Australia's ruling Liberal government is an institution that I generally despise from the bottom of my heart, but they did help me observe this rather interesting observation: That often, by claiming to be the opposite of what you or by emphasizing your weakest spot, you can actually get away with that deficiency. In the Liberals it's them being able to make people think they are exactly the opposite of what they claim to be - instead of Liberal they are actually a bunch of religious and very white conservatives - they manage to convince certain people that they are actually liberal; thus they managed to convince a friend of mine who is gay to vote for them, even though parliament members from this party have been quoted saying that lesbians should be burnt at the stake.
They manage to perform this not so trivial task by using spin. John Howard has become the master of spin: He knows exactly how to present things so that they would work for his interest, and he knows exactly when to present things so that his fuck ups would be hidden. Take the AWB scandal, for example: By now I don't think there's anyone out there who thinks the government was clean of paying Saddam Hussein kickbacks while sending troops to remove him, but does anyone in Australia think about it much anymore?
The latest example of this well oiled spin machine is this week's budget. Anyone who thinks about it for a second sees it for what it is: a distribution of wealth back to the rich, with nothing in it to promote the future of Australia in terms of investments in infrastructure or in the people or in the form of services. When you realize all the money is coming from digging stuff out of the ground and not from anything that is truly productive and long lasting, you see this budget for what is it: a crime against the future people of Australia.
But does anyone really bother to think of the budget? Not if you read the papers or watch the news. Aside from a few editorial and analysis columns in The Age, all you can hear is people saying how great the budget is and how well off "families" are now.
And why is it like that? It's like that because the government's spin machine has totally overpowered anything remotely close to proper journalism in this country. Nothing in Australia is investigated to get to the bottom of things; all the news comes directly from the government with hardly any processing in the middle. Not that this should be a big surprise when you consider that the biggest news reporters are big companies that stand to earn a lot from government policies.
The best example I can think of for this poor level of journalism is not the latest budget fiasco but rather the last federal elections. Howard won them by such a huge margin that he is now in total control of both Senate and Parliament, yet no one before the elections has predicted that landslide victory; all you could hear was that it's all very tight and 50-50 and we could never guess who the next Prime Minister is going to be. And if you thought that The Age might offer some salvation you're wrong, because its reporters were amongst the ones saying "this is going to be the tightest elections since super glue was invented" and its editors have published an editorial urging people to vote for Howard because he's the suitable person for the job (and no, I'm never going to forget them that).
I guess the bottom line of what I am trying to say is that people nowadays don't think. We're all good, well trained consumerists, happy to be spoon fed with news and analysis, just let us consume and don't make us think.
When I think about it, the main conclusion I arrive at is that this thing we call democracy is not what it's hyped up to be. Sure, personal freedom is priceless, and I'm not advocating dictatorships or communism; I just think that we deserve better. Throughout history, the prevailing struggle has been between the well off trying to defend their resources and the poor trying to get more out of the well off, with democracy supposedly putting everyone on equal stand. Yet it does not take a long overview to realize that the best indication for financial success in the future or for acquiring key decision making positions is whether you started off your pursuit with a lot of dollars in your coffers. Not much more than that is required.
Democracy's main value is with it leading people to believe they can actually "make it" when in fact just a few of them do, and those that don't make it are forever damned to believe they just didn't try hard enough.
As for me, I choose to take myself out of this race: I do not consider financial success to be much of an indicator as to how happy I am.