Wednesday, 22 October 2014

after Whitlam

This is a very comprehensive obituary/history of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam whose death was announced yesterday. According to the news director of the Sydney Morning Herald, Gough insisted that the retired author of that piece be the one to write it. It is nonetheless sufficiently dispassionate as well as warm.

A friend observed to me yesterday that perhaps the upswell of feelings about Gough would bring more people to political engagement. I hope he is right.

Noely, already and very independently engaged with politics, wrote warmly thus yesterday.

Another friend a week ago said that while one might expect in the normal way of things that politics swings from right to left and back over time, he was apprehensive this time that this pattern would be broken. I shared that concern, especially given the pace with which the present government is disassembling governance generally.

Which makes mental re-engagement more urgent. There is no time to waste.

The seeming assessment of the ALP that it can just await the defeat of the government is childish, in my view. People want something on offer, want a vision. Otherwise it is not opposition that wins, it is despair of the nation at democracy and politicians that will continue, government will become more elusive, more people with run to hide behind scaring conservatives, fewer will register to vote and fascism gets centre stage.

I recall again the observation of the late Norman Mailer at the outset of the Iraq war in 2003:
Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it. 
You can listen here.  And for future access I've put a link in the right column.

Let us write this large:

"Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom  but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it." 

I only suggest replacement, for Australia, of the word 'attained' with the word 'sustained'.

Someone wrote to me today about wanting to return to Australia and participate in politics. We all have to engage and participate. Read (I suggest some sources in right column), think, join in. We seem at a point where the whole political discourse may need to change, existing parties displease many. But we either join a party to get it the way we would like it to be or we dream and create some means of doing something constructive, not just grumpy.

For the record, I offered this short comment at The Guardian, among the warm notes and snide comments of trolls, on Gough's passing:

Here is a nice note on the air of uncertainty beginning in Australia in 1974.

Insight into that time: see also Wikipedia on Clyde Cameron, the flavour of his early years, his sustained confidence, his labour policy reforms, his employment of young people who became great, and his falling out with Whitlam. This line is important: 
It was the tragedy of Labor politicians of Cameron's generation that Labor spent almost a quarter of a century in Opposition from 1949 to 1972, with the result that Cameron, like many others, spent his best years out of office. 
This was a major problem for Labor, on taking government in 1972. The notion of ministerial responsibility and cabinet solidarity never did sink in for some. Doubtless contributing to the necessity of Whitlam's whip approach if he wanted to get stuff through the cabinet, also contributing the the massive array of new programs and ideas adopted. Recent years have demonstrated the preference of the electorate for the simple and the fear of the complex. When I was a candidate for local government in 2008 the news editor of local commercial radio, to whom I had mentioned the old dictum of the 'thirty second grab' (getting your point clear quickly), kindly advised me that for the news for the older listeners' station it was down to 16 second, for the youth station 8 seconds. Abbott knows.

On the other side of the parliament in the Whitlam years, the conservatives sustained and played their 'born to govern' 'natural government' psychological state and self-projection, which continues to play well in many minds.

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