Last month’s Victorian election should be a warning sign to the citizens of Victoria and all Australian voters. Something stinks about our politics, but for once, it may not be our politicians we need to blame.
The campaigns of both the Liberal and Labor leaders were both marked by an overt enthusiasm to promise anything and everything to the Victorian voter in exchange for their vote. In the weeks leading up to the election, we were offered free tampons and pads and rebates on plasma TVs and fridges. What could you get in exchange for your vote? Well proved surprisingly easy to quantify: the equivalent of $23,000 for a Labor vote and $13,500 for a ballot for the Liberals, according to 3AW’s calculations. That’s how much public money Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy said they were going to spend on you in a bundled up prize hamper of goods and services. Not bad for a trip to the ballot box.
With all these seemingly trivial offerings being bandied around, one would not be mistaken in wondering if politics is important anymore? There was a distinct lack of a vision or direction for Victoria, from either party, that was voted on at this election.
Economic benefit, it seems now, is the only social good we are able to discuss openly in an election and even that has been reduced, simplified and individualised to the point where many voters voted just to get or protect a handout. Voters in this election did not act or were treated like citizens of the state of Victoria but customers of the government. Consumerism, it now seems, has a stranglehold on our civic life.
For once, though, we cannot completely blame the political elite for this change. The consumerisation of politics does not completely come from above, it comes from our own communities, where individualism is rife and the concern with one’s own happiness and security is the primary concern of the consumer-driven culture we live in. The American political theorist, Jean Bethke Elshtain, recognised that in this culture, nothing has suffered more than our civic institutions. The local governments, charities, and clubs where concern for your fellow citizen was once acted out and practised has been lost to a culture that focuses on personal security over community.
With the loss of this democratic disposition, we have inadvertently undermined our political institutions. These institutions that were built for the purpose of representing people in places, in their local communities, are now having to represent, on one hand, empathetic and inactive constituents, and on the other, disparate interest groups made up of individuals who have no concern for the local communities they live in but vote for personal ideological fulfilment.
To accommodate these two kinds of citizens the major parties increasingly look to appeal to the lowest common denominator to attract the popular vote; while minor parties have emerged in a bid to bring the qualms of identity groups into the public square. This is exactly what we have seen in the Victorian state election: two almost identical campaigns by the major parties along with a myriad of minor parties and independent candidates; one and all serving the selfish voter.
It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to see where this will take us. The outcome is a deeply divided and unproductive political system; an apolitical politics that will become increasingly socially intrusive but less relevant to the citizens it serves. To be political will not be an aspiration but a shame. A sign that one is not true to oneself and has sold their soul for a job in the public corporation.
These sentiments are already common in our society and it is a shame. It is a shame for both sides of politics because it takes the heart of our system and leaves nothing. For the left, it means the loss of a public place where true equality can be reached and diversity retained and for the right, it means a larger government that will be growingly responsible for holding together a society of individuals that refuses to meet, dialogue and compromise.
We need to fight this culture and start taking responsibility for our local communities again. Join the local political party you feel closest to and help[ decide who your candidate is. Don’t just attend your church or sports club but volunteer and build them up. Help the least fortunate you share your locality with. In simple ways like these we will begin to again understand and experience what we are trying to achieve in political life.
I for one am sick of this kind of politics. I am sick of despising our political life because it should be our pride. Opposed to what politicians tell me, my vote did not make a difference this Victorian election. For it to mean something I must step from the shadow of my own interest and take responsibility for the care of my family, my friends and those in my community. And not the abstract ideas of these entities. I mean those I come in contact with. The ones I touch and speak to. Those I know.
It is easy to ‘care’ for or ‘pity’ a ‘those’ we do not know but to take responsibility for an individual we live with, our neighbours, our colleagues, requires the courage that is essential to being a citizen. This aspiration requires one to find compromise with a fellow person and discover a life together that when multiplied opens our society to the promise of political possibility that is not hampered by the lowest common denominator of self-interest but is enriched by the promise of the self-giving citizen. A promise that ensures that we will always have a future to work towards and vote for. Democracy is built on people in places.
Let’s take it back there.
Sam Rebbechi says: “I’m really no one but I thought I’d give submitting an article a try. Call me crazy.” He’s exactly what we like at the Spec: a normal human being.
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