Obviously I’m a passionate person with a lot of ideas about society, law, morals and so forth. And I care about people. So why don’t I get involved in politics? Are you kidding? The other night, I was watching Decadence, a six part series about modern culture in Australia, hosted by Pria Viswalingam. This week, Viswalingam looked into the apathy felt by most Australians towards politics.
That got me thinking about the strange nature of democracy. Certainly, it’s better than an authoritarian regime or a monarchy. But the problem is that you need people to stand for election. I think that the kind of people who wish to become politicians are not always necessarily the kind of people you want to represent you. Of course, that’s a generalisation, and there are some decent politicians who care, but they are in a minority.
I know humility is not de rigeur these days, but I think it can be a good thing. It reminds me of a scene from Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis:
“Then Peter, leading Caspian, forced his way through the crowd of animals.
‘This is Caspian, Sir,’ he said. And Caspian knelt and kissed the Lion’s paw.
‘Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan. ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’
‘I – I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian. ‘I’m only a kid.’
‘Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not. Therefore, under us and under the High King, you shall be King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands…'”
Being humble means that you are always aware that your position is a privilege, not a right. And it means you respect the people whom you represent, and you do not take them for granted.
I have noticed many politicians are self-promoters. As I have explained in other posts, I am not a natural self-promoter. I always had difficulty at job interviews until reasonably recently. The funny thing about self-promoters is that, sometimes, they are not very good at listening to others; they are too busy talking about themselves and how good they are. They can forget to listen to the electorate, and they can forget who is responsible for granting them power.
During high school and university, the kind of people who ran for student elections were often the people who were motivated by power, not the well-being of their fellow students. During the Republican debate, this is why I favoured an Australian non-elected Head of State. I didn’t want someone who was motivated by a desire for political power. If the Head of State was appointed by the Government, you might get someone who was excellent but unlikely to be voted in by the people (think of Sir William Deane as Governor-General, for example).
In first year law school, we had our Law Students’ Society (LSS) elections. Ordinarily, many of the LSS totally ignored someone like me (what a nerd!). However, when the LSS elections were on, it was a different story. One day, some poor guy asked me to vote for him. I was in a bad mood, and I snapped. “I’ll vote for you if you actually acknowledge me as a human being!” I said. “How come for most of the year, all you guys ignore me and treat me as a lower life form, but now elections are on, suddenly you all decide to talk to me? Tell me why should I vote for any of you?” This poor guy looked totally gobsmacked, and for the rest of law school, he always went out of his way to say hello to me. I felt a little bad, but I hope he learned his lesson too: you can’t get away with being nice to the electorate only around election time.
I’m not good at toeing the party line. As I have explained in another post on this blog, I do not approach issues from a stereotypical left wing or right wing point of view. I refuse to remain confined to ideas of what I “should” believe, and try to be independent and objective. I also think it’s really important to be open minded. Sometimes, people on either side of politics think that certain views are morally superior to others, and do not question those views. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous belief; some of the worst wrongs can be done with good intentions. I enjoy blogging and law because I like to look at both sides of the story. But if you want to be a powerful member of a major political party, it seems that you have to be staunchly committed to your particular side of the story, and refuse to admit that anyone else’s story might have validity. I wish that politicians would admit it when they were wrong, and admit it when the other side makes a good point. To me that shows strength, not weakness.
The standard of debate in Parliament doesn’t fill me with confidence about politics. (Someone “in the know” tells me that all the real debate happens before the Bill gets to Parliament.) I vividly remember reading a Second Reading Speech of a Victorian Act to try to find out the reason for the enactment of the legislation. The debate contained a section where one member of parliament accused the relevant minister of failing to be “a propeller head“. For some reason, seven years later, that line is still engraved in my head as an example of infantile and meaningless debate. I have never found anything useful in the Second Reading Speeches for any State or Federal legislation.
I was having a discussion with friends a few months back about a judge who had made a personal comment about another judge in a judgment. Now I’m not a fan of the judge about whom the comment was made. But I thought it was entirely inappropriate to make a personal jibe within a judgment. Perhaps I sound overly sententious, but judges should not forget that they are there to make a judgment about factual and legal issues which are very important to the litigants. Judges have office because the public has given them a responsibility to resolve disputes, and it is inappropriate to use that power to express personal dislike of another judge. The same goes for parliamentarians. They should always remember that they are only in office by the grace of the Australian public. I really abhor stupid comments like Latham’s “conga line of suckholes”. Such comments are childish and not even particularly witty. I would prefer comments about the policies or the arguments, not the person. (This is also how I feel about blogging.)
So I won’t be standing for office any time soon. I’m not nearly Machiavellian enough. But I do know what I want from my politicians. I would like to see some humility and a recognition that to represent the Australian people is a privilege not a right. Even if you’ve been elected in for 20 years in a row, that doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to do whatever you want.