Watching again the West Wing episode ‘Red Mass’, I realized that Aaron Sorkin had a perfect explanation of the kind of leader Morrison really is.
What do we know about Morrison? Almost nothing. He seems to have been installed and fired from two senior tourism marketing positions by people, and for reasons unknown. Anyone investigating this pre-history has inevitably come across deleted evidence and ‘no comment’ responses.
We know he was an unsophisticated brute in pre-prime ministerial days. We know all he’s done since succeeding Malcolm Turnbull has been carefully crafted spin, from his nominal happy clapper status to his home-handyman image.
‘Scotty from marketing’ may be a characterization he doesn’t enjoy, but it fits perfectly. Nothing he says, especially about himself, has any credibility.
Scott Morrison is precisely the sort of man envisioned by Aaron Sorkin in the script for ‘Red Mass’, exposed in dialogue between fictional White House deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, and his assistant, Donna Moss:
Josh: (handing a book to Donna): Open this book to any page.
Josh (quoting): It’s good to be trapped in a corner. That’s when you act.
Donna: That happens to be true.
Josh: It’s Immanuel Kant! ‘Duty! Sublime and mighty name, that embraces nothing charming or insinuating but requires submission.’ Every year a million freshman philosophy students read that sentence.
Donna: So he cribbed Kant. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
Josh: It comes from a 193-page book called ‘A Critique of Practical Reason.’ It’s about metaphysics and epistemology. Tomba’s impressively boiled it down to two-thirds of one page. Give me another one.
Donna (quoting): Look outside the cave.
Josh: Right. That’s from an old paperback called ‘The Republic’ by Plato. Lucky Tomba’s been able to fit it on a fortune cookie so it suits the attention span of the Republican nominee. Here he quotes Robert Frost. ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ Did he talk about that?
Josh: What did he say?
Donna: Basically, that if you stay within your personal space, you’ll end up getting along with everyone.
Josh: Is that what Frost meant?
Donna: No, he meant that boundaries are what alienate us from each other.
Josh: Why did he say ‘Good fences make good neighbours?’
Donna: He was being ironic, but I still don’t see…
Josh: What does this remind you of? ‘I believe in hope, not fear.’ ‘I’m a leader, not a politician.’ ‘It’s time for an American leader.’ ‘America’s earned a change.’ ‘I before e except after c. It’s the fortune-cookie candidacy! These are important thinkers, and understanding them can be very useful and it’s not ever going to happen at a four-hour seminar. When the President’s got an embassy surrounded in Haiti, or a keyhole photograph of a heavy water reactor, or any of the fifty life-and-death matters that walk across his desk every day, I don’t know if he’s thinking about Immanuel Kant or not. I doubt it, but if he does, I am comforted at least in my certainty that he is doing his best to reach for all of it, and not just the McNuggets. Is it possible we would be willing to require any less of the person sitting in that chair? The low road? I don’t think it is.
Scott Morrison has always been conspicuously absent in moments of crisis, emerging only later, when a suitably catchy slogan or photo opportunity let him re-cast himself as the man of the hour.
Even so, when the decisions he took credit for didn’t come from experts and serious thinkers, they precisely represent the low road Aaron Sorkin forecast.