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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

pulp mills and political cynicism « Previous | |Next »
August 29, 2007

The quote below is from Jeff Malpas' article, Truth, Democracy and Politics, which is hosted by Tasmanian Times Online. Malpas describes our political world as:

....a world in which there is a general cynicism about politics and public institutions; in which public figures are not only assumed to lie, but appear to do so as a matter of course; in which what is thought to matter in the media is not truth, but rather political balance; in which the threat to security is used, even in a time of peace, to counter public criticism or open discussion; in which views that are in opposition to the government of the day are dismissed as un-Australian or un-American, and those who express them are derided and disregarded; in which lies and deception are regularly used to legitimate governmentally enacted violence, injustice and illegality; and in which the Prime Minister himself can blatantly deny what appears as well-grounded fact – and not even appear embarrassed...

This is also the political world in which big business gets its way---eg., Gunns with proposed its pulp mill in Launceston, Tasmania; the coal industry with its resistance to global warming and slow strangulation of the solar renewable power industry;or the denial of global warming from an anti-science perspective is seen as acceptable.

Malpas is right. The contemporary political situation here in Australia--- as well as in the United States and Britain---is one where political cynicism is widespread, and the rise of such cynicism has been accompanied by an enormous decline in confidence and trust in public institutions and in the political system as such. Gunns and the pulp mill in Tasmania is a perfect illustration of the process of corruption in liberal democracy that has led to political cynicism and distrust.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:18 PM | | Comments (7)


Frank Luntz, the US pollster, has been talking with 24 Australian voters for several hours as part of special series airing on Sky News called Voters' Verdict. These voters were chosen because they are the targets of every political operative in the country: the small percentage who haven't yet made up their minds.

He says:

At the most basic level, floating voters are tired. They're tired of the negativity in politics, tired of the articulated and broken campaign promises, tired of the games and gamesmanship. What these voters crave is an end to politics as it has become. They want leaders who have a positive, hopeful vision for the future, a fresh approach to the challenges Australia faces, specifics to back their rhetoric and the ability to achieve genuine results.

The tired political language of the past will not work on the tired voters of 2007. This election is about the future.

I heard a very resentful Premier Lennon on the ABC's Radio National Breakfast this morning raving on about due process being broken by Malcolm Turnbull. Tasmania, by contrast, did things right. The Tasmanian Parlaiment was supporting the legislation in favour of the pulp mill.

Lennon's argument was that Tasmania had a right to big resource development---Queensland and WA have it so why not Tasmania.So everybody on the mainland should butt out.

What was good for Gunns was good for Tasmania for the Premier. When it ws pointed out that the polls consistently showed that a majority of Tasmanians disagreed with him over the proposed mill, he responded by saying governance Tasmania, unlike the mainland, was not based on opinion polls. Moreover his opponents---reduced to the Wilderness Society and inner city lefties in the capital cities-- had their facts wrong and were ideologically opposed to development.

There is an example of why there is political cynicism and distrust about liberal democracy.

So Lennon's response to distrust and cynicism is drop the pretence of democracy altogether?

At least the other premiers periodically make a show of representing the public.

I think Nan's right about this election being about the future. And it's good to see somebody, Luntz of all people, asking people what they want from politics instead of the usual focus on the negative aspects.

I wonder how long it would take for cynicism to erode if there ever was honest leadership? Are we past the point where these problems can be fixed?

its the ghost of Mark Latham and his 2004 forestry fiasco versus the polls showing majority public opposition to the mill in Tasmania.

It's the farce of the Lennon Government's fast-track of the mill versus the latte-sipping Sydneysiders.

an antidote to political cynicism by a Mark Hardcastle in the daily comments:

Yet I am consoled with the knowledge that in the real world, outside of Crikey’s alternative reality, the market has decided what truth is. Australian families, with their own free will, choose Piers Akerman’s version of truth. That is democracy. And 70% of Australia’s consumers vote for Rupert Murdoch everyday. The market is always right. I can already hear the chattering class spitting their lattes in outrage against this proposition. But it is undeniable with any simplistic assessment. The free market is incorruptible and impervious to manipulation. The Haters who cannot accept this need to ask, how would News Corp succeed if it wasn’t fair and balanced? Ultimately, fair news is essential for a just democracy. And a just democracy is essential for a fair and open media to continue. Thus, as Australians are continually informed about the issues that matter, our democracy and media are in safe hands. For example, The Herald Sun gives enough information on the context of war. Where as Stalinist academics would expose our children to seditious information, which would threaten the nature of our democracy.

It has to be parody.


You'd certainly have to hope so.

this argument by Drew Westen, an American academic, The Political Brain may be of interest.

Westen looks at why the Democrats in the US keep losing elections. He suggests that emotions, not rational decisions, play a key role in politics, something the Democrats have overlooked. He claims that "trickle-up politics" has been discarded for a more emotive and simpler idea. "Trickle-up politics" means simply putting out policies and assuming that, if they work, voters will be pleased and reward the politician. In fact, this seems to work no more smoothly than trickle-down economics: Westen suggests that politics remains much more visceral, a matter of big, simple thoughts, and of emotional connection.

In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role.