June 6, 2012
I’m sitting here looking at the Australian political scene and wondering what exactly is happening, and why. The economy is strong, and growing. Our standard of living is high, we have a working democracy and a relatively even spread of wealth accross the board (with some notable exceptions, of course). We have effective infrastructure and sound governance of key institutions. Yet the media and the federal opposition, perhaps reflecting, maybe driving popular opinion, predominantly tell us of the “gloom” and “doom” and government “incompetence” we face.
Yet if it was really so bad we’d have 10 or 20% unemployment, not 5%. We’d have recession, not growth. We’d have corruption and failing instiutions, crumbling, bankrupted corporations and dysfunctional infrastructure. Yet we don’t. We may be told that’s the case but by any reasonably objective measure, we don’t. Still, the media reports polls that show great distress, hardship and distrust. Again, why? What are these people thinking?
OK, so I have a theory (or 2). Or perhaps a hypothesis or 3, to be more correct.
Hypothesis #1 is that most people just don’t get it. They aren’t fully aware that politics, and parliament, is a game, a debate, an unreality. So when they see and here “what goes on” they think it’s for real, rather than the play-acting it really is. (Although how you could mistake Abbott’s clowning around as “dinkum” is beyond me.)
Hypothesis #2 is that most people don’t really care about politics and the media, they switched off long ago. What they care about is their inner circle of family and friends. If a friend or family member is having a hard time they believe it and extrapolate across the nation. No amount of rational thinking or statistical analysis can turn them back. It just generalises, virally. They then want to punish someone, anyone, for this phantom pain. “The government” is simply a soft, slow moving target.
Hypothesis #3 is that most people just want to have fun. Because of Hypothesis #1 they don’t get that politics and the media are an endless source of entertainment, rather they see it as a painful, ugly spectacle (actually, it is, but let’s not go there). Because of Hypothesis #2 they are feeling pain and want to get even, which creates a dissonance with the desire to have fun. So we end up with a spiralling attitude of “just leave me alone” (to have fun) which is never going to happen because politics and the media are in your face every day. Ugly.
So there you go, 3 views of Australia in 2012: unaware, uninterested and frustrated. Which is why Howard worked, I reckon. He stepped away from any rational debate and made bad decisions (and simple indecision) look boring. Even when it got exciting he made it look boring. Which allowed more people to simply go and have fun. The economy and the infrastructure were no better and the scandals were no less scandalous. But he had no vision beyond boring us to death, happily (OK, maybe the GST was an early, risky exception – that he just barely survived).
Whereas Labor has dared to make brave decisions on new taxation for the miners and carbon pricing and taken action to rebuild infrastructure (such as BER and NBN). They have even switched leaders, midstream! Is this boring? No. They have just been too interesting, damn it.