Editorial: "Common" people?
Tomorrow is the day of the Federal Election here in Australia. I made up my mind some time ago who I was voting for (I try to do this before politicians try to confuse the issue with "promises"), and consequently, I haven't paid a huge amount of attention to the campaign over the last couple of weeks. However, there was one thing that was pointed out to me from the policy speech given by ALP leader Mark Latham. To quote what I was told he said toward the end of it:
"I live in the Western Suburbs of Sydney... (a supposedly low-middle class area) ... and I have a huge mortgage.
I guess the obvious question here is just how one accumulates a huge mortgage on a politician's salary in a supposedly "lower class" area. Regardless of how it comes about, one questions why Mr Latham would feel the need to say it at all. I wouldn't have thought having a huge mortgage or living in a particular area (regardless of it's "class") would necessarily qualify someone to run a country better or worse than anyone else. However, let's dig a little deeper, shall we?
Like any other policy speech that any other politician has ever given, it was a blatant grab for votes -- evidently being a "battler" is somehow going to make him more popular than if he said something along the lines of "I'm the leader of the opposition, I earn over $100,000 per annum" etc etc (which is more likely to be a true statement). What I want to know is this: Why is being a "battler" seen as being a wonderful thing? What's so special about 2.3 kids and a mortgage? What is wrong with simply giving a straight-forward assessment of your background? Or better still, simply sticking to the issues at hand (i.e. what he plans to do if elected) and not bringing up status at all?
This affection for the so-called "battlers" is everywhere. The print media thrives on it, talkback radio directs all sorts of virtriol at anyone or anything perceived as a "threat" to the battler. However, let's ask ourselves one question: just how accurate is the tag, "battler". The guy living in the Western Suburbs with 2.3 kids, the mortgage on the 3 bedroom brick home, and the holden in the garage -- just how badly is he really doing? How much is he really battling? Sure, he might have to make a few sacrifices -- maybe he can't afford that holiday to Switzerland this year, but let's compare his plight to someone living on the streets of Kings Cross in the same city. Let's compare it to the unemployed guy in the single room apartment (and boy, the media are ever severe on "dole bludgers"). Just who are the real "battlers" out there?
Let's face it, this whole "battlers" tag is just another way that Western society tries to force it's middle-class values on everyone else. We have a politician trying to talk down his personal wealth in order to win popularity, mainly due to the perceived resentment of the wealthy that permeates much of middle class society (ironically, mostly perpetuated by people in the media who are quite wealthy themselves, although you'll never get them to admit to it publicly). Yet while people in the "middle class" group somehow see that as OK, not because of anything this politician is going to do, but because he's supposedly "one of them", and that somehow makes him better in some way. I wonder what sort of response Mark Latham would get if he offered the same policies, then talked up his personal wealth, rather than trying to talk it down.
What I want to know is this. What happened to individuality? Why do so many people want to try to glorify an existence that, in reality, isn't really all that remarkable? What is so special about being poor, or more accruately -- middle class, that it somehow seems "cool". What is it about this middle class existence, that anyone who lives at all differently (either by choice or by circumstance) it going to be looked down upon in some way. Let's be honest, 95% of them would buy their way out of that existence in five minutes if they got a windfall that allowed them to do so. Why expect everyone else to live the same way?