There’s a scene toward the conclusion of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ where Will Munny (Eastwood) is about to consign Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) to oblivion.
Looking up at Munny from where he lies on the floor, Little Bill says bitterly, ‘I don’t deserve this..to die like this. I was building a house.’ To which Munny replies, ‘Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.’ And Munny is right, of course. Little Bill is caught up in some history that he helped to make. He may have had it coming – but we all have it coming – and Little Bill was getting his then. Deserve had nothing to do with it
The National-led government, with help from The Maori Party, Peter Dunne (United Future) and John Banks (ACT), has certainly polarised political opinion in this country with its policies and legislation. The partial sale of some state-owned assets, in particular, has been the focus for much opposition, including a drive for sufficient signatures on a petition to seek a referendum. Other hot issues – such as teacher/student ratios, the treatment of ACC and WINZ beneficiaries, unemployment levels, reducing Police numbers and protection of our natural environment – have served to awaken our interest in both the processes and personalities of a democracy under duress.
There’s a lot of negative criticism of John Key, his cabinet and their allies in the House. Peter Dunne has been roundly vilified for casting his deciding vote in favour of the asset sales. He’s been branded a traitor by some. The Labour Party, too, has come under fire for a perceived lack of opposition and its inability to rein in National by providing a clear alternative.
So. Do we deserve the politicians we get?
There’s a layer of cynicism that surrounds the kernel of voter apathy that likes to give currency to that idea – and when times are tough and Ministers under pressure make mistakes, those on the sidelines see a discernible mediocrity and speculate about culpability, party intrigue and changes of leadership. What also happens – is that some on the Left – still bearing the scars from the last election, point to those who either didn’t vote Labour or, sin of sins, changed their vote to National. QED; We got the politicians we deserve.
But let’s remember that they are politicians, working inside, not outside, of an evolved system that has historical expectations of its constituents and moderates the behaviours, aspirations and actions of those constituents to meet its own needs, mores and boundaries. If you went to buy a second-hand car, you wouldn’t expect to be greeted at the sale yard by Bertrand Russell or Nelson Mandela, would you? You’d be met by a car salesman who, pretty much, would behave like a car salesman – or at least, like your idea of a car salesman. Politicians, mostly, meet the same criterion of expectation.
Peter Dunne, for instance, has behaved exactly like my idea of a politician. He has been a Labour MP and Minister, an Independent, a member of the Future Party, then the United New Zealand Party and now the leader of the United Future Party. He has held ministerial positions, as a coalitionist, with both center-left and centre-right governments. But like Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas before him, Peter Dunne provides the best possible example of how the system changes those within it more profoundly than any change that may be wrought by them – and not vice versa. I don’t like him much and I don’t care for his politics. But he’s not a traitor. Just like Little Bill, he’s got caught up in some history that he’s helped to make and he may well have it coming.
If man makes history and history makes man – and if history itself is made by our subjective intervention into an objective reality – then surely we must all own the political, philosophical and economic belief systems that we have all evolved with? If we deserve anything, we deserve our system, our democracy, our constitutional monarchy, our allegiance to a Crown on the other side of the globe. The politicians are a product of that system and they contribute to its continuance. But the politicians are us and we are the politicians. We must all accept some responsibility for the failures and crises of our system. So let’s not join the reactionaries who provide simple answers to complex questions and who would have us believe that our only responsibility is to punish the irresponsible. Instead, whether we want to make a qualitative change to the system or just exchange it, let’s accept a broader responsibility for what happens. Make that intervention yourself. Join in. Be rigorous in your participation. Be accountable. That’s what you deserve.