Friday, October 15, 2004

It all depends what the meaning of "trust" is...

Interesting discussion at the Imagining Australia weblog, where Andrew Leigh's reprinted, with permission, an Australian Financial Review op-ed by David Burchell (Senior Lecturer in Humanities at the University of Western Sydney), including this insight:
"Too many people imagine ‘trust’ in politics to be some kind of blood-pact beteen the people and their leaders, like a bloodied-thumb-pressing exercise in the school playground. Yet in the end, as Machiavelli once observed, in politics people judge by the result..."
I've posted this comment:
... When Howard's opponents (most entertainingly, Red Symonds) repeated the line that "you can't trust" Howard, they thought they had a lay-down misère because it seemed self-evidently true. No sane person would "trust" J Winston in the sense of expecting him to volunteer a factual answer to an explicit question (eg, "Mr Howard, when are you going to retire and let Mr Costello take over?") In this sense, it's of course true that more Australians "trust" Mark Latham. Latham doesn't hide what he's thinking. Indeed, he expresses it rather too clearly for the ALP minders' comfort. But in a different sense of "trust" -- expecting a leader to get his hands dirty (or bloodied) where necessary to achieve the expected results -- the majority of Australians do "trust" Howard. They believe he will do "whatever it takes" (an ironic phrase, seeing as it originally came from a doyen of Labor) to secure the nation's interests as he and they define these interests. Howard's lack of transparency is therefore even a positive plus: it leaves all the moral burden on him, and takes it off us, because we didn't know about it, did we? We may have mandated our servant "Keep our borders secure and the US Alliance strong", but we never explicitly told him to bend the truth [or endanger lives] in pursuit of those goals, so if he over-reaches -- (1) we're not accountable, are we?, plus (2) it's too late to unscramble the broken eggs; may as well enjoy the omelette. Being a right-wing Laborite by temperament, I was surprised to find in the past few years (especially since September 11, 2001) that Howard, whom I'd disliked for over a decade, was starting to annoy me much less than many of his shriller and more sanctimonious critics. I can only imagine that a large swathe of Labor voters felt this even more strongly on 9 October.
Curiously, David's piece also listed, among the Labor Party's "biggest handicaps", the "influence of its erstwhile friends in the media, the arts and the higher professions":
"The party which canonised the all-too-human Gough Whitlam, and which has had Bob Ellis foisted upon it as self-appointed poet-laureate, has enough myth-making to contend with already."
A bit harsh from someone who works for the Whitlam Institute, isn't it?!


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