Paul Keating once boasted of doing his opponents slowly. Politicians today seem more inclined to slowly do themselves – that is, systematically eliminate all their human opinions and characteristics.
That Chaser song — and the ensuing controversy — illustrated the process nicely. Given that more than a million viewers tune in to each Chaser episode, a sizeable chunk of the population clearly thought the jokes about the Don were, like, funny. But no political leader could admit to even cracking a smile.
Alternatively, you might remember the furore when Daniel Johns boasted of puffing the magic dragon with Bono and Peter Garrett.
Sure, marijuana’s illegal and not too many parliamentarians were going to own up to pot-parties in their offices. Yet, with nearly forty percent of Australians having smoked the stuff, you’d think that acknowledging a toke or two in years gone by would show politicians as men and women of their generation.
But you’d be wrong.
“I’ve always had a very tough line on this stuff — really, really hard line,” Kevin Rudd explained. “I’m in John Howard’s camp on this one. We have a unity ticket.”
It’s not just Rudd’s peculiar priggishness. The perceived necessity for politicians to cultivate an aura of phoney sanctity has grown to the extent that one doubts that many would admit to smoking even normal cigarettes.
Here’s three other examples, more-or-less at random, of issues on which the people and their representatives move on entirely different tracks.
- George W Bush
The whole world knows that, if the forty-third president were any dumber, Dick Cheney would be watering him daily.
Yet when the hapless Peter Garrett explained, “I’m not a great fan of President Bush and his policies”, these mild remarks became a major gaffe.
Was Garrett out of step with the populace? Of course not. In a recent survey, when asked to name something they didn’t like about the US, most Australians plumped for George W himself.
But, as John Howard explained: “President Bush is the democratically elected President of the United States, he’s the democratically elected President of our most important ally.”
And that seems to be that.
If you’re a serious contender for political office in Australia today, you have to at least pretend that someone’s running the great Parliament in the sky.
Think of all the avowed sky pilots in Canberra: Rudd, Costello, Howard, Garrett and the rest of them. Now, when was the last time you heard a politician proudly declare themselves an atheist?
Yet it’s not like the population would be shocked if a parliamentarian boldly accepted an idea from the eighteenth century. Here’s the thing: a quarter of all Australians have no faith whatsoever.
Howard and Rudd spent most of their supposed debate arguing about who was more economically conservative. On fiscal questions, there’s no difference between Peter Costello and Julia Gillard. Everyone’s an economic conservative these days – except, of course, for the Australian people.
Compare the most recent survey of social attitudes:
“[W]hen we turn to matters of economic reform, a gap between policy and public opinion emerges. Industrial relations deregulation, privatisation, and smaller government have become mainstays of the Howard reform agenda. We might debate whether these are genuinely ‘conservative’ or ‘neoliberal’ policies and whether they are uniquely Coalition initiatives or continuing directions established under previous Labor governments. Either way, most Australians don’t support them.
“Opposition to recent industrial relations changes is strong at around 60 per cent (AC Nielsen Polls, cited in Wilson 2005, p. 290). Privatisation attracts as little support. A majority of Australians prefer public ownership for Telstra (57 per cent), electricity (60 per cent), public transport (63 per cent), Australia Post (67 per cent), and for prisons (67 per cent) (see Pusey & Turnbull 2005, pp. 165–66). And even though tax cuts have been consistently promoted by the Government, their popularity has fallen against other priorities for government. Support for income tax cuts over increased spending on social services has fallen steadily from 65 per cent in 1987 to 36 per cent in 2004 (AES 1987–2004).”
One could go on, but you get the point. The political culture has its own laws – and they’re increasingly removed from what any ordinary people think.