Passion in politics

30 Oct, 2003 07:00 PM

WHEN Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in the US from Austria, he was an unknown bodybuilder, but through hard work and persistence he became a film actor, a multi-millionaire and also married a niece of former US president Jack Kennedy.

During this time, there were no complaints made about this high profile star, no one claimed that he was a person who engaged in improper conduct or harassed the opposite sex, yet as soon as he decided to enter politics, women were lining up to denounce him.

Schwarzenegger is not unique, just a current example of the passion that surrounds politics, because having a different political alignment is a social sin that can divide families, groups and even nations.

This political polarisation is not confined to the US, because Arnie, as a Republican, is the automatic enemy of the left side of Australian politics and a double enemy of anyone who dislikes George Dubya Bush.

When I first became involved in grower politics, it was just as bad, with the farmers looking with great suspicion at the graziers, sure that they were trying to place the future and welfare of the good honest farmers into the hands of evil multi-nationals.

On the other side, farmers were viewed as socialists who wanted to place the future and welfare of the good, honest graziers into the hands of the government, by making them market all their farm produce through a government-controlled bureaucracy.

The creation of NFF not only finished such foolishness, but it soon illustrated that all farmers should ‹ and could ‹ work together, with the artificial divisions of farmer or grazier soon being shown to be irrelevant.

But it continues in mainstream politics, with the nation seemingly divided into people who think that Gough Whitlam was one of our greatest prime ministers, and those who believe he was one of the worst.

Many Australians once viewed Malcolm Fraser as the saviour of the nation, because he not only got rid of Whitlam, but he returned the federal government to the conservative side of politics.

But the ALP supporters who reviled him at that time are now honouring him, because as the Liberal supporters are starting to view his term as PM as one of wasted opportunities, the Nabob from Nareen is reinventing himself by moving further to the political left each year.

When people disapprove of another's politics, they disapprove of everything, with any farmer seeking higher office being aware that someone, somewhere will state with conviction: "You should see his farm, it's a mess".

There was much mirth at the thought of electing an actor to govern California, but it merely provided a great illustration of our desire to categorise everyone in politics by occupation.

Few believe in the concept that some are born to rule, yet they are happy to dismiss many political aspirants as being automatically unsuitable, so it would be interesting to conjecture how a 21st century electorate would respond to some of our old choices.

Would today's voters accept a candidate who was a left wing journalist from a small metropolitan newspaper in far off WA, or even a man who was an engine driver in the railways?

Two of our previous prime ministers fitted those categories, with John Curtin starting as an old-style socialist, moving from the east to take a position in Fremantle as the editor of a left-wing newspaper.

Many consider him to be our best PM, the one who forged an alliance with the US in the dark days of WW2 when the British were barely able to defend themselves, let alone their former colonies.

Curtin died in office in 1945, being replaced by former engine driver Ben Chifley who remained PM through the hard post-war years, winning the 1946 election, but losing to the Menzies coalition government in 1949.

Dwight Eisenhower became US president without ever being involved in normal politics, while Kim Beazley and Simon Crean have great political pedigrees, but little electoral luck.

John Howard was ignored for years because he lacked charisma and outward leadership qualities, but he survived and has become one of the country's longest serving prime ministers.

Ian McLachlan went up the political ladder from state agri-politics, through NFF and finally becoming a senior federal minister, failing to become PM only because he lacked the ability to engage in the grubby side of politics.

Federal and state parliaments are full of people who lack any skill except an ability to survive and prosper in the ignoble art of grubby factional politics, yet very few of them will ever move past the backbenches.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may seem a bit of a joke to many, but he has tenacity and has demonstrated that he can survive in a world that many seek to enter but few can master.

He has now got the numbers to become the Governor of America's biggest state, a feat that few have accomplished, and he can't look any more unlikely as a leader than a left-wing journo or a train driver once did in Australia.



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