Straws in the Windby Max TeichmannNews Weekly
, December 2, 2000
The democratic blues
In the latest issue of News Weekly (Nov. 18), I asked, at the end of my piece, what can be done about the democratic condition, as exemplified by contemporary Australia and the US? The Americans can look after themselves, I suppose, though one worries as to where their present course is taking them.
Instead of it being the class/income divide supposedly animating their election contest, a far more disturbing split has emerged - racial/ethnic political warfare.
No less than ninety per cent of the black vote, eighty per cent of the Jewish vote, and sixty three per cent of the Latinos turned out, en bloc, for the Democrats - whereas the majority of other Americans voted for Bush.
He in fact took twenty nine states as against Gore's nineteen, with Florida in limbo, but the pile up of the ethnic blocs in the cities guaranteed the large states for the Democrats, and gave Gore his small national voter majority.
The Republicans can either take a stronger stand against uncontrolled migration than they have hitherto done, or else throw in their hand, and face slow demographic/political suffocation, with a similar fate befalling what remains of traditional American culture and history. The latter and its heroes are already being energetically revised.
Interestingly enough, our very numerous migrants have not been mobilisable into voting blocs, for long - despite the hopes of many on the Left - and, apart from some grubby ethnic party branch stacking, our migrants generally don't vote "ethnic," but see themselves as Australians - full stop. To the transparent regret of our multicultural ring-masters. And we have no Negro problem.
The bumbling attempts to create one by Treaties and Independent Aboriginal States - like Kosovo, or Haiti? - are backed by lots of money, especially lawyers', but few serious supporters. So we don't face a politicised ethnic confrontational future, as America now does. At least, not for a few decades.
Which is not to say that our democratic institutions aren't in a state of decrepitude. Thus, long serving 60 Minutes reporter Jeff McMullen (Herald Sun, 14 November) has called it a day, saying that cheque book journalism has destroyed the credibility of television journalism: "The sensationalism, the overblown hype of the program, the unfair way they approach people, and the core value system - contaminated by market place obsessions." He cited Jennifer Byrne, George Negus and Jana Wendt as those who exited, "expressing strong doubts and reservations over this kind of journalism."
Of course he's right - but why confine it to Channel 9? What of the other networks, and the ABC? For example, the loaded, incompetent news services - swinging from sensationalised irrelevances to blatant party/pressure group propaganda, plus big helpings of State Department wallop; the rigged talk backs, and their ethos of resentful misanthropy, as authentic and representative as newspaper letter columns; and the strange panel discussions, with three against one.
All at the public expense, this last. And cheque book journalism also means cash for comment and censorship - and we have no checks upon how many items - comment, "news," leading articles are part of this gimme culture. One hand washing another.
Certainly, the multibillion-dollar narcotics industry gets enviable coverage - but it is not alone. This whole media culture, of which McMullen provides an instance is, needless to say, a conspiracy against democracy and pluralism - either political or cultural. In its conception, its modus operandi and its intended consequences.Political corruption
Following upon the ongoing revelations of ALP branch stacking in Queensland, involving a number of State seats and at least one Federal electorate - a widespread practice going back to before Wayne Goss's time - John Howard foreshadowed a possible full scale investigation into electorate branch preselection and member enrolment procedures in all electorates, State and Federal.
Party apparatchiki of both sides are up in arms, saying it is no one's business except the Parties themselves, and, as one Liberal said, "everyone does it; we do it too." But it is our business, just as union elections and company shareholders elections are our business; for such procedures are all possible scenes for fraud and manipulation, in institutions which play important roles in society. As do political parties.
When De Tocqueville predicted that anyone with any real drive and intelligence would seek careers outside politics - leave something for the duffers! - he was probably right: for the US.
But in Australia, not everyone has been targeted on the dollar. I suspect such people still exist - but rarely make it through the forests of concentrated mediocrity and collective fears of independent, intelligent spirits, that we call our Parties.
But as a doleful consequence of this we do have some very uninspiring MPs, vulnerable to the contumely of observers. Even that of journalists! The system favours the dolt or the parrot. MPs are not expected to prepare their own speeches, too busy, so after a while they can't make one, if indeed they ever could. Nor do they need to do their own research, i.e. read books, journals, newspapers - anything. Or monitor overseas broadcasts or opinion.
All they have to do is vote as instructed, press the flesh, and understand the numbers which will keep their preselections.
And as Parliament sits less and less frequently, MPs have fewer chances to speak, parade their eloquence, their knowledge, their wit - therefore less incentive to study, think for themselves, reflect. Flies on the wall don't read books.
So a liberal democratic parliamentary system has become a machine for blunting razor blades, and these of inferior mettle. The rubber stamp is king.Revelations
But among the more shocking revelations coming from the current Presidential struggle, are the lengths to which some very important people will go, the depths to which they will, not sink, but dive - and the monstrous pettiness and lack of dignity exhibited, in order to hang on to power, or in another case to seize it.
The conventional wisdom is that people and groups are most likely to fight most fiercely, break more rules, and be prepared to split or bring down a whole system, on matters of nationalism, religion, or ideology; but no such questions are in serious dispute, in the US, or here.
It really is about money and power, and this is bringing out the worst in people. The US system, intended to be super democratic, has turned into a gruesome patronage system of winner take all.
With the idea of a permanent non-party, independent-minded judge, sheriff, returning officer, chief of police, right up through the maze of public officials dismissed as undemocratic, a massive turn over of jobs regularly occurs. The new man wants his cronies.
This used to be a system of public governance that most Australians rejected as inviting corruption, and as comparing unfavourably with our Anglo-Australian system.
Alas, from the time of Whitlam the American model has been not simply advocated, but surreptitiously introduced. The Republic was intended to legitimise this whole American style of politics.
The Florida vote count imbroglio is providing some ripe examples for us: whether an electoral official, judge, Attorney General, is going to accept a Democratic, or a Republican submission, is predicted usually, accurately, by commentators.
If the official was a Democratic appointee, he will support the Democratic application, if a Republican, not.
And this truism is considered to hold all the way up to the Supreme Court. And who has the numbers there? Can this be called a bona fide judicial or legal system - and what kind of a democracy? (We'll leave aside the crushing power of wealth and the cash for comment it procures).
This all makes the Australian system seem better than we know it is. To return to our MPs, whose salaries and extras, and quite remarkable superannuation entitlements, have been raising many hackles. John Howard is having the Auditor General examine and reveal these various entitlements - and the results could be illuminating.
The argument for lavish rewards is that this is the only way to get good people, for they could get as well or better elsewhere. Does anyone believe that, watching them perform, when they do perform?
Most are extremely lucky to have such jobs - all things considered - and the vicious fights for preselection, for getting into power and staying there, by whatever means - resemble more a struggle over a Tatts ticket, than a contest of lofty minds and even loftier sentiments.
High pay is necessary, ('tis said), otherwise some MPs will steal, rort the system, organise kickbacks. But we know high pay and a high lifestyle have simply produced a feeding frenzy, which continues after formal politics is over.
No matter how sensible or water-tight the rules, or elegant the party programs, they all fall in a heap at the point of entry to the Parliament. We have to somehow persuade party members and voters that they have the right to the best person available, and preselection procedures and the party leaderships must satisfy this right.