Something about prime minister Scott Morrison's acting performance on Monday evening's 7.30 has somehow reminded me of one of John Travolta's captivating movie performances.
Leigh Sales quizzed the prime minister about his government's determination to drug test Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients.
"People on welfare already feel a sense of shame about that - isn't making something like this mandatory instead of opt-in potentially contributing to that sense of shame?" Ms Sales agonised, her heart on her sleeves.
But Mr Morrison insisted, somehow reminding me of John Travolta at his on-screen best, that, God bless his soul no, the intention wasn't to fossick for bludgers and to shame them but was "a genuine attempt to help people in those [drug-spoiled] situations".
I can't quite put my finger, yet, on which Travolta performance, which movie I'm thinking of. Perhaps, if I just get on with writing this week's column, it will suddenly come to me. Let's see.
And so I press on to say that one of the noble and enduring traditions of the Liberal Party, loathing of the poor and especially of the unemployed poor, is conspicuously alive and kicking.
We are seeing it right now in the government's refusal to increase the impoverishingly niggardly Newstart payments and in the renewed determination to seek out, punish, shame and correct welfare recipients.
Liberal teeth have always gnashed and Liberal nostrils have always flared whenever those nostrils think they have picked up the scents of bludgers and vagabonds.
Of course, because it will be politically unwise to nakedly display these loathings (just in case these displays alienate any Australians soft enough to think of welfare-dependent Australians deserving of Christian kindness) Liberals must always pretend that their punishments of the undeserving poor are in fact acts of kindness. So it comes to pass that the prime minister on the stage of Monday night's 7.30 recites the line that the search for the unemployeds' filthy habits is only meant to save them from those habits so that they can then gambol out into the glorious, character-building, wealth-accumulating sunshine of the workplace.
How well, on Monday's 7.30, the prime minister's (figurative) mask of brotherly love of mankind concealed his (figuratively) flaring nostrils. It must be as difficult for an actor who thinks the unemployed are scum to feign a fondness for them as it is for a strongly heterosexual film star to convincingly portray a very gay character.
But wait! Suddenly my John Travolta moment (mentioned above) unfolds to me and makes sense. I'm thinking that it must be as thespianly demanding for the prime minister and his Liberal ministers to feign fondness for the unemployed as it was for Travolta, in life an emblem of true masculinity, to play big, fat, loving, bosomy mom Edna Turnblad in the endearing musical Hairspray. Both actors, Travolta in Hairspray and Morrison on Monday's 7.30, were breathtakingly good at portraying characters they bear absolutely no real-life resemblance to in thought and deed.
But from whence cometh Liberals' traditional viciousness towards the poor?
All societies, always, have had to take positions on what to do about the poor and especially the able-bodied poor. So for example the Morrison government will look back with envy to the days of Edward VI when, with the Vagabonds Act of 1547 for a first offence able-bodied vagabonds received two years in prison and branding with the letter V. Today of course one would brand these offenders with DB for dole bludger or WC for welfare cheat.
But we find out where today's spiteful, moralising Liberals and their disciples are coming from in Elizabeth Bruenig's astute piece (readily available online) The Undeserving Poor: A Very Tiny History. She tangos across the history of ragings against the poor's "wilful idleness", and then comes to Victorian times. There she points to what we find lingering in the cold hearts of today's despisers of the unproductive poor.
"Zeroing in on the relationship between work and worthiness ... the Victorians' reasons for insisting on work [were that idleness] was a failure of personal moral hygiene. The poor needed to be taught the virtues and habits of diligence and shorn of their vices because their poverty kept them from being fully self-reliant [employed] individuals. In this framework, being poor, insofar as it obligates others to help you [their taxes being spent on your welfare], begins to look like something straightforwardly immoral.
"The intention is to shape poor people into the kind of people we want them to be, not to help them flourish as they are .... Market labour, productivity and self-sufficiency are all aspects of that reformed person welfare ought to create ... We're inheritors [today] of this view of poverty as a kind of immorality."
Yes, on May 18 our nation elected a government of moral hygienists. The Hygienist-in-Chief and his government can't quite dare to come out and say it in so many words but their policy-language tells us, eloquently, that they find the poor immoral and unhygienic.