Why elections matter

4 May

Politics begets cynicism, especially during the campaigning season when each politician tries to outdo the other in spouting disingenuous and sometimes patently false statements. Cynicism in turn becomes the aegis with which we defend our apathy. (“It’s all the same”, “Why bother when nothing changes.”) But are our peregrinations into indifference, well founded? I gather not for things do change – like they have over the past eight years under Bush. There exist not only a strong imperatives to prevent the ‘worse’ choice from getting elected – for cost of such misadventures is often great (at least $4 trillion has been added to the deficit in the past 8 years to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and Iraq War), but more optimistically the rewards of having someone sensible (when the off chance arrives as it has with Barack Obama’s candidacy) in a leadership position are often as large as the costs of electing an imbecile. Here below, I briefly document the policy achievements of two leaders (Kevin Rudd and Zapatero), to corroborate the claim made above.

Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party, was elected to the Prime Minister’s office about five months ago, on 3rd December, 2007. His first ‘official act’ on taking office was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, and mandate Australia – the largest per capita polluter in the world – to deal with the biggest crisis in the world today. With that signature, Rudd not only wiped clean the Howard era moral bankruptcy, but also put Australia firmly on the path of enacting a progressive climate policy. A few days later, Rudd de facto scrapped “Pacific Solution”, the ignominious Howard era policy that sent all asylum seekers arriving by boat to remote islands for ‘assessment’. Rudd’s policy agenda has been far more ambitious than merely rolling back the perverse policies of Howard regime. Rudd committed his government to tackling homelessness, a growing and salient problem in Australia. In February, Rudd offered a short but unambiguously worded apology on behalf of the government and the Australian parliament for the shameful the treatment of the aborigines.
[Read more at BBC News]

Zapatero’s achievements as head of Spain may have been slower in coming than Rudd’s whirlwind pace, but they have been no less momentous. In his four years at the helm, he “legalized gay marriage, brought in fast-track divorces and laws to promote gender equality and tackle domestic violence. He also introduced an amnesty for undocumented workers.” (BBC. He has introduced “targeted measures to raise the female employment rate (which is still comparatively low in Spain)”, “established the legal right to paternity leave”. Under Zapatero’s capable finance minister, Pedro Solbes, Spain “declared a budget surplus for a third consecutive year, topping 2 per cent of gross domestic product for 2007.” Policy Network

The impact of electing someone like Obama would be similarly momentous for the US, and the penalties for electing McCain (running for the third term of Bush), or Clinton (who is planning to “obliterate” Iran) severe.

Further Reading

Kevin Rudd – White paper on first 100 days (pdf)