Monday, November 23, 2009

Something to talk about

If a week is a long time in politics, I betcha Mike Rann can't wait for this one to be over. Our Premier has been in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and it's not a good look in the long lead-up to an election. Aside from the question of "did he or didn't he?" spring a whole load of others.

Firstly, do we care? Yes, we do. Let's be honest. It's the sort of thing we all can't help thinking about, talking about and listening about. We in this country like to think we're above all that tawdry stuff--it's so sensationalist--but when push comes to shove, we're as interested as the next person. Maybe more.

Why do we care? Seeing someone else go through something we'd hate to go through always takes our attention. Much to the Government's discomfort, this issue is likely to be the subject of many a water cooler conversation today and for some time to come. Why is that? Prurient interest aside, I think it's the train-wreck factor. It's not pretty and we're not proud to admit it, but we just can't seem to tear our eyes away.

What does it mean? Us Aussies are fond of our egalitarian image of being slow to judge others, but the concept isn't a new one. At a basic level, there's an element of "there but for the grace of God go I", so instinctively we shy away from it. Why's that? I'll be bold and say most of us have a skeleton in our closet or at the very least stuff we're not proud of, and we simply don't like being reminded of that. Disclosures of flawed humanity make us all uncomfortable because they force us to admit we could be next. It was Jesus who challenged the Pharisees (and the rest of us without sin) to cast the first stone. But merely discussing the issue isn't the same as passing judgement. Who knows? Maybe it's something we can even learn from.

What does it matter? There have been plenty of talk-back protestations that none of this matters because it's not directly relevant to Mike Rann's premiership, but if that were true, this issue wouldn't be making news to start with. While no-one's perfect (except for you and I, of course), whether we like it or not we do hold those in the public eye to a higher standard of accountability. Footballers are among those to protest long and loudly whenever an indiscretion by one of their brethren is made public, but it's a simple fact that if you are a part of public life there will be those who will emulate you. Whether that carries a sense of responsibility as a result is open for debate. But the difference here is that our State politicians have a code of conduct their political parties require them to abide by. The fact this conduct is spelt out in such a fashion means there is a higher standard of behaviour at play here, and that this group of people are willing to be held to it.

Simply put, what our politicians do and how they do it affects the entire State, and talking and thinking about what that means for us isn't a sin. If we're eligible to vote and we say we're not interested, we're either not being responsible or we're just kidding ourselves.

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