Opinion: Nothing stirs up a mob like a straw man

Outrage?: Among 17,000 clicking “likes” on the image on Facebook, there were just two criticising it, while everyone else was overwhelmingly positive.
Outrage?: Among 17,000 clicking “likes” on the image on Facebook, there were just two criticising it, while everyone else was overwhelmingly positive.

There they are! Fie through the battle's roar, the acrid smoke of the cannons' blasts, spy, I say, the filthy straw men of the ghost battalions coming this way! 

Last week, we had a beauty of the genre when a photo of the Prime Minister was published on his Facebook page of him watching the football, with his infant grandchild cradled in one arm, while he sipped a beer with his free hand. To believe the tabloid media, there was an outcry that would kill a brown dog, attacking the PM for exposing the infant to alcohol at such a young age. Sam Newman led the charge, thundering on the AFL Footy Show that it was a classic example of how, “This country is rooted. Why would anyone worry about Malcolm Turnbull having a beer with his granddaughter sitting on his lap!” Any quibbles with the outcry over the outcry? Among 17,000 clicking “likes” on the image on Facebook, there were just two criticising it, while everyone else was overwhelmingly positive. Did it matter? Not a jot! The story became a fabulous festival of Shooting Down Political Correctness Gone Mad.

Those two commenters go into our Hall of Fame for Straw Men who have performed above and beyond the call of duty! They're still behind, however, the Prime Minister's own extraordinarily astute use of straw men, when it comes to the Captain Cook statue issue. As you'll recall, after Stan Grant wrote a reflective piece for the ABC that it might be a bit much for a statue of Captain Cook to claim the great English navigator “discovered” Australia when, you know, the First Peoples had been here for 65,000 years, Australia went berserk.

Column after thunderous column excoriated Grant telling him to do everything bar go back to where he came from, but we still had seen nothing yet. For when, subsequently, one dickhead with a spray-can sprayed political graffiti on the statues of Cook, Lachlan Macquarie and Queen Victoria, we lost our 'nana, and none more than the Prime Minister himself. For, again on Facebook, he made no bones about it: this was all “part of a deeply disturbing and totalitarian campaign to not just challenge our history but to deny it and obliterate it. This is what Stalin did.”

Quick, everyone to the barricades! The all-time superstars, though? They are the ones that, even though they look like straw men, don't actually exist!

Take it away Pauline Hanson, with her warning last week in the Senate that she has “been told” that in some countries where same-sex marriage has been passed, kids have been banned from calling their parents “Mum” and “Dad,” out of deference to those kids who have two Mums or two Dads.

Oh, the horror! But pray tell, Senator? Where? Where have the kids been so banned? No answer? Because it doesn't exist. And, of course, it doesn't matter. In this game, the key is to whip up the mob, and I might say the 'no' camp on the same-sex marriage survey has been particularly expert at it, claiming all kinds of horrors in other countries with marriage equality.

If things really are so bad in the wake of removing discrimination from those attracted to same sex, why, in a country like the deeply conservative US, has acceptance of marriage equality steadily risen since 2001? Back then just 35 per cent of Americans supported it. Now, as revealed by the Pew Research Centre, it is up to 62 per cent. In 16 years of living with same-sex marriage, the numbers in support have near doubled! And that ain't straw. It's like, you know, real!

Peter FitzSimons is a Fairfax journalist.