Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bully politics drives discontent

With the amazing runaway train effect dogging the US elections, I was struck by how the current paradigm of bully politics is affecting other countries. Well, in this case Australia, with its near legendary laid back lifestyle.

Readers might recall the the traumatic beach riots of the last southern summer, and there are signs of that starting up again. We now read where lifeguards are being taught conflict resolution because of the tempers flaring at local swimming centres.

Road rage, pedestrian rage and spontaneous street violence seems to be almost epidemic in the laid back country. Youth, not content with attacking each other have killed a number of helpless elderly people, simply because they were in the way.

It all reflects a deep seated discontent, if not example driven by arrogant power politics. The US Republican style Federal Liberal government of John Howard openly ignores the needs of the people, using fear in place of responsibility.

His NSW counterparts, though in opposition display the same behaviour in their own limited way. Increasingly, in the process of selecting candidates for next year's elections, the dominant right wing of the party is over rinding the wishes of local selection committees and replacing incumbents with their own choices.

This disregard for basic democratic principles is unsettling, even if the majority barely understand what those principles are. They understand the concept of fair play, and the demonstrated behaviour is manifestly not.

I believe the same issue is at play in the US. While the Republicans look certain to pay for their fundamental betrayal of trust, that does not remedy the basic problem.

The real message is that it is time to start looking closely at just what we want from a democratic structure; to simplify the message and drive it home to politicians and the wider public alike. It's not rocket science, it is about fair play and shared responsibility. It is also about the ability to see the problems and the will to change them, without resorting to bully politics.

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