Is it asking too much for pollies to be decent citizens?
Here’s a game: Pretend you’re famous and the public is interested in the minutiae of your life.
What would the media dig out? How would you be presented? For many of us that’s a frightening thought.
Did you inhale? Have you ever said something inappropriate? Any bitchy ex-colleagues or schoolmates lurking around? Did you ever drink too much, sleep with the wrong person, or get close to someone bad?
The vast majority of us have things in our past we’re not proud of - so let he who is without sin tag the first Facebook picture.
Luckily most of us can transgress without it ending up on the nightly news.
And then there’s celebrities and anyone on the public pay roll.
Politicians are naturally at the far end of the ‘public interest’ spectrum. They’re high profile, and we pay their salaries. And unlike the vapid and tawdry scandals of the famous-for-being-famous, it is genuinely important that they are of good character.
Whatever that means.
That is why, when you hear of yet another MP charged with sex offences – the most recent being an SA Labor MP charged with child exploitation - the chill strikes deep.
These sorts of alleged offences go beyond being screw ups, mistakes, drunken moments of stupidity. These are signs that we have elected fundamentally damaged people.
While Australia is, in the main, immensely cynical about politics and politicians, there remains a core hope that those who put their hand up for the job are, for want of a better word, good. Better than average, at the very least.
As history, and particularly recent history, shows, they’re not. You could even be forgiven for thinking they’re worse than average.
It’s hard to tell which came first – the flawed person aiming for a political career, or the political career that warps the person in it.
It’s a trite truism to say that it takes a certain type of person to want to be a politician.
Of course they’re in it for the power – whether it’s for the power pure and simple, or for the power to shift society closer to their vision.
Most politicians start from some sort of idealism. They have an idea about how the world should be and (admirably) want to do something about it, rather than griping from the sidelines. So they take their political philosophy, their religious zeal, their ideology, and embark on this weird path.
And sometimes the wrong people advance, and keep advancing. Because they’re meant to be policy geniuses, or good Party men, or they’ve cleaved to the right faction. Or – like Barry O’Farrell – they do a Steven Bradbury and glide to victory as others fall apart at the seams.
But more and more it seems it is the wrong sort of people coming to power. Child sex offences are the vilest of crimes committed by our leaders; but by no means the only ones. And after the offences are all the other ways in which politicians are doing us a disservice. The lies, the cowardice, the populism (which ironically fails to lead to popularity).
Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the other forms. We’re stuck with a democratically elected government. We just need to do a better job of electing the right people.
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