Why are left-wing politicians such a-holes to staff?

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There is a great generalisation – by the left – that the left, being a movement long associated with the “common people”, are the great friends of the working men and women, including men and women who work for and around them in politics and in public service. On the other hand, the right are the the rich who hate the ordinary people or at least snobbishly turn their nose on them, with the particular scorn being reserved for the bureaucrats. You see, the right doesn’t just hate the poor, it also hates government that tries to help the poor, which means it also hates all the do-gooders working in government.

This generalisation is a myth.

I don’t want to replace one generalisation with another and opposite generalisation. If there is one thing I’ve learned in politics is that character knows no ideology; there are decent people right across the political spectrum, just as there are complete turds in every political party. But – it strikes me, both from personal observation as well as from extensive reading – that some of the worst examples of rudeness, inconsideration, sense of entitlement and primadonnish behaviour in dealings with government underlings nowadays actually come from the left.

I was reminded of it today when reading the notes of the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton, recently released under Freedom of Information:

Clinton’s treatment of DS agents on her protective detail was so contemptuous that many of them sought reassignment or employment elsewhere. Prior to Clinton’s tenure, being an agent on the Secretary of State’s protective detail was seen as an honor and privilege reserved for senior agents. However, by the end of Clinton’s tenure, it was staffed largely with new agents because it was difficult to find senior agents willing to work for her.

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Or:

[There was] a “stark difference” between [former Secretary of State, Condoleezza] Rice and Clinton with regards to obedience to security and diplomatic protocols. Rice observed strict adherence to state Department security and diplomatic protocols while Clinton frequently and “blatantly” disregarded. For example, it is standard security and diplomatic protocol or the Secretary of State to ride in the armored limousine with the local US ambassador when traveling in countries abroad. It is seen as diplomatic protocol for the Secretary of State to arrive at foreign diplomatic functions with the local ambassador; however, Clinton refused to do so, instead choosing to be accompanied in the limousine by her chief of staff, Huma Abedin. This frequently resulted in complaints by ambassadors who were insulted and embarrassed by this breach of protocol… Clinton’s security breaches were well known throughout Diplomatic Security and were “abundant”.

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You can read the following paragraphs of the document as they describe instances of Clinton disregarding security procedures and advice for the sake of nice photo-ops.

Having worked for a year and a half for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and having had a chance to observe the Foreign Minister herself at work on many occasions, I can say that neither would have ever dreamed of behaving in such ways to the staff. I am astonished, though sadly not surprised, reading the Clinton transcripts.

It must be something about the left and diplomacy in particular, because like Hillary, both the jet-setting former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the then Foreign Minister Bob Carr had an absolutely atrocious reputation within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Stories abound about their rudeness, snubs, tantrums, bullying, childish behaviour and the general lack of class. These are not “cousin of a friend of a friend” urban legends; I’ve heard all these stories straight from the diplomatic horse’s mouth, so to speak – from people who were either victims or witnesses of such behaviour. The horror stories cover the whole gamut, including disrespecting ambassadors in front of local dignitaries, making the staff members cry, and throwing tantrums because yogurt was served at wrong temperature. A few, like the ones about Kevin Rudd abusing flight attendant over food or throwing a fit because over a hairdryer in Afghanistan, have been in public domain for a while; most are just stuff of departmental water cooler conversations. In the interest of fairness, I should add that Julia Gillard, when she travelled overseas as the Prime Minister, was universally liked and respected by the diplomatic staff.

So what the hell is wrong with these people?

As I said, I won’t try to generalise and argue that right-wingers as a whole are nicer people than left-wingers. Both sides of politics think they’re the good guys and the other ones are assholes. You, dear reader, can form your own opinion based on your personal experience. I, for one, believe that there does exist a culture of thuggery in some sections of the left (certain trade unions, for example) that I simply have not observed anywhere on the right. But that’s my personal opinion.

It all reminds me very much of the old ditty about the antebellum United States and the white Americans’ attitude to blacks. It was said that the Southerners hated the race but loved the individuals, whereas the Northerners loved the race but hated the individuals. A similar contrast can be made today in this context: the right might not like the government bureaucracy in principle but they are by and large polite and proper in their actual specific dealings with public servants; the left, on the other hand, idolises government and public service (one could talk here about “the state worship”) but can often be shits to the real people working there.

It strikes me that at least part of the explanation lies in the fact that – if you recall the generalisation I mentioned at the beginning of this story – left-wing politicians have increasingly less to do with average working people and have themselves come to resemble their own stereotype of right-wingers. Certainly, long gone are the days when left-wing politicians were members of the working class. Now, at best, they are tenuously connected to the proletariat as trade union officials. But more often than not they come from backgrounds such as law and other professional services or indeed from the political profession. By virtue of their family background, education, occupation, socio-economic standing, social life, interests and mores they are very much members of the elite – they are now “the rich” they imagine the right to be. The Democratic Party in the United States has now become the party of plutocracy, albeit one which still relies on the working class and minority foot soldiers. The money and connections nexus between the Dems and the top end of the street – whether Wall Street, Hollywood or the Silicon Valley – would have astounded Hubert Humphrey, never mind Harry Truman. The situation in Australia is perhaps not as stark as in the United States, but much the same criticism applies to Labor. By contrast, the Liberal Party, once the domain of the Down Under WASPs, has over the past few decades undergone significant middle-class-ification.

It’s perhaps unfair to say of left-wing politicians that most of them never had a “real job” or done an honest day’s work, but it’s also true that all too many of them have made their money one way or another from government or the public purse. Decreasingly, and this is bad news for the left, for politics in general and for the country, they have little or no experience of, or even exposure to, working in small business, middle management, or down the bureaucratic hierarchy. This growing chasm between the life experience of people like Clinton, or indeed Rudd and Carr, and the life experience of the average person who toils, including one who toils for them, provides perhaps some explanation for the “don’t you know who I am?”/“born to rule” elitist mentality, which in turn so often results in such appalling behaviour towards staff.

It’s time to lay the left’s self-serving myth to rest.

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