These two sketches published in the Canberra Times reflect my growing disillusion . . .
FROM THE HUSTINGS . . .
Watching Kevin Rudd’s face over the past two days has offered a glimpse into the darkest wells from which human emotions spring. Who can blame him for being so desperately torn between the desire to lash out and strike at his deadliest enemy and the need to campaign for her? During his time in office Rudd extended the warm hand of friendship to his former foes, appointing Brendan Nelson as an ambassador and Peter Costello to a top financial position that was in his gift. The fact that his distribution of these trinkets elevated his own role (and caused further squabbling in the opposition) merely served to indicate how far above the petty fray he had placed himself. Although it required considerably prompting Rudd even, finally and grudgingly, sent his own predecessor Kim Beazley to Washington.
But now it would appear that Beazley and Nelson are the only two former leaders (of either party) who are behaving in any way like balanced, normal people. Which only goes to prove that, if anyone believed, for even a fleeting second, that politics was about doing good things for others, they are mugs. The interactions over the weekend should have crushed that illusion for good.
Do any of these people really represent the best of Australian values, or offer role models we could aspire too? Gillard may be wise to avoid meeting a crocodile while she’s up at the top end . . . it would be embarrassing if her meeting with wildlife looked more cuddly than her appearance with a distant Rudd on Saturday.
Abbott on the other hand, the self-confessed love child of Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard, did genuflect appropriately to his former leader, but even he’s trying to keep the old man at a distance. The younger leader doesn’t want his predecessor’s unpopularity to contaminate his own campaign. It’s understood Howard is aware this election isn’t going to be about his own rehabilitation. As far as the Liberals are concerned the last thing they want is for 2010 to become a re-match of 2007. Howard’s being rolled out, but nowhere like as enthusiastically as Gillard’s embracing Hawke. The Liberal campaign has been most insistent about giving him a very low profile.
It’s no wonder the Liberal campaign launch was so low profile. The last thing any of their strategists want is to knock the internal Labor back-biting off the front pages. The addition of that well-known “60 Minutes” personality Mark Latham to the toxic brew of recrimination and vitriol has been an unexpected bonus, a bit like winning the $2 Lotto. The spectacle of him confronting Gillard (and giving her ‘the hand’ – now a patented trade-mark of Latham enterprises incorporated) was especially poignant for those who remember that these two were actually, once, meant to be friends.
Although it’s quite easy to demonstrate mathematically, with the use of Venn-diagrams, that the concepts of ‘friendship’ and ‘politics’ can never really co-exist in the same place at the same time. A bit like ‘altruism’ and ‘politician’, actually.
Self-interest will be the winner in a fortnight’s time, you can bet on it.
FROM THE HUSTINGS . . .
“Of course,” intoned Malcolm Fraser, his voice oozing gravitas as he cleaned his pipe and leaned back in his smoking jacket, “in my day we had a real Liberal party” . Suddenly the owner of a green-and-gold tracksuit quickly walks in front of Fraser’s radio microphone. “Nyah. I was prime minister for much longer than you,” said John Howard, for it might have been he. “I will decide which policies are Liberal and the manner in which they are implemented, and . . . ”, but before he could continue a younger man had pushed him away.
“You may ask why I’m here today, campaigning for someone who’s tried to tear down my brilliant legacy?” Kevin Rudd, blood oozing from his wounds like stigmata, the crucifixion markings of Christ, had pushed his way to centre-stage. But before he could answer his own question Bob Hawke (pausing only for a brief frolic with Blanche d’Alpuget) emerged, pursued by Paul Keating who was waving a sharp knife. “Come back here my boy,” he quietly insisted in a voice rich in menace, “I want to do you slowly”. Mark Latham wrote it all up. He knew his razor-sharp words could be far more cutting than mere physical pain. He was positively enjoying his new role as the Hannibal Lecter of the Labor party.
There comes a time in every election campaign where what happens bears merely a tangential resemblance to politics. This is the moment when politics is put aside and real enmities can finally be revealed. This is the time when dark hatreds can finally come to light, crawling up from deep pits of elemental emotion, and strike out at those who are closest to them. The fiercest venom is reserved for anyone perceived as a Judas . . . those on their own side who betrayed them or, to their minds, the even more despicable action of besmearing or tarnishing the leader’s reputation.
Something happens to everyone who becomes Prime Minister, no matter how normal they are when they come to office. The change creeps slowly at first, but gradually speeds up until it infects every interaction, every fibre of the person’s being. A PM is always surrounded by adoring crowds, enthusiastic acolytes, admiring courtiers. Very soon, no matter how ‘grounded in reality’ any person is when they start off, they lose their humanity to become a cipher – a very important one perhaps, but in essence nothing more than an empty flask into whom the electorate pour their hopes and expectations.
The prime minister wants for nothing but gradually becomes nothing. Finally they are dispatched, either by their party or the electorate. The truly amazing thing is that there’s more than one person who actually wants to become PM. They should beware what they wish for. Genuine humanity rarely survives close contact with the office.