The era of the 'best worst option'
Is Gore Vidal sending messages from the grave? I know he died in 2012 but, reading the news, it is as if he speaking into my ear. His BBC obituary was admiring of his ability to shock and amuse and his biting political critiques.
Who can forget ‘"The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country - and we haven't seen them since!" and "Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half."
I know he would have had a lot to say about what is happening about American politics at the moment. After all he said of Reagan ‘He is not clear about the difference between Medici and Gucci. He knows Nancy wears one of them" and of Kennedy (whose wife was his stepsister) ‘He was one of the most charming men I've ever known. He was also one of the very worst Presidents."
What he had to say about Trump would have been worth reading – and excoriating. I am sure he would also have been commenting vigorously on our current pre-election environment of personal attacks and warnings of Armageddon.
Listening to Vidal’s voice in my ear I feel I am being alerted to the fact that whilst the troubling political ‘attack politics’ in his country and mine are profoundly disappointing and troubling, there is something much more sinister at work.
So what’s going on?
Re-reading the newspaper commentaries for the past couple of weeks, definite and disheartening themes emerge. It is not just the old ‘bad news makes good news’ theme. It is blacker than that. Every politician being questioned about a current policy first launches into an attack on another political competitor and then presents their own proposal as something to ‘fix’ a problem or overcome a difficulty. A good outcome never gets a look-in. The clear message is that the most we can ever hope for is to avoid the worst outcome – nothing more.
I admit I laughed when the political satirist reminded us that parliament refers to ‘question time’ – obviously not a time devoted to answers. But there is no humour in the place where we are stuck now.
Turnbull’s early, soaring popularity stemmed from a brief moment in the sun where ‘least worst’ was eclipsed by hopeful language about ‘best’. Sadly this was gone in a nanosecond – replaced by the harsh reality of Turnbull himself settling for the least worst option. It was tragic and irretrievably disheartening to watch him choose to stifle his ambition of achieving the bold and the future-building in order to make peace with his arch-conservative attack dogs. Selling out has taken us right back to the dark side and we are stuck there now.
Our path to this federal election has been laid out clearly. The major parties are caught up in a whirlwind of attack and counter attack which we innocent bystanders find deeply unattractive. Watching the television news is depression-inducing. I will cast my vote in the election, not because the law requires me to do so but because people died so that I could have the right to vote. It is a right I value deeply but which I will exercise despondently – because all the major parties have to offer people like me is the least worst option!