As a veteran observer of and reporter of ACT elections, I've struggled to recognise that species (ACT elections) in the opening salvo of a recent Canberra Times feature piece.
"With the ACT election coming this October," Ebony Bennett trills in her piece "ACT should lead way on truth in political advertising", "Canberrans are already girding themselves for the love-bombing, fear-mongering and vigorous debate that comes along with every election campaign ...
"The press conferences, policy announcements and debates are quite enough for any person to take in. Voters shouldn't have to also go over every political claim with a fine-toothed comb to ensure it is honest and accurate."
"Girding ourselves? Love-bombing? Fear-mongering?" I tattled to myself as one evening last week, on a day of bracing gales and refreshing rain, I took a vigorous windswept walk in one of the city's Belgium-sized lakeside parks.
Solitary outdoor walking clears the mind and enabled one to grapple with Ms Bennett's big ideas.
Back to love-bombing and fear-mongering in a moment but first some thoughts about walking.
Everywhere I palely loiter on the Internet in these unhappy, social-distancing times, I find thinking, writing folk rejoicing about their discovery/rediscovery of the wonders of solitary walking. Unable to do things with others, the isolated are venturing out on their own.
I am already an enthusiastic solitary walker and so Nina McLaughlin is preaching to the converted (me) when for the Paris Review she rejoices over how wonderful it is to be out walking on a windy day.
Walking men may need (imitating this columnist) to wear kilts (or boldly cross-dress) to fully enter into the spirit of Ms McLaughlin's reverie.
"The wind has moods," she chirrups.
"Sometimes gentle; it caresses your neck, the back of your knees. Sometimes mischievous; it flings your skirt or thwaps your umbrella inside out.
"Sometimes sorrowful; it flutes into your bones to make you cold and moans against the windows. Sometimes mean ... it kisses, claws, and bites.
"Wind is experienced through its interaction with matter. A flag whaps with force off the pole. Whitecaps spray their spindrift over the surface of the sea. Meat and onions get carried from a kitchen to the sidewalk to a nose on an evening walk. Wind is touching, mutual, moving."
"Not long ago I walked across the bridge which spans half a mile across the Charles River connecting Cambridge [USA] with Boston. I wore a skirt and the wind rustled it around my knees. It flung it left and right, and pressed it against the front of my body, making it billow in the back. Not obscene, but a little flirtatious. Maybe more than a little. Touching, mutual, moving. I liked it. I liked the sky moving my clothes. I liked the wind up my legs. The river rippled below me. When we feel the wind, we feel the sky. It's an intimate touch."
On my own particular solitary walk and when not distracted by the wind's flirtations with my Scottish-looking legs, I fell to thinking about Ms Bennett's piece calling for legislation to guarantee truth in political advertising. She sees an urgent need for this everywhere, especially in the ACT. She reports that several influential giants of Australian political and intellectual life (including a Cheryl Kernot) have signed a heartfelt petition to the Assembly calling for this urgent reform.
Do read Ms Bennett's piece for yourselves.
Contrarily, I say of any possible ACT election love-bombing and fear-mongering please, please, bring them on!
If only one did have them, and the pulse-quickening colour and movement they bring, to look forward to. ACT elections are usually so disappointingly sober and colourless, the parties and candidates so conservative, cautious and chaste, so committed to telling the drab truth that nothing pulse-quickeningly vaudevillian or indignation-stokingly monstrous ever happens to brighten things up.
We need much less truth in political advertising and much more flair.
Thinking, as I walked, of Ms Bennett's well-argued piece (she is the deputy director at independent think tank The Australia Institute) I could see what it was about it that was knotting my boxers (of which anyone watching me would have caught tantalising glimpses as the wind flirted with my kilt).
It is that she thinks of elections as machines (to be oiled and tuned for maximum efficiency), while I think that elections have some theatrical obligation to entertain. ACT elections, for want of love-bombing and fear-mongering and other theatricals, seldom entertain. For elections to entertain we need much less truth in political advertising and much more flair.
ACT parties and candidates are partly to blame for this election drabness, but of course Canberrans, the voters, are the big problem.
Ms Bennett makes Canberrans sound intellectually frail, credulous and vulnerable when in fact, notoriously well-educated and sensible (and, in our cosy First World bubble, seldom with any hot rebellion and discontent seething in our bosoms for politicians to exploit) we are surely the most fib-resistant and fearmonger-proof electors in the Commonwealth.
ACT election candidates, knowing that, resign themselves to never pointlessly saying or doing anything designed to stampede and enflame. Instead they spend the election campaigns talking the dull apolitical truth about kerbs, gutters, bus timetables, rates and the mowing of grass in parks like the very one in which these days I stride, kilted, thinking deep thoughts like these.
Are any Canberrans, really, "girding" themselves for what's to come, for an election campaign likely to be the usual chaste orgy of common-sense and truth-mongering? Girding oneself for an ACT election is about as necessary as girding oneself for the possible attack of a bogong moth.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.