Do the politicians think we have no memory?

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” — John F. Kennedy, 1963

Here  in Oz, it is starting to feel as though the Federal opposition think the voters are really, really ignorant of law and history, and that they want to keep things that way.  They seem to be going on the premise that

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  The trick is to fool enough to get elected into power.

Unfortunately, the media seem to be going along with it, to the detriment of our version of democracy.

I started to wonder how dim the average journalist is when no-one challenged the claim that, if a proposed tax did not get passed by parliament, the current government should (with voice tones suggesting “are required by tradition to…) dissolve parliament and hold an early election.  Now, I remember several occasions when financial bills were not passed, were resubmitted and rejected again, and the government of the day had a “double dissolution trigger” which they might choose to use.  Usually they did not.  Therefore, the clain was false – however, the press let it through unchallenged.

Then the Opposition started saying that Australia can’t be run by a Coalition – referring to the agreement between the Labour Party and the Greens.   They suggest that it is in some way wrong for Labour to trade favours with the Greens.

Not even the satirists have commented that we were run by the Liberal/National (a.k.a Country Party) coalition for many years (they joined in 1922), and that “The Opposition” is that same bunch, so famous that Wikipedia    gives them as the primary meaning for ” Coalition” in Australian politics.   None of the political journalists have mentioned the thousands of times Liberal policies were shifted to meet the demands of the gerrymandered rural electorates.

Now the Opposition is suggesting that the Labour party is wrong or weak to trade favours with the Independent Senators, who hold the balance of power.   Strangely, no-one has mentioned former Senator Brian Harradine, who served from 1975 to 2005, and strongly represented the conservative Christian viewpoint for many years by enthusiastically exploiting his position as a “balance of power” senator.    I have heard no-one  in the current commentariate  ask whether the series of (now) respected former PMs who did dubious deals with hin were, by that argument, wrong, or weak.  (At the time, it was a common left-wing  grumble about lack of courage – but dismissed by The Coalition, who liked many of his opinions.)

I wouldn’t be so annoyed by the Opposition’s attempts to sway voters if (i) they weren’t misleading voters as to the traditions and Law of our parliamentary system; (ii) if they hadn’t done exactly the same themselves; and (iii) if the current affairs programmes and satirists were hammering them for their hypocrisy.

The trouble is that younger voters haven’t lived through the events which this campaign ignores, schools haven’t the time to go through the details of past political horsetrading, most children learn just enough about the system for just long enough to pass their school tests, and most people don’t read political history for fun.  If the journalists don’t challenge them publicly, politicians can spread false views of Law and history.   Then we get the downside of democracy: the lazy and below-average together vastly outnumber and outvote those who are both gifted and thoughtful.

Where the lazy, average, and  below-average are not properly advised by the knowledgeable (or, even worse, are led by demagogues to distrust and mock those of high intelligence),  they have fewer thoughtful members to debate with the gifted and thoughtful and thus are less able to make a strong democracy.  Instead  we see the situation Mills warned of:

“A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.” — John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861  (My emphases)    


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One Response to “Do the politicians think we have no memory?”

  1. erasmid Says:

    Due recogntion:

    Political reporter Laurie Oakes,27th November 2011, Sunday Times Page 52 ” Coalition’s turn to put in the slipper”.

    Mr Oakes notes that a politician is “Inventing” a tradition, and gives historical examples demonstrating that the real tradition is quite different.

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