Sunday, September 30, 2012

Things that make me feel patriotic

I was in an English-themed pub on Friday night (in the US of A), watching the Australian Rules Football Grand Final. I don't know why, but it seems to be a regular trend that random sporting events in the US, of whatever sort, are screened by British pubs, usually with British proprietors (this guy was from Liverpool).

As those of you who watched know, it was a great game (I'm a Dockers man, so I didn't really care about the result, but it's rare to see such a close finish). The crowd was quite Aussie-heavy, and it was enormous fun to be reminded of the subtle cultural differences between Australia and the US. Things started well when some player had been knocked down after failing to prevent a goal, and some guy yelled 'Get up, you wuss!'.

Anyway, what warmed my heart greatly was that at some point, the camera flashed to a picture of Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, in the crowd. At least three quarters of the room booed loudly.

What a refreshing change from the bogus choreographed boosterism and cheering of the US national conventions! Julia Gillard is deeply unpopular, but the irritation went deeper than that (and I suspect that the fraction of the room booing was considerably larger than the fraction that would have voted for Tony Abbott at the last election) Indeed, I'm quite confident that if you'd been in that room in previous years, the response would have been very similar for Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Paul Keating or any other Prime Minister.

Australians tend to regard their politicians with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. This holds almost equally for the ones they vote for and the ones they don't. And this seems to me to be a far healthier attitude for a free citizenry to have towards the people that want to rule over them.

I remember when Barack Obama got elected in 2008, and they had the huge victory celebration in Chicago. Such a spectacle would be inconceivable in Australia - the whole idea simply wouldn't pass the laugh test. I'm meant to spend my night turning up to cheer for a politician? If you held it, nobody would turn up.

When politicians turn up at non-political events of national enjoyment, such as the AFL Grand Final, Australins tend to resent the intrusion. The whole 'man (or woman) of the people' nonsense is recognised for the contrived and artificial performance that it is. Meanwhile, the whole vibe given off is of a monarch enjoying the privilege of swanning into prime seats at major sporting events by virtue of their position.

And none of this needed to be explained to anybody in the room. This healthy disrespect of government authority was entirely spontaneous and widespread.

In a free country, elected officials may get your vote, but they ought not get your cheerful subservience. The message, which politicians everywhere need to be reminded of, is clear: we tolerate your presence out of a conviction that voting is superior to dictatorship, but we do so reluctantly and grudgingly. Do not mistake this for a desire to be ruled.


  1. I agree with your comments on Australians' views of politicians Mr Shylock, however, (and it pains me to back Ms Gillard) I suspect she was there because she actually likes AFL. When decent seats were offered she got on board, as any sane AFL supporter would. I think as long as the politician has demonstrated a genuine interest in a sport (as Howard did with his cricket for example) I do give them some points for it not being a choreographed, poll manipulating "person of the people" act - BW

  2. I'll grant you that it's not as bad when they at least know something about the sport. If you want to see a hilarious example to the contrary, check out from about 38 seconds into this.

    Still, I think that they deserve to be booed, if only for the ostentatious display of privilege that the whole scene presents.