Sitting at a meeting last Monday, the group gathered were giving American Republicans a pounding, particularly Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate, but the same group would have given Bush a pounding four years ago. There were many who took a similar approach in 2004. There was the disastrous effort by readers of the English liberal Guardian newspaper to get voters in a particular state to vote Democrat.
If the group had not been pounding the McCain campaign, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen would probably have been battered, and, if not him, then some other target of liberal opinion – as if liberal table talk is actually going to change political realities. If such conversations made a difference, if voters were shaped by what columnist wrote in the Irish Times, then Fianna Fail would never be elected – as it is they have won every election since 1982.
If there was a real desire for change, instead of just a delight in expressing angst, there might be a greater effort to understand why people vote the way they do. Why did George W. Bush get home comfortably in 2004? Why is the current US election still a two horse race if McCain is such a disaster and Palin is so inept? Why will tens of millions of Americans vote for a ticket vilified by European liberals?
Posture is easier than engagement. In England, the BNP are a vile lot, but what is it that makes people vote for them in such numbers that they gained one of the twenty-five seats in the London assembly last May? Their entire electorate couldn’t comprise skinheads and backwoodsmen, there must have been ordinary people who voted for them. Don’t the government need to make serious attempts to address the causes of the rise of the extreme Right? Voters supporting neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups are not all two-headed monsters.
The Austrians went to the polls today. With extraordinary efficiency, they had their results on the Internet, ward by ward, by early evening.
The results from the little village we have visited the past two Januarys, and which we plan to visit next January, mirror those in the rest of the country – the far Right parties aggregating around 30%, the Freedom Party gaining 16.31% and Joerg Haider’s list gaining 13.95%.
Looking through the election result from the village, it is too small to be an anonymous place:
- SPÖ 68
- ÖVP 669
- GRÜNE 50
- FPÖ 214
- BZÖ 183
- LIF 13
- KPÖ 3
- RETTÖ 13
- DC 3
- FRITZ 96
- LINKET 0
It is a place where you get to know faces, where people greet you as they pass, where the same families have lived for generations.
One person in three voted for the extreme Right.
Does that mean one of the three hotel barmen? Two of the half dozen waitresses? One of the women in the office? Maybe ten of the ski school instructors? Does it mean half a dozen of the village band? Does it mean one third of those I passed on their way to Mass on the Sunday morning are Right wing extremists?
The people I met were ordinary people; quiet, traditional, conservative country people. If they have been so frightened that almost four hundred of them swung to voting for parties as extreme as any in Britain, then someone needs to ask what is it that arouses such fear?
Sitting around a table and talking is not enough.