#84 Be. Elections

By Blake Leitch

I recently re-watched one of my favourite episodes of the former political drama, The West Wing. During the episode – entitled A Proportional Response – the President of the United States must respond militarily after the Syrian government shot down a United States aircraft. The usual "proportional response" sees United States military destroying strategic opposing military areas with a key focus on removing any possible chance of civilian casualties.

However, this episode sees the President struggle with the idea of a "proportional response", primarily because he had known someone who was on that aircraft. The President had known that the man on that aircraft had a wife at home and a 10 day old daughter. The President wanted to bring the full force of the United States military against those who had made the decision to shoot down that aircraft.

The President spent the entire episode asking what the virtue of a proportional response was, because blowing up transmitters and intelligence satellites in response for over 40 lost lives was, in his opinion, not good enough. And maybe he was right; maybe a harsher penalty was warranted. However, his Chief of Staff and best friend makes a very sensible and powerful observation to set the President straight: "Of course it's not good, there is no good! It's what there is."

This is how I currently feel about the New Zealand government. On one hand, I have a certain respect for democracy and, although I feel it needs a certain meeting with authoritarianism, I feel we owe it to ourselves and to each other to cast our ballots. On the other hand, on this election year I have found myself losing almost all interest in New Zealand politics. The Labour Party is a mess, the National Party makes me angry, and although the Green Party is becoming more noteworthy, it’s still left squabbling with the other minor parties for what are essentially the scraps of New Zealand voters.

It also seems I'm not the only one who's getting bored with the current political atmosphere. Since elections in 1946, voter turnout has dropped from 97.6% down to 74.21% in 2011. In fact, voter turnout dropped by a huge 5% between 2008 and 2011. With Western nations all over the world losing the confidence of younger voters, with Russell Brand making valid points on why people shouldn't vote, and with governments spending more time trying to cover their ass than looking after the people, it's actually kind of a surprise that we haven't entered political turmoil.

However, the simple facts are these: democracy will be around for the foreseeable future; voter turnout will still be in the majority for the foreseeable future, fuelling the machine of democracy; and it is only by engaging with politics at some level (including and especially voting) that we can have our say, at least for the foreseeable future.

Maybe I have an idealised vision of former politics, but I wish that we could get to a place where the people we set in charge of our country made decisions that were in the interest of our country, not in the interest of how our country looked to the world. If I want this to happen, as it appears to be beginning to happen at a local level, then it’s up to me. I might be the only person who feels this way, but I can only find that out if I’m willing to engage. And it’s only by willing to engage that I can help make the changes which I feel to be in the interests of this country.

It's not a perfect system, and the system is filled with imperfect people who have imperfect ideas. But the only way to try and fix this imperfect system is to converse with these people and discuss our ideas. This is the only way to create the life I feel we should all have a chance to live. Of course it's not good, there is no good! It's what there is.