man,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann whimpers of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his approach to economic policy.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten Photo: Andrew Meares
“Cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” Shorten mutters of the government and its jobs policies.

“I’m gonna shirt-front him,” cries Tony Abbott of the regularly shirtless Vladimir Putin.

The trick to successful political word hurling is originality. And it’s lacking.

Cormann pinched his girly-man line from Arnie Schwarzenegger. Perhaps its something to do with using English as a second language.

Shorten’s “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, which Shorten claimed he’d borrowed from an American politician, is actually a line from a 1995 episode of the TV show The Simpsons.

Both Cormann and Shorten managed to cause unhelpful collateral damage far from their intended targets. Women everywhere were unimpressed by Cormann comparing them with men – or varied versions of the idea, all the way through, unsurprising, to cries of sexism. We can’t bear to imagine what Bronwyn Bishop might have thought.

Shorten outraged the French, at whom the conjoining of cheese-eating and surrender has always been a dreadful slur.

Indeed, Winston Churchill, a fellow who knew his way around wounding words and could do it with considerable art, quite deliberately used only one word of French origin when he gave his famous “we shall fight them on the beaches” wartime speech. It was the very last word of that rallying cry to Anglo-Saxons: “We shall never surrender”. He didn’t labour the point, for he didn’t need to do so for the benefit of knowing wordsmiths.

As for Abbott’s “shirt-front”: it’s plain confusing, borrowed variously from rugby, where a shirtfront is the grabbing of said garment in the hope of pulling an opponent to the ground; from the AFL, where it involves a mighty collision of hairy chests, and the pub, where it can mean pretty much anything involving two confused and upset blokes on the turps.

If politicians want to talk like they’re in the pub, perhaps they should consider actually going to a pub and finding out what Australians think of them at the moment. Girlie-men and cheese-eating surrender monkeys and a spot of shirt-fronting would be the least of it.

Alternatively, if they want to really offend, they could call on Top Gear’s splendidly offensive Jeremy Clarkson to moonlight as a speechwriter. Clarkson, reviewing the latest Audi, opined that the vehicle’s problem was that “it doesn’t really reach down the front of your pants and give you a tickle”.

The current crop of political banterers couldn’t tickle a funny bone. And some of them wouldn’t get a vote if they were the Archangel Gabriel – or be capable of a suitable retort to the proposition.

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