Friday, September 28, 2012

On politicians' broken promises

"No. New. Taxes."
I've a column in the Canberra Times today, 'More than promises broken when politicians recant'.

I'm looking into the nature and consequences of broken promises: the trust we lose when leaders can't keep their word. A sample:
If we can't keep a promise, we don't make it - this is what we teach our kids. And we do this partly because of private interest: if I keep my word with others, says the common wisdom, others will keep their word with me. To maintain the rudiments of civilisation, we need not be saints: just sincere and reliable.  
This is doubly important for politicians. Precisely because so many voters are privative and partial, politicians are deputised to work in the public interest. Their personal desires and anxieties are far less important than their pledges. By giving their word, they add a stitch to the common fabric of the country. Without this basic trust, representative democracy frays. Its familiarity makes it seem less ridiculous than it is.  
But imagine if our spouses, companions or colleagues were as fickle as politicians. Marriage, friendship and business would simply cease.  
Yes, many still vote for these candidates, but this is often because of limited choice. With the exception of a handful of true believers, Australians now expect betrayal on election promises from both major parties. 
In a marvellous irony, the generation of politicians that most champions competition has enjoyed a two-party duopoly, which encourages neither party to keep their word.
(Photo: youtube)

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