Wednesday, 2 March 2016

My Longest Love Affair: Two Decades in Politics

20 years ago this evening, Saturday March 2nd 1996 my longest love affair began. It has been with me through good times and bad. I have embraced the love, I’ve become disillusioned and spurned it when things have not gone to plan. That night when it all began I was 12 years old, and I watched the 1996 Federal Election Coverage on TV. That was the night I began to think I could change the world.

Though my domestic political hero was vanquished by the dark forces of Howardism, that election begun a voyage of self discovery that has not abated. I remember from the ages of 12 to 21 that I wanted to be the first Prime Minister in a wheelchair (at that time only having the vaguest knowledge of who Franklin Roosevelt was). At the end of Year 9 my Australian History class was asked ‘What was the biggest turning point in Australian History?’ An essay that was supposed to be 800 words long turned into a 2000 word treatise on the Whitlam dismissal. That was when my political fanaticism became known and the words ‘politics’ and ‘that kid in the wheelchair’ became synonymous with yours truly.

I moved states soon after, and my love of my politics only deepened, but paradoxically it also became a tool to promote my isolationism. Lunch times were spent reading political biographies from decade's past, or studying policy handbooks. Nights on my year Year 11 'leadership' camp were spent reading a psychoanalytical tome on Richard Nixon, while the other boys in my cabin were searching for girls to have unprotected sex with. Although I wish I could have done the same, I was too smart for my own good, and realised that I was ill-equipped to have anything approaching a comfortable social relationship with anyone, let alone a member of the opposite sex.

The following year I was my high school's leading delegate to the regional Constitutional Convention. When we won the competition, one judge, who would later become my mentor, told me that one day I would shape political discourse in Australia. And so a year later I studied politics at university, under that same woman. I arrogantly (and correctly) proved that I had more political knowledge that most of my cohort combined. I had all the theories in the world. But I was yet to learn my toughest political lessons.

At the end of the first year of uni I joined the Australian Labor Party. I entered enthused and assured, with the belief that the only way to change policy was to be a member of a major political party. For a while at least, it all went according to plan, I helped write policies, ensured the victories of candidates I supported, and I began to think my contribution to the nation's political culture made a significant difference. As I was finding my feet however, the party I had grown to love imploded both in administrative terms, and in a policy sense. I quit in protest, never to return.

Luckily I was forging an academic career in parallel to this, successfully completing a university degree, and in the greatest achievement of my life so far, received First Class Honours in Political Science. These degrees have led to teaching gigs, and a moderately successful writing career as a political commentator. Although I'm still trying to complete my third degree in political science at the moment, for the first time in twenty years, politics is no longer the centre of my universe.

The first thing I look at when I get up every morning is my portrait of Roosevelt. It reminds me what is important in life. The struggle it takes to survive the shitty cards I was dealt when I was born. How I lost my way, and found the path back. 

Twenty years ago, politics appealed to me as a contest of ideas, with the most compassionate ones winning the day, because society at its very heart always makes the right choice. Now I know better, and I realise this is pure bullshit. Instead, political leadership has become my philosophical bedrock.

Without Franklin Roosevelt I would be dead. Throughout the last five years studying him has become more important than studying current events, and the mindless politicking the public is currently subjected to. Policy debates no longer sustain my interest like they use to. My political interest has now become about building character. 

1. What kind of traits do the great political leaders pocess?
2. What lessons can I draw from their experiences?
3. How can I apply these to my life?

I've come a long way in the last twenty years: my political philosophies have changed dramatically. My values have grown, developed, lost their way, and come back stronger. For the first time in the last two decades, politics has changed from the subject that defined my life, to a work related hobby. Without politics playing a major part of my life I would not be who I am, but I am no longer consumed by it. 

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you are now, finally, disillusioned and prefer to comment on rather than participate in the political process?