8 December 2019
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Channelling Kamahl, I ask my Twitter critics: why are you so unkind?

Coping with criticism is a skill you have to continually develop when you’ve been a commentator in major newspapers, on TV and with radio stations for over three decades. That said, when the critics get personal, it still hurts a bit, though I guess that’s what they want to achieve. But I’ve taken comfort from the family called The Roosevelts.

This is pretty timely, as the most unlike Roosevelt US President ever, i.e. Donald Trump, goes into bat against Xi Jinping over the weekend at the G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan.

At the risk of channelling Rodney Rude, I hate it, I hate it, when those who don’t agree with me reply using some schoolyard insult as a substitute for, say, telling me why I’m wrong on a factual or interpretative basis. And it’s even more gritting if the snaky personalised criticism comes from a gutless individual who hides behind a ‘cute or facile’ pseudonym, which makes him/her less accountable and identifiable. As an aside, there was a comment from one of these ‘humans’ this week (in the Disqus section of our website) because I referred to someone in my column on Switzer Daily as he/she. I’m fully cognisant of recognising that this world isn’t made up of just “he’s” and I always try to recognise women. But I was berated by this “human” (I’m too scared to say “chap”) for not including LGBTQs. Why did I narrow it down to just he/she? he asked. What is this world coming to? is my reply.

I also hate it when people take me to task on the strength of reading my headline, which is actually made by someone else — my editor! That’s the way proper media outlets work — writers write, editors edit and create the headline.

A case in point was this week when I wrote a piece that had a catchy headline of “Labor’s at it again. A bogan with a PhD is trying to take away our tax cuts!”

The guy in question is our new Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who’s a bright 40-something and is Labor’s future, as I said in my story. But some readers thought it was me who was calling Jim a bogan, when it was supposedly his own colleagues, or at least his supporters.

We Aussies can be very backhanded with our ‘compliments’. However, in reality, a politician who’s like a lot of us, i.e. good people with a few bogan habits, and I include myself in this category at times. Chalmers is smart enough to have a doctorate and has the potential to be a great politician.

That’s Jim if he grows in stature in the job in that big house on the hill in Canberra. Of course, that place can sometimes be a bad influence on people who call themselves politicians but there have been others who have benefitted living on that hill, with Bob Hawke and John Howard being cases in point.

Given my age and the fact that I’ve been commenting on politicians and the economy since 1985 when I started writing for the Daily Telegraph and then becoming Triple M’s business and political commentator from 1987, I think the likes of Jim and even some of my more aggressive critics, who often play the man rather than the issue, could benefit from some of the life observations of the Roosevelt family.

Arguably one of America’s greatest Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt puts the armchair critic in their place. I have to admit most of my commentary has been tempered by the fact that sometimes I am a player, not a spectator.

Roosevelt once told us: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

This not only helps me be fair to politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs and sports stars that try and fail, it helps me understand the importance of commenting as objectively as possible. My crusade against Bill Shorten ahead of the May 18 election was always about the policies I didn’t agree with. I often pointed out that, unlike a lot of Coalition lovers, I actually like Bill.

Teddy’s nephew, Franklin D. Roosevelt, has also been an inspiration, not only because of the way he used positivity and expansionary economic policies to help kill the Great Depression but because of his most famous line from his inauguration speech.

It went like this: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

All too often my critics seem to be energized by a pending doomsday outcome, which history has shown seldom works out. As the great Aussie journalist, Max Walsh, pointed out to me years ago, when faced with an economic crisis, we tend to “muddle through” and avoid the Armageddon scenario.

There are many critics of economists. However, economists have learnt to help politicians avert huge crises, such as a Great Depression for nearly 80 years!

Not surprisingly, FDR was married to a very impressive woman — his wife, Eleanor, who stood for feminism before the term became popularised in the 1970s.

And she had a healthy view on positivity, as opposed to negativity, which makes me like her even more. “I surround myself with good people who make me feel great and give me positive energy. I am blessed to have so many great things in my life — family, friends and God. All will be in my thoughts daily. I love a man with a great sense of humour and who is intelligent — a man with a great smile.” Sounds like something my wife would say!

She was lucky. So was FDR. And so was America to have such great leaders occupy the White House in both the Great Depression and World War II.

Her positivity and great role model example aside, I love this observation of hers: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” 

I know I’m not perfect and sometimes I behave like Bronwyn Bishop in her prime when she was one of the feistiest politicians in the country. Once in a big conference for HSC economics students, Bronny spoke before me. I thought she was being too politically biased with some of her views, which I thought could have gone against students in their exams.

So when I took the stage I told the students to be careful using Bronny’s views on economic policy. To that, as she walked down the aisle, she stopped and her hair bun vibrated with force! And in doing, she demanded a right of reply, which I granted her as long as she stayed and listened to my presentation.

It was great theatre for the students and Bronny didn’t disappoint, ripping into me for being a media commentator rather than a politician like her, who was trying to serve the country.

It was great stuff. I replied that Bronwyn was like the famous UK Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, who once was described this way: “He can’t see a belt without hitting below it.”

I was much younger then but I do have a much healthier respect for those who are in the ring rather than being on the sideline. But I still feel it’s my job when those in the centre are dabbling in dodgy economics. That’s my job but I do try to be less personal and I think that’s a good example to set for others.

Here are the last words that I’ll attribute to Eleanor’s husband, FDR: “I am neither bitter nor cynical but I do wish there was less immaturity in political thinking.”

There are a lot of tweeters from here to Washington DC who could take this one on board.

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