The scene: a café in Sydney’s Inner West. The players: a forty-something mum with her baby, a young woman with funky black hair, and a skinny man with a high-pitched voice talking about “… how to reverse the power dynamics of the space for this year’s exhibition.”
The conversation touches on coffee, abstract expressionism and Kath & Kim before coming to rest on Federal Politics. “We’ve got one chance,” says the funky-haired woman. “One chance. It’s soon and we’d better not stuff it up.” They all groan. ‘I mean, not again…”. They all sigh. “This country needs a Labor government!” They all cheer.
A guy in a nice suit reading the Herald at a nearby table has been been listening. ‘Hear hear!’ he interjects in a super-friendly way. ‘Hear hear!’ adds the dude at a third table – short, with rings on his fingers, eating a foccacia and talking on his Blackberry at the same time. The baby gurgles. The anorexic waitress chimes in. Everybody’s going for it. “Hear hear!”
To the barricades!
They all had a good old bond. Then they did exactly what they were doing before. It’s a microcosm of Australian politics. They settled back into their seats, clucking like broody hens, flushed with the pleasure that only spontaneous outbursts of politicised sociality can provide. Like when everyone in a queue gets angry together about someone pushing in.
These folk had never talked to each other before, and probably never will again despite having lunch in the same eatery a zillion times. But the Rudd campaign appears to have brought them together.
I mean, what is this, the French Revolution? It’s not even the Whitlam years. Not much is actually happening here. We’re talking about Kevin Rudd, for God’s sake. I mean, bye-bye Tasmanian forests. Hello Christian Prime Minister. Cardinal Pell has recently come out saying that we’re “blessed” to have such seriously religious people leading both sides of politics.
Perhaps it’s admirable political ‘discipline’ that means Rudd hasn’t cut Robert McClelland any slack for letting Labor’s anti-capital punishment cat out of the bag. Perhaps it’s ‘discipline’ that means Gunn’s will get to have their very own Monster Mill just because they can. Election winning ‘discipline’.
But there’s no discipline among these café-going constituents. Everyone knows that the well-meaning bourgeoisie achieve good in this world only by dour restraint and hard-work. These people, on the other hand, are allowing themselves to grow mentally obese on the political equivalent of trans-fat. Obviously, just the idea of Labor winning tastes delicious – but it sends blood sugar levels through the roof and may turn out to be very bad for your health. Perhaps taking ecstasy is a better metaphor. There’s a rush of serotonin now, but you’ll be absolutely buggered later.
I swear that café did feel like a dance party for a moment. But they’re all gonna be diabetic and depressed if they’re not careful. And riddled with Alzheimers. And it’s because all this enjoyment cannot be a good thing. If Labor’s campaign turns out to be this easy, I won’t be surprised if Rudd tears off a latex mask on victory night and really is Howard in disguise.
Why is everyone so sentimental then? Maybe Howard’s long dominion has been so indulgent and hypocritical that it’s engendered an equally shallow mirror-image. Or maybe individuals are just so desperate now for a whiff of togetherness – after more than a decade of being told not to give a rat’s arse about anybody else – that they can’t help but bond over… all this… all these new… well, I still don’t know what.
Of course, what may end up being truly semi-tragic is that, as everybody knows, exuberant chicken-counting behaviour only jinxes real-life outcomes. The Gods of Luck and Chance will not be adjusting things in Labor’s favour. For every pumped-up story about a massive Labor lead in the polls – “Rudd beats PM on trust and vision”, SMH – lose ten thousand votes in the marginal seats that (weirdly) determine who runs this country. Them’s the rules. Maybe the ‘feelgood principle’, as, embarrassingly, Miranda Devine puts it, is something to be wary of.
Perhaps that’s it: the guilty pleasure of knowing that you shouldn’t be enjoying this, but you’re just going to do it anyway.