Voters want the darnedest things

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 30, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Cartoonists sketched vividly and journalists nattered ceaselessly about Julia stabbing Kevin in the back. Of course. Because the metaphor was irresistible.

Gillard spent weeks floridly repeating her commitment to not challenging. She’d kick goals for the Dogs before challenging. Do burnouts in Jessica Watson’s dinghy before challenging. Something something about flying to Mars before challenging. Flash forward a week and she’s sitting behind Rudd’s desk.

Cinema and literature and reality TV love the femme fatale. The black widow. The dragon lady with talons and heels. A shiv in the ribs and a knife to the back. Backstabbing Rudd, deceiving the electorate: trust inevitably would become an election issue.

Ah, but trust what exactly?

Gillard’s ascension was accompanied by fanfare and hijinks and tears. But how in the world was anyone surprised? Politics is a filthy game. It attracts people who want to rock the boat. People who like power. Who like the trappings of power. People who want to lead. It’s a game and a farce and a folly. If you’re in parliament today you either got there through cunning and stealth, or you’re a ring-in athlete who trumped a branch stalwart. It’s a game and a spectacle and a circus. Gillard seized her opportunity. She played the game by the rules that men always have. If Rudd trusted her, that was his error. But to claim Gillard’s actions reveal anything about her abilities as a PM is one awfully long bow to draw.

I have a “friend” who is a real estate agent. Socially he tells people he’s a hospital administrator. Apparently women don’t sleep with real estate agents. (At least they shouldn’t!) Readers Digest confirmed this in their 2010 list of trusted professions. We trust ambulance drivers. Nurses. Firefighters. We trust vets. Politicians? We trust them less than lawyers. Less than roof insulation installers. Less than sex workers. Less than lying scumbag real estate agents. And only slightly more than telemarketers. We’ve never trusted them and backroom shenanigans merely validate our doubt.

But what’s the big deal here?

My dad often expresses his scepticism about people by claiming he wouldn’t trust them to walk his dog. Ah, but nobody’s asking a politician to walk their bloated spaniel. Or to collect their mail. Or to pick grandma up from the airport or babysit the nubile daughter. We’re charging them to run the country. Skills of leadership and policymaking have nothing to do with trust. Delusions of trust may win votes but it’s a quality irrelevant to governing.

Elections spotlight many peculiar electorate wants. Peculiar, because most of what we think we want has nothing at all to do with policy. Alongside trustworthiness, we want out pollies to be likeable. Apparently we like watching them schmooze around food courts. Awkwardly kiss babies. Read storybooks to toddlers. Make lasagne with uninterested school kids. We want them to seem like nice people. To imagine having them ’round for a barbie. Likeability of course, has nothing to do with leadership and yet if we can’t knock back a beer with them, apparently we’ll struggle voting for them.

And most revoltingly we want them to be famous. Famous not because of innovative policy or forward thinking of course, but famous by those same dubious standard we judge entertainers. We want to see them on bad television shows. Singing. Dancing. Having a burl on Masterchef. We want them to charm us. To show us their funny side. Their zany side. And it’s so much better when they’re real celebrities. Why do parties vigorously try and court the Eddie McGuires and Cathy Freemans? Because voters salivate for likeability and fame and the ability to run and ski and rock and or roll. Lead? Meh. We’ll just bitch later about their failings.

Oh and of course we want them to be upstanding. Certainly no infidelity. No gay sex clubs. No secret love child. No whips or fish-net stockings. Bad husband? Bad leader. Childless? Barren policy. Atheist? Immoral. Even though the rollicking under our sheets has nothing to with leadership we’ll demand they’re morally upstanding anyway. We won’t ever believe it of course – we probably won’t ever actually like them – but we’ll add upstanding citizen to their job description. So that they can fail. So that our distrust is validated.

The responsibilities of politicians are about government. When they’re working, when they’re on our dime, their job is policy. Touting their often shoddy wares and molesting Plucka Duck is not what the job’s about. That people let this rubbish influence their votes is just thoroughly depressing.

We need to be able to trust our lovers. Like our lovers. Trust our family. Like our friends. We need to pretend that we find Leonard Di Caprio entertaining enough to endure the film. Trust our politicians? Like them? No. We should want them to do their bloody job. Do it well. The rest is just chatter.

© Lauren Rosewarne