For whom the bell polls

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE - SEPTEM­BER 17, 2017

Iwas 18 when I took part in my first – and last – po­lit­i­cal protest rally. I joined a plac­ard-wav­ing, 10,000-strong throng of stu­dents march­ing up Auck­land’s main street chant­ing ‘‘What do we want? A free ed­u­ca­tion! When do we want it? Now!’’

Although we made the news that night, our im­pas­sioned rhetoric made not a jot of dif­fer­ence to the ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy of the day, nor to my stu­dent loan bal­ance.

That same year, as a first-year jour­nal­ism stu­dent, I took a pa­per called The Prin­ci­ples of Per­sua­sive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in which we learned about Greek philoso­pher Aris­to­tle’s three mus­ke­teers of rhetor­i­cal proof: ethos, pathos and lo­gos.

In a nut­shell, politi­cians use ethos to gain our trust and earn cred­i­bil­ity be­cause they are en­gag­ing, like­able and dy­namic, whereas politi­cians with lo­gos use rea­son­ing, facts and logic to ap­peal to our heads rather than our hearts.

Mean­while, those who can demon­strate pathos can ef­fec­tively sell their vi­sion through em­pa­thy, emo­tion and per­sonal anec­dote.

Me­dia com­men­ta­tors can ar­gue ad nau­seam about the pit­falls of the pol­i­tics of per­son­al­ity, but there’s no deny­ing that Jacinda Ardern has ora­tory ethos and pathos in spades, plus the best hair of any would-be world leader, whereas Bill English has the edge on lo­gos.

Is it any won­der then that this elec­tion cam­paign has mor­phed into a bat­tle of sta­bil­ity ver­sus spunk, pit­ting the (ra­tio­nal) safety of the sta­tus quo against the (emo­tional) de­sire for a sea change?

But what about the is­sues, cry the pun­dits? What in­deed? This week, in a highly un­sci­en­tific Face­book poll, I asked my 998 friends, fam­ily and on­line ac­quain­tances a sim­ple ques­tion: ‘‘What do you want our next gov­ern­ment to de­liver for our so­ci­ety?’’

First, a dec­la­ra­tion of bias: I’ve al­ways voted, but I’ve never voted for ei­ther of the two ma­jor par­ties. And de­spite my unashamedly con­ser­va­tive cre­den­tials – I’m white, ter­tiary ed­u­cated, mid­dle-class, mar­ried, a par­ent, self-em­ployed, a home­owner, farm-raised, ru­ral, one of the 1 per cent – my ide­o­log­i­cal ecd­y­sis from youth­ful ideal­ist to bour­geois adult is still a work in progress.

A re­cent case in point: while diss­ing Don­ald Trump in a bun­fight with my fa­ther, he coun­tered with what he thought was a sav­age re­coil. ‘‘Your prob­lem is that you’re just a lib­eral leftie jour­nal­ist,’’ said Dad. To which I replied, ‘‘is that sup­posed to be an in­sult?’’

De­spite my tree-hug­ging ten­den­cies and gar­den­ing guru sta­tus, my friends aren’t all Ro­man-san­dalled gree­nies, though many are.

‘‘What do we want?’’ I asked my so­cial cir­cle, and this is what they said.

We want to stop the eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion of our en­vi­ron­ment, both phys­i­cal and so­cial. We want a gov­ern­ment that recog­nises and ad­dresses poverty. We want poli­cies that tackle home­less­ness and the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by wannabe first home-buy­ers.

We want to give all Ki­wis some­thing to be­lieve in about our fine coun­try, what we stand for, who we are. We want warm, dry homes for all fam­i­lies, with healthy food on the ta­ble.

We want sus­tain­able so­lu­tions for fu­ture eco­nomic growth. We want medic­i­nal mar­i­juana le­galised. We want to stop the silent ero­sion of health­care in our hos­pi­tals. We want bet­ter pro­vi­sion of men­tal health and drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices.

We want to close the gap between the rich and the poor. We want gen­der pay eq­uity. We want our teenagers to stop killing them­selves. We want more sup­port for small busi­nesses. And we want teach­ers and nurses and po­lice of­fi­cers to be able to af­ford to live in the com­mu­ni­ties they ac­tively con­trib­ute to.

Surely none of these is­sues should be con­sid­ered con­tro­ver­sial in a just, demo­cratic so­ci­ety? To quote the kid I used to babysit 30 years ago: ‘‘Aotearoa shouldn’t be on the bad side of any world list, let alone grow­ing in­equal­ity.’’ So to those of you who are still un­de­cided about who to vote for next week­end, I say: what do you want, and when do you want it? Now?

If you’re happy with your lot, through luck, priv­i­lege or bloody hard work, then stick with the sta­tus quo.

But if you want more – for your fam­ily, en­vi­ron­ment, the kids sleep­ing in cars and renters in unin­su­lated garages, teens with­out hope and pen­sion­ers with­out health care – then make sure you vote for it next week­end.

To those of you who are still un­de­cided about who to vote for next week­end, I say: what do you want, and when do you want it? Now?

Lynda Hal­li­nan’s im­pas­sioned rhetoric made not a jot of dif­fer­ence to the ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy of the day, nor to her stu­dent loan bal­ance.

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