Published on August 31st, 2006 | by Hans Fruck0
Once alienated, core voters become cynical. And cynicism is a political system’s enemy. It breds apathy. The idea that all politicians are just as bad as each other is corrosive to the body politic. Because we never expect more from our representatives, we never get more. Because we expect them to lie to us, we never hold them to account when they do.
More particularly, though, the problem with romancing the middle is that you bend yourself to fit their ideology, trim your sails to fit their masts. To me, this is frustrating beyond belief. I always find myself asking: in addition to everything else, aren’t politicians also advocates?
And you see, that’s the responsibility that the triangulators abdicate. They fit themselves into the centrist template, rather than saying here is what I stand for, and here is why you should stand for it too. If you’re a politician, don’t just assume that the centrists views are stuck in amber. They’re not. Advocate, persuade, argue. That’s a politician’s responsibility. But too many of them want to govern by opinion poll. They stand there with one finger in the air, waiting to see which way the wind is blowing before taking a position.
This is craven; this takes no responsibility; this is being swept along by discourse and never attempting to shape it.
Who are among history’s most honoured figures? Figures like Martin Luther King, like Gandhi (insert your own heroes here)… Why do we honour them? Because they stood for principle, not simply for populism. Because they fought not for what was easy, but for what was right. They didn’t wait for an expedient times to announce their beliefs. They didn’t wait for their communities to catch up to them: they hauled their communities – sometimes kicking and screaming – after them. They persuaded and they cajoled and they inspired with the rightness of their causes.
So don’t fucking tell me that if you want to win, if you want to capture 51% of the vote, you have to tailor your policies to what the majority believe. Instead I want you to tell me how you’re going to persuade the majority to vote for you. How to make our values theirs. How to persuade them of the rightness of our cause. Convert them.
Of course it won’t be easy, and you may fail. But no war was ever won by preemptive surrender because, well, it looked pretty difficult, sir. Fuck the consultants and the pragmatists. All they do is ventriloquise each other’s take on “conventional wisdom”. They’re incestuous, self-congratulatory, self-reinforcing, and utterly defeatist realpolitikers. Fuck ‘em.
In recent years the political pendulum in the US and Australia has lurched rightward. Partly, this is due to 9-11. Partly, it’s due to the fact that right-wing governments were in power when it occurred. Maybe it’s also about an increasingly belligerent conflict for dwindling natural resources. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of all these things — and about a million others.
Even so, consensus, the centre, didn’t just spring forth out of thin air. It was shaped. Sure, tectonic world events like 9-11 are beyond the control of any one politician or party. But public opinion on how to respond to these actions is definitely shaped by the discourse of our politicians and media. And in the months after 9-11 so strong was the desire to see the struck strike back that opposing views either weren’t articulated or, if they were, weren’t given enough airplay.
But whereas the right-wing played opportunistically on the anger, fear, and desire for justice that flowed from 9-11, the sane-wing seemed pretty much silent. In fact, at times in Australia it seemed as if the ALP had foregone prinicipled opposition and replaced it with me-too-ism. Just as it was with the Tampa, their position seemed like whatever the government’s was, minus one degree. The same position, only tempered ever so slightly.
In Australia, and particularly in the US, dissent was silenced or marginalised by partisans wielding patriotism like a truncheon. If you didn’t see the connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or you worried about the liberties citizens were sacrificing in the name of increased security, well, you were — however inadvertently — aiding and abetting the terrorists and compromising the War on Terra (which is, in itself, a dangerous and misleading metaphor).
Scared of seeming soft on Terra, many Democrats and Laborites were bullied into going along with absurd and disproportionate agendas. Of course, it’s a moot point as to whether this perception of weakness came from them not being belligerent enough in their prosecution of the War on Terra, or whether it came from them not articulating principled opposition to said war. (Nothing seems weaker than a person or a party that won’t stand up for themselves.)
Anyway, I’ve digressed. My point was that strength comes from conviction, not military hardware, not Shock & Awe, and definitely not gray-suited public officials who’ve never seen service sending other people’s children off to fight bogus wars.
Don’t stand for what opinion polls tell you the public wants. Stand for what’s right. Stand for what you fucking believe in. History, and, yes, even the public, will eventually respect you for doing this. Nothing is as strong as standing up for what you believe in even when those beliefs are unpopular.
Politicians are advocates, not just representatives. They should lead, not just follow. And it isn’t anti-democratic to say so. If people aren’t satisfied with your policies, and don’t think you represent their wishes, they’ll vote you out. That’s what we have elections for.
This need not be a zero-sum game between pragmatism and ideals. We need not deal in absolutes. Let’s leave that to the fundamentalists.
**I should confess that after much initial toing and froing, I was in favour of the Iraq War. I was fucking wrong.