Unpublished Opinion Piece: When did Aussie politics get so soft?
Had a whirl at the Herald-Sun on the off-chance. No luck, but will upload it here for posterity.
When did Aussie politics get so soft? (637 words)
Viewed from the US after months of take-no-prisoners electioneering, the Victorian campaign looks relatively quaint.
The ALP struck trouble in some sections of the media for highlighting the fact that one of its Green Party opponents once acted as a defense lawyer for an alleged Nazi war criminal. This, we are told, is uncivil because lawyers act for all kinds of nasty, brutish types all the time and shouldn’t be held accountable for their client’s crimes.
But, seriously: a Nazi?
Call me a political thug is you must, but isn’t this fair game? In the US, the political career of a candidate who once defended a Nazi would last exactly as many minutes as it takes for his opponent to find that out. There is such a thing as too much civility. Robust campaigns drive accountability and help voters choose.
As the saying goes, politics is not tiddlywinks and it’s not for the faint-hearted.
This is not to say Australia has too much to learn from the US midterm elections that delivered a sickening blow to the Obama Presidency on Tuesday.
The campaign was a multi-billion dollar spectacle of nastiness; a parade of personal attacks, outrageous fibs and barely-contained hysteria.
In New York, the Republican running for Governor accused his opponent of adultery without an iota of evidence, charges he backed away from after revelations in the press that he had fathered children out of wedlock himself .
The Democratic Senate candidate in Connecticut spent the campaign trying to explain why he’d repeatedly told voters he fought in the Vietnam War when he did no such thing.
A Senate candidate in Delaware was forced to release a TV ad to refute accusations she is a practicing witch.
In Alaska, a Republican’s personal security staff arrested and handcuffed a pesky investigative reporter without any obvious legal authority to do so.
In Kentucky, strange 30-year old college rituals were dredged up to claim that a candidate was not a devout Christian as he claimed, but worshipped instead at the altar of “Aqua Buddha”.
If you were to believe everything you heard, you would be forgiven for thinking that politicians in the US are a vile and dangerous breed, and that Democrats and Republicans are engaged in a frantic race to see who can snuff out the American dream fastest.
Out of this mayhem, I recall the words of my first ever boss in politics: “in this game,” he told me, “no-one is ever as good or as bad as you think they are.”
Most enter politics for the right reasons – a desire to do good things and a sense of civic duty – but keeping perspective is a daily struggle.
For some politicians, their original purpose in public life becomes lost in the “game” itself.
Motivated by right versus wrong at the outset of their careers, for too many it quickly becomes us versus them, a running tally of tactical wins and losses.
Adrenalin is the fuel of political conflict, and it’s heady stuff.
But tough public campaigns serve a purpose that we shouldn’t forget. Take the Nazi lawyer example.
The Greens are a newish force in Australian politics – at least when it comes to winning lower house seats – and they deserve scrutiny. Labor, Liberal and National Parties have run the gauntlet in dozens of elections.
The policies and personalities of the main parties are routinely tested and often found wanting. They pay a price when they select the wrong candidate or adopt an unwise policy idea. Equally, they do well when they get things right.
It is often said that elections have consequences, and rigorous campaigns play a vital role in making sure that voters have a good sense of what those consequences might be.
If the choice is between too tough and not tough enough, my sense is that most voters would opt for more accountability every time.
New York, NY