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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Charades by Shane Elson

Some days I wonder just how long the charade we call 'democracy' will last.
I guess that if it is a charade it will last only as long as we are prepared
to play the game. The game, as I understand it, revolves around 'the voters'
going to the polls once in a while and 'democratically electing' a bunch of
people to 'represent' them while making the laws of the land.

This charade, like the game we sometimes play with friends, is meant to be
polite, have a set of understandable boundaries and conclude with all having
had a good time and some fun. The game of real politics, like charades, is
meant to be publicly polite, work within accepted boundaries and lead to us
all having a good time. Why, even such notable philosophers as Bono reckon
we in Oz have it good.

Speaking with Tony Jones on the ABC's "Lateline" program last week he told
us that, "he [John Howard] has led your country to great prosperity." He did
go on to temper that remark by saying that under Howard Australia was at the
bottom of nations that get involved in making a better life for the vast
majority of humans who suffer in poverty.

Bono was being polite. After all, he is a man who has supped with George W.
Bush, Tony Blair, the Pope and just about anyone else who holds power around
the world. He is on first name terms with people like Micro$oft boss Bill
Gates and Virgin's Richard Branson. He is a man accustomed to getting his
own way when on tour and given that the Vertigo tour has now become the
highest grossing rock tour of all time, a reported $430 million so far, I
guess he has the cash to ensure so.

Bono's little foray in to the front of pushing for aid relief is to be
commended. I see no reason to bag him for taking the time out from counting
his money to spend time in slums and run down villages posing for glossy
photos with poor kids. I don't see any cause to denigrate the work he's done
in attending meetings in places like Davos, rubbing shoulders with the real
movers and shakers of the world.

The problem is, that Bono believes that if enough of us send a message to
our 'democratically elected representatives' they will change their minds
and suddenly realise that the only way to help the poor and disadvantaged is
to share the wealth around a lot more. Bono is, what Labor cabinet member,
Lindsay Tanner, refers to, part of the new "entertainment politics" charade.

Tanner says, "The faultlines between left and right have blurred, and
politics has drifted into the world of entertainment. We now have
celebrities becoming candidates and candidates becoming celebrities. Being
famous for being famous is becoming an important qualification for political
office. Party affiliation still matters, but parties now seek out
celebrities as candidates. Aspiring leaders try to become celebrities and
make themselves the issue".

I find this a little ironic coming from a man whose party at both the state
and federal level has made it a policy (official or not) to recruit former
sports and rock stars to their fold. Nonetheless, he points us in the right
direction and notes that "Being famous for being famous is becoming an
important qualification for political office." Which leads me back to Bono's
utterances about how Australia, under Howard, has become a country of "great

The charade here is that we are meant to believe that in our country poverty
has virtually been eliminated. Those who are poor are that way simply
because they do not want to work or lift themselves out their 'poverty
trap'. If we were to use Bono's argument we find that we must agree with
Howard's claim that he has achieved the Hawk dream that "no Australian child
will live in poverty". Well, unless the child's family chooses to allow them

The charade is maintained by accepting that those in privileged positions
are best equipped to observe, understand, examine and pronounce on all
issues related to the human condition. The charade is maintained so long was
the vast majority believe that "they know best" and continue to vote for
them or buy their records. This charade is maintained by believing in a two
tier structure of humankind with those that "know" looking out for the
"ignorant" masses.

Under the charade the act of voting in an election every now and again is
proof positive that all is well. What is seen as failure is when we can't
vote and our "betters" direct our gaze to those nations in which "dictators"
rule. The act of voting, we are reassured, is proof positive that our
society has reached the zenith of human achievement and that as franchise
holders in the governance of our nation, we should be overjoyed at the role
our ticks and numbers play in keeping us "safe and secure" in the world.

I really do wonder if the real politics our so called leaders engage in is
really the best way to govern. While the choice of celebrities as political
candidates certainly is a good PR move for the flagging fortunes of any
political party, one must wonder if they are the best positioned to
understand what it's like for the majority who have never been pampered or
chauffer driven to work.

The type of politics we have manifest these days is definitely one of style
over substance and spin over reality. But, I've got to admit, the charade
works. People still turn out and vote. Like sheep we line up, have our names
ticked off the roll, place our papers in the box and then off home to the
garden or footy - depending on the season. The charade is complete. Our role
as performers in it is done. Now, we believe, those who 'represent us' will
take over and lead us onwards and upwards.

However, the outcome of our participation is never what we expect. No sooner
do we cast our vote we find that some unforseen crisis or other means that
the promises made cannot be delivered on. We find the poor are still poor
and the weak still at the mercy of the strong. We find that the smoke we
blow from our cigarettes has more substance than the promise of the
political candidate. We wait three or four years and go through the whole
process again.

The problem is, we don't have to continue the game. The charade only works
because we participate. If we choose not to take part there would be no
game. There would be no chance for the real politic to kick in. The want to
be rulers of the people would have to adjust their manners and ways of doing
things to accommodate the will of the people rather than ignoring it. If we
chose not to play the game, then there is no chance for our 'rulers' to
ignore us.

Charades is a fun game to play at home on cold winter nights but it has no
place in the governance of our country. Bono enjoys playing a game each
night he performs so perhaps for him it is a legitimate past-time. Howard
too, enjoys the benefits that accrue to those who play. I guess the question
is, is it about time we dropped the charade and took back the power and
responsibility for our own destinies and those of our communities?

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