Politics, The Serious People, and Bearded Voodoo Dolls: A Comment

I left this comment in response to a piece by Stephen Collins published in the Irish Times last Saturday, titled ‘Worrying signs that politicians learned nothing from collapse of the Celtic Tiger’

The distinction drawn between so-called ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ politicians is a useful device to invite the heaping of scorn on anyone who opposes the thrust of government and Troika policies, namely, the restoration of the financial and property sectors to profitability and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich [I got these two mixed up in the original comment, amended here].

Luke ‘Ming‘ Flanagan is also a useful device in this regard, a kind of bearded voodoo doll that the political establishment and its political correspondents can attack as a means of demonstrating not only the unreliability of the so-called ‘amateurs’ but the recalcitrant ignorance of the plebs.

However, what the use of such devices reveals is the author’s deep contempt for basic norms in democracy. In democracy, there is no such thing as the ‘professional’ politician, since elected representatives only speak for others based on the understanding that they are the equal of those who elect them to speak on their behalf. Similarly, the idea of the ‘amateur’, of the person ill-equipped to participate in political life, has no place in democratic politics, given the assumption of equality.

Nonetheless it is true that there are things that can frustrate people’s full and informed participation in political life. In today’s Ireland these might include: exclusion from the voting franchise, as with certain categories of migrant; absence of time available to take part in assemblies and debates due to work obligations; and, not least, a media apparatus geared towards producing resignation and passivity, with newspapers and TV and radio channels systematically promoting the idea that politics is first and foremost a management position, something best left to the experts.

The professionals, the insiders, the serious people: men -for it is mostly men, white ones- who, on the whole, wear suits and ties and look no different from other men who work in accountancy firms or investment banks or the ECB or the IMF. It is this group that forms the ‘inside’ of Stephen Collins’s conception of politics. Little is expected from those on the outside, except that they muster up the brainpower to vote for respectability once every four or so years, even when the distinction between respectability and robbery is altogether blurred by the social effects of banking bailouts.


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