Bad juju. Friday, August 20, 2010. It’s the night before the election. My youngest son has a stomach bug and has been vomiting all afternoon. A friend calls drunk from a Thai restaurant: “I reckon Abbott is going to get in. You know what, good luck to him. He wasn’t afraid. And all those Labor fuckers were too afraid.”
I think he’s right. I think come Saturday night the Liberal’s Tony Abbott will be our next Australian Prime Minister. This scares me. Like seeing him jump off a stage after changing a scoreboard from ‘151’ to ‘152’. He says “152 reasons to vote Labor out”. That’s 152 refugee boats in case you were wondering.
It sounds hysterical but these gestures have more in keeping with the Klu Klux Klan or 1930s Germany. Abbott, of course, is no Grand Wizard, no Adolf Hitler. That’s ridiculous to say. But it’s way too easy to appeal to the cheapest seats in the house, to play off racism and fear and feed it. Everybody is lowered. You start to see the snakes moving when you’re low enough to crawl in their company. Let’s face it, we can be a racist, reactionary, small-minded country when the mood takes us, and there’s something in the air right now that’s ugly and not going to go away.
This lowering has been the great disease of this election. Everyone has lost faith with the leaders and the main parties, and worse still with politics itself.
I hate the disenchantment and cynicism that has universally infected the conversations I have about who we might vote for in 2010. I don’t think I have seen our democracy in a more debased condition. It’s almost as if tomorrow doesn’t matter to anyone. As if nothing makes a difference because, yes, they’re all the same. And yes, you hear that cynical patter about politicians every election – it’s just that this time around it feels like it’s become ingrained into our being.
The most important moment in this election so far has been the fight to win Masterchef. The best political program outside Q&A has been The Gruen Factor because it recognized how central marketing and the media are to our lives now – and it at least looked at them critically as well as amusingly. Not that I found much hope in that.
I was none too impressed with ALP leader Julia Gillard in comparison to Tony Abbott either. She appeared to be running a visionless campaign, making robotic and cynical moves. How did she and her party let boat people become an issue - again? Then I saw her on last week’s Q&A. All of a sudden she seemed like a leader, like her ideas and her acts had a deeper purpose and logic. I was almost shocked – ‘the real Julia’ at last. But it was too little, too late. Days later on the 7.30 Report she had a duller mask in place, back in neutralizing second gear.
Should she feel bad about knifing Kevin Rudd? No. He dug his own grave and she was the person in line to take the chance that came her way. The real poison in the ALP is the NSW Right and its numbers men who will see out not only Federal but State Labor in a way that not only loses elections, but rots the whole idea of whatever that party was founded on. Can anyone watch TV shows about for Prime Ministers like Curtain and Chifley, or even Bob Hawke for that matter, and not wonder if there is anything is left of the Federal Labor party now worth being faithful too?
And yet this week on Q&A Tony Abbott looked completely out of Julia Gillard’s league by comparison: he was stiffer, dumber, far less articulate – the half-reasonable reasonable face of zealotry in restraint. It hardly seemed to matter. I mean really, how many people watch Q&A?
In fact, how many people spend more than five minutes on national politics or what any national leader has to say? It’s all sound-bytes and media snippets and glib puns, stage-managed appearances, voice and gesture training, every policy compromised by another poll. It was interesting to hear one of the analysts on the ABC say that what the politicians don’t hear behind these surveys and polls are people saying, ‘Yes, we think this or want that, but what do we know? That’s what we expect our leaders to tell us.’
It has nonetheless become clear to the point of insulting that the two major parties are using marketing and polls to target the swinging voter or what lately gets called ‘the floating voter’. That is they are targeting the person who votes not by conscience or belief or loyalty or concern, but by what is in it for them.
Votes like these can either be bought or chased up through negativity. Or both. Someone should read the political pollsters some Greek mythology and take note of the tale of Narcissus. He drowned by looking at himself for too long in a pool.
The media are accomplices to this selfishness and stupidity. Indeed I think they have created the broader culture in which our feelings of political hollowness are now being so profoundly felt. I am therefore thinking if a major newspaper collapsed and disappeared tomorrow in Australia, would it matter any more than the collapse and disappearance of a major political party? There is some type of evaporation of purpose occurring, a weird form of suicide in the body politic that affects us all.
It seems, then, that the best we can be hope for in this election is that our worst is not realized. This of course echoes the Irish poet Yeats in his apocalyptic poem The Second Coming: “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Maybe we really do get the leaders we deserve.
- Mark Mordue