It would be so nice to think that our politicians were leading us – taking charge, and steering the nation in the right direction. Frankly, any direction other than down would come as a refreshing change. In general it seems that the best they can offer is to lead us on. Occasionally offering a tantalizing glimpse of integrity, compassion and reason, they snatch it away at the last moment in the ultimate game of bait and switch.
What really disturbs me about the election campaign we are currently enduring, though, is that they’re not even bothering to lead us on anymore. There seems to be a perception that no-one cares. We all accept that politics is a grubby game, played by even grubbier people, and it would be foolish to expect anything positive from them.
Tony Abbott seems almost proud of the fact that you can’t believe anything he says unless it was pre-scripted for him (and even then it may turn out to be a non-core promise). He is so tightly tied down in this campaign that it is clear he is more marionette than free agent, begging the question of just who is pulling the strings.
Julia Gillard offered to bring out the Real Julia ™, which was a startlingly radical concept, guaranteed to make us wonder which Julia we had been seeing before. How real is Real Julia ™? If Real Julia doesn’t work, will she bring out Really Real Julia? Or will she switch horses and try for Genuine Jules?
Tragically, it seems that our politicians are really just amoeba working on the stimulus-response model. Opinion polls are the stimuli, jerking knees are the responses. Those knees have been jerking so wildly it’s amazing they don’t knock themselves out more often (although that could explain a lot about the first couple of weeks of Labor’s campaign).
Polls say Australia is a nation of racist xenophobes, terrified of drowning under the rising tide of boat bogey monsters. A true leader would challenge that and bring out the best in us – showing us the truth, bringing out our humanity and compassion. Sadly, Gillard and Abbott are pandering to the worst in us by demonizing targets that can’t fight back (and don’t vote). Abbott is even going to stop the boats personally – I have visions of him standing on the shoreline in his speedos, forearms bulging like Popeye as he turns those boats around. No wonder I have nightmares.
A leader would respond to the astonishing level of scientific consensus on climate change and take direct action. We know that climate change is real. We know it’s man made. We know it requires urgent action. But the polls say that people are more concerned with their own hip pockets, so our politicians try to look as though they are doing something without actually doing anything. The “greatest moral challenge of our time”, tackled with a simply breathtaking level of prevarication and procrastination.
Will the real leaders please stand up? The leaders who are willing to make the hard decisions. To lead the nation instead of running to catch up (or rather, down) to it. To show us the best we can be, with integrity and compassion. Real leaders don’t choose the most popular road, or the easiest road. They choose the right road. It’s a difficult road to get onto, but it leads to a far, far better place.