Public First Program


Shane Elson


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November 2006 # 5

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Some days I wonder just how long the charade we call ‘democracy’ will last. I guess that if it is a charade it will last only as long as we are prepared to play the game. The game, as I understand it, revolves around ‘the voters’ going to the polls once in a while and ‘democratically electing’ a bunch of people to ‘represent’ them while making the laws of the land. 

This charade, like the game we sometimes play with friends, is meant to be polite, have a set of understandable boundaries and conclude with all having had a good time and some fun. The game of real politics, like charades, is meant to be publicly polite, work within accepted boundaries and lead to us all having a good time. Why, even such notable philosophers as Bono reckon we in Oz have it good. 

Speaking with Tony Jones on the ABC’s “Lateline” program last week he told us that, “he [John Howard] has led your country to great prosperity.” He did go on to temper that remark by saying that under Howard Australia was at the bottom of nations that get involved in making a better life for the vast majority of humans who suffer in poverty.

Bono was being polite. After all, he is a man who has supped with George W. Bush, Tony Blair, the Pope and just about anyone else who holds power around the world. He is on first name terms with people like Micro$oft boss Bill Gates and Virgin’s Richard Branson. He is a man accustomed to getting his own way when on tour and given that the Vertigo tour has now become the highest grossing rock tour of all time, a reported $430 million so far, I guess he has the cash to ensure so. 

Bono’s little foray in to the front of pushing for aid relief is to be commended. I see no reason to bag him for taking the time out from counting his money to spend time in slums and run down villages posing for glossy photos with poor kids. I don’t see any cause to denigrate the work he’s done in attending meetings in places like Davos, rubbing shoulders with the real movers and shakers of the world. 

The problem is, that Bono believes that if enough of us send a message to our ‘democratically elected representatives’ they will change their minds and suddenly realise that the only way to help the poor and disadvantaged is to share the wealth around a lot more. Bono is, what Labor cabinet member, Lindsay Tanner, refers to, part of the new “entertainment politics” charade. 

Tanner says, “The faultlines between left and right have blurred, and politics has drifted into the world of entertainment. We now have celebrities becoming candidates and candidates becoming celebrities. Being famous for being famous is becoming an important qualification for political office. Party affiliation still matters, but parties now seek out celebrities as candidates. Aspiring leaders try to become celebrities and make themselves the issue”. 

I find this a little ironic coming from a man whose party at both the state and federal level has made it a policy (official or not) to recruit former sports and rock stars to their fold. Nonetheless, he points us in the right direction and notes that “Being famous for being famous is becoming an important qualification for political office.” Which leads me back to Bono’s utterances about how Australia, under Howard, has become a country of “great prosperity”. 

The charade here is that we are meant to believe that in our country poverty has virtually been eliminated. Those who are poor are that way simply because they do not want to work or lift themselves out their ‘poverty trap’. If we were to use Bono’s argument we find that we must agree with Howard’s claim that he has achieved the Hawk dream that “no Australian child will live in poverty”. Well, unless the child’s family chooses to allow them too! 

The charade is maintained by accepting that those in privileged positions are best equipped to observe, understand, examine and pronounce on all issues related to the human condition. The charade is maintained so long was the vast majority believe that “they know best” and continue to vote for them or buy their records. This charade is maintained by believing in a two tier structure of humankind with those that “know” looking out for the “ignorant” masses. 

Under the charade the act of voting in an election every now and again is proof positive that all is well. What is seen as failure is when we can’t vote and our “betters” direct our gaze to those nations in which “dictators” rule. The act of voting, we are reassured, is proof positive that our society has reached the zenith of human achievement and that as franchise holders in the governance of our nation, we should be overjoyed at the role our ticks and numbers play in keeping us “safe and secure” in the world. 

I really do wonder if the real politics our so called leaders engage in is really the best way to govern. While the choice of celebrities as political candidates certainly is a good PR move for the flagging fortunes of any political party, one must wonder if they are the best positioned to understand what it’s like for the majority who have never been pampered or chauffer driven to work. 

The type of politics we have manifest these days is definitely one of style over substance and spin over reality. But, I’ve got to admit, the charade works. People still turn out and vote. Like sheep we line up, have our names ticked off the roll, place our papers in the box and then off home to the garden or footy – depending on the season. The charade is complete. Our role as performers in it is done. Now, we believe, those who ‘represent us’ will take over and lead us onwards and upwards. 

However, the outcome of our participation is never what we expect. No sooner do we cast our vote we find that some unforseen crisis or other means that the promises made cannot be delivered on. We find the poor are still poor and the weak still at the mercy of the strong. We find that the smoke we blow from our cigarettes has more substance than the promise of the political candidate. We wait three or four years and go through the whole process again. 

The problem is, we don’t have to continue the game. The charade only works because we participate. If we choose not to take part there would be no game. There would be no chance for the real politic to kick in. The want to be rulers of the people would have to adjust their manners and ways of doing things to accommodate the will of the people rather than ignoring it. If we chose not to play the game, then there is no chance for our ‘rulers’ to ignore us. 

Charades is a fun game to play at home on cold winter nights but it has no place in the governance of our country. Bono enjoys playing a game each night he performs so perhaps for him it is a legitimate past-time. Howard too, enjoys the benefits that accrue to those who play. I guess the question is, is it about time we dropped the charade and took back the power and responsibility for our own destinies and those of our communities?

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