Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Doodle politics sidelines democracy on parliamentary playing field
A recent collection of US presidential doodlings revealed Ronald Reagan’s comic-book cowboys and horses’ heads; Herbert Hoover’s intricate and sticky-looking webs; Thomas Jefferson’s Leonardo-esque machines; George Bush snr’s simplistic sad-happy face and JFK’s one word, “Vietnam”, written over and over and each trapped inside one of countless coffin-shaped boxes disappearing off the page.
In chronological order you’d notice a steady decline in erudition but the question for us is – and if we’re stuck with him until 2015 we surely have a right to know – what does Morris Iemma doodle?
Some kind of footy field, perhaps, where two teams, heavily padded and equally heavily paid, are locked in fierce opposition. The sidelines are sandbagged with the corpses of other teams who have tried to join the game; the whole surrounded but largely ignored by a crowd of bored and bloated hot dog eaters and TV watchers. No one cares who wins but as sauce dribbles down a thousand double chins, the players vie in a game with no rules besides the great aim of ensuring no third team gets a look-in. It’s a complex doodle, possibly better suited to virtual reality than lined A4. But since the business of government, other than the game itself, is now outsourced almost entirely to public-private partnerships and spin merchants, he’ll have the time.
Third parties are a civilising force in politics. Greens, Democrats or independents, their role is keeping the bastards honest, in Don Chipp’s immortal phrase, and communicating the game’s finer points to the hot-doggers and beyond. These traits alone see them reviled by the gridiron guys, since neither honesty nor communication has any part in the game.
So, for years, we’ve seen Liberal and Labor play-fighting in the house; opposing each other in debate then voting together to roll the independents – on Part 3A of the Planning Act, for instance – and collaborating in gerrymanders designed solely to keep independents from office. There’s our voting, too, where even with green issues at an unprecedented public high and a Government so unpopular my paper lady’s three-wheeled trolley could have won office if it kept its mouth shut, there’s still no Green in the lower house. But that’s all part of the game.
More interesting is why we’re so committed to A-on-B combat that we’ll enact almost any kind of absurdity – even electing governments we don’t want – rather than step beyond the dualist diagram.
In part, it’s the Westminster system, which allows many opposition parties but only one opposition. This shapes the architecture, with parliament houses across the Commonwealth designed as oppositional stadiums, where two long sides line up facing each other across the field, or table. At one end sits the ref, or speaker; at the other the cross benches, from which third party opposition is necessarily distant and oblique. (New Zealand is an obvious exception, begging the question; can we blame the Beehive’s circularity for NZ’s 1996 switch to the German MMP, or mixed member proportional system, that would end two-party domination forever?)
It’s not just politics, either. Most of our thinking is bipolar. Nature gives us a basic range of dualisms: day-night, summer-winter, in-out, up-down. But our thought world, too, we arrange on polar opposites: good-bad, yin-yang, male-female, heaven-hell, self-other, us-them. Even the familiar trinities, from the Christian to the Aristotelian, we see as a middle between opposites. A head, so to speak, between body halves. So perhaps it’s just us. Perhaps all this dualism is conditioned by our bilateral symmetry and we, hopelessly anthropomorphic, simply need to see life as a tug of war.
Next year’s experiments in the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider near Geneva should give a clue whether it’s just us, or some universal law. The collider will test the theory-of-everything known as supersymmetry, in which every subatomic particle has a mirror-image “twin” whose behaviour, perhaps miles away, it copies.
This, if true, suggests some deep structure feeding our symmetry habit. Then again, maybe it’s just the “mirror neurons” in our brains, showing us everything through a bipolar sieve. Trapped as we are inside our own perceptual framework, it’s hard to know.
But, either way, oppositional dualism looks like something we’re stuck with. If so, NSW green politics of the future, its drumbeat increasingly issuing from Bankstown mothers and Bondi doctors’ wives rather than the gridiron guys, may still need to tog up, get out there and play the game. What must they do?
Curiously, a similar dynamic in Britain has made the Tories green up quicker than either Labour or the Lib-Dems; pushing renewables and annual emissions targets. This improbable shift exploits the natural proximity between conservative and conservation mind-sets. (No forest, no fox hunt.)
It points, too, to a gaping opportunity for NSW green politics to abandon its traditional leftie trappings, rise Lazarus-like from the sidelined body piles, collect disaffected Nats on the way and take the centre ground, filling the Peter Debnam-induced vacuum in the main game. Those square-shouldered avatars, locked in their virtual footy, won’t know what hit till they’re strung between the goalposts by the new mainstream green-forwards. Hoist, so to speak, by their own doodles.