Expectation management

I’ve been thinking a lot about political tactics of late. Tactics that make people shrug and go “oh well, it’s just the way things are done now”. Politicians say things they know to be outright lies, and we go “oh well, what did you expect? That’s politics.”

Gay candidates have whisper campaigns run against them in conservative communities – which seems to me to be unspeakably foul – and we say “well, it works, so of course they will try it.”

I think it’s time we stopped shrugging. I think it’s time we valued decency. I think it’s time we told each and every candidate that negative campaigning sickens us. That we want to know what they will do, and what they believe, not how much they hate their opponents.

A few weeks ago the new Labor candidate for the federal seat of Bruce, Julian Hill, was outside my daughter’s school when I arrived to pick her up. Seeing an opportunity to grill him on asylum seekers and climate change (two of the most urgent and compellingly moral issues Australia faces right now, in my opinion), I went to talk to him, much to the disgust of my kids. (“OMG! Mum, he’s a politician! Gross!”)

I was intending to go in hard, because I am bitterly disappointed by both of our major parties on most issues, and on these two issues I am enraged. I was taken aback, therefore, when Julian proved himself to be thoughtful, considered, and compassionate. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I could not help but respect the fact that he had thought things through and didn’t just spout a series of pre-prepared slogans, which seems to be the standard political response these days.

I went away and researched some of the things he said and emailed him about them, and he replied immediately. Again he was thoughtful, rational, and decent. I found myself, a Greens member of long standing, contemplating voting for this man. You may think that decency is a pretty low bar to set, but it’s one I think a lot of our politicians would struggle to clear. Decent people rather stand out.

What really struck me about my interactions with Julian is that through talking to him and grilling him on his attitudes to various things, I became much more engaged with the political process. I am surrounded, for the most part, by people I agree with. That’s pretty normal – we tend to seek out people we have a lot in common with – but it does mean that my views aren’t challenged as often as they could be. That, in turn, means that my views aren’t always well thought out (shocking, I know).

I found myself responding to Julian with a lot of “I think”s, so I then went home and set about changing them to “I know”s, or “I was wrong”s by checking my facts. This is another thing there’s not enough of in our current politics. (Incidentally one of the things that impresses me, again unexpectedly, about Ricky Muir – he is quite prepared to find stuff out and be persuaded by evidence. How novel!).

Sometimes when I’m tired and grumpy I don’t like people challenging my views. But I always, always learn from it. (Sometimes what I learn is not to hit the “send” button late at night…)

Whatever your politics and whatever your usual voting pattern, it’s worth engaging with your local candidates to find out, as much as you can, who they are and what they believe in. At worst you might only get chapter and verse of the party line, but that in itself is quite revealing.  If you despise a party’s policies, but then find that your local candidate for that party  has more moderate views, a vote for them can influence the path of the whole party. Even parties who typically vote in lockstep have members with differing opinions who might just be worth supporting.

At best you might learn something about your local politicians. You might even reconsider your own voting patterns – maybe to confirm them, or maybe to change them. It’s a way to ensure that you are voting for the candidate who best represents your personal values.

Best of all it’s a way to make yourself think about what is important to you. And that’s worth voting for.





5 thoughts on “Expectation management

  1. Joe

    Somewhat though, you mischaracterise my response, I think. It’s the guy’s job to represent the viewpoints of those he considers his core supporters. Even if you and I think those viewpoints he and his supporters share are despicable, it would be quite unreasonable to think he should *not* represent the viewpoint of his … group… in favour of my (or your) moral viewpoint.

    “Shrugging” isn’t the reaction I was thinking of. But neither is blaming and shaming.

    We need to change the community before the politicians will change to suit. Not even on a “they are self serving scumbags” basis, but on the basis that the politicians are extracted general community members too, representing groups of community interest that have a plausible support base.

    “It works”… because it’s what he understands he’s supposed to do, given that his understanding would be that *his* community (not the entire community, but his subset of it) expect him do that as their spokesperson.

    I entirely agree it would be better if election campaigns were purely “this is me, these are my beliefs, this is what I would stand for if I become your spokesperson” and did not involve saying anything at all disparaging other candidates or their beliefs. If that’s what most of the community expressly wanted, that’s what the politicians would do. (And, indeed, politicians have been smearing eachother since federation and before, so I wouldn’t call this a new phenomenon.)

    (Though … if you genuinely believed one of your political opponents was fundamentally unfit for office, would you keep quiet about that fact? If you knew he or she was a child abuser who had never been prosecuted? Had ridden the dodgy end of business dealings, staying just inside the law but not playing fair, would you be quiet about that? I mean *your* personal values don’t put these things even remotely in the same bucket as anyone’s sexuality, and we long for the day when that’s true for everyone. Would you want *your* spokesperson to let people know that one of the candidates has a person who you fundamentally couldn’t vote for? I don’t know what this guy’s campaign looks like, but the line between stating “my opponent is gay” and “my opponent is an abomination against nature who should be stoned” would be a genuine one that needs to be respected.)

    So anyway. Since politicians do what they feel gels with their community support, how do we change the community? Especially these core beliefs. Think about those who raised many current Australian voters and instilled their unconscious fears beliefs and values.

    Community value change is a multigenerational process. Being… *angry* at individual people over their values doesn’t really help, I think.

    (But “outright lying” is *not* in the same bag.)

    1. lindamciver

      Actually I wrote that before we had our conversation, it wasn’t in response to your comment in particular. But I still think some acts are unconscionable whether they represent sections of the community or not. And trying to encourage people to discriminate on someone based on their sexuality is one of those things. We will have to agree to disagree there, I think!

  2. Joe

    Or, to summarise that… it’s to be expected, and it’s reasonable, that the guy should represent the viewpoints and values of those he views as his supporters. And *not* reasonable to expect (or demand) that he lead his supporters away from that viewpoint to one that you and I prefer.

  3. John

    Based on my interactions with Julian, I am convinced he will be a brilliant member of parliament in the seat of Bruce. While he is very progressive but respectful of those that don’t share his world view. On the topic of gay candidates, isn’t it wonderful that we now have 4 gay members in the house of representatives (in addition to others in the Senate). Once the calibre of these people is revealed the influence of gay whisper campaigns will disappear.

    1. lindamciver

      I wish you were right, John, but I don’t believe the whisper campaigns and their influence have anything to do with evidence. It doesn’t matter how awesome our gay MPs are. Intolerance will persist. :( But I’m very glad Julian won the seat!

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