Sunday, August 2, 2009

Like an eccentric if somewhat reprobate uncle

How Hawke showed up Rudd

The always insightful David Burchell hears something authentic at long last at the Labor national conference:
Then Bob Hawke took the rostrum at the ALP conference last Saturday, and the nature of Rudd’s troubles with his public personality suddenly became as clear as the dawn’s sun.

Here is a man of 79 years, whose physical presence is diminished, and whose powers of memory are palpably fading a little. And yet there he was, speaking freely for a good half-hour with little regard to his notes, musing upon his government’s achievements with a kind of spontaneous analytical lucidity that is unwilling to be coached, and which resists the use of the copy-and-paste function…

Now, as a specimen of human nature Hawke is no saintly exemplar for the ages… And yet, for all his errors and excesses, for all those grand follies and petty foolishnesses, he was capable of arguing a case to his fellow citizens with tactical precision, and of speaking from the heart with a kind of artlessness, simultaneously. That, I don’t doubt, is why today’s ALP conference delegates still adore Hawke…

The present PM, despite his tireless, unyielding efforts to be all things to all people, to be at once everyone’s mate, everybody’s trusted family accountant, and everybody’s favourite salon intellectual, can somehow evoke no more ardent emotional response than a light wash of grateful applause. So much of that effort, in other words, is wasted because its all-pleasingness taxes our credulity.

The other trick for Rudd is that while he is unable to face the difficulties with his own public personality, he is debarred from learning from the example of others. As introduced by Rudd to the conference, Hawke sounded like an eccentric if somewhat reprobate uncle, of the kind younger female family members might want to avoid after a few drinks at the family Christmas party. Assuming the chipper, knowing air of the family patriarch, Rudd chose to attribute Hawke’s continuing political appeal chiefly to a ceaseless fund of septuagenarian sexual magnetism.

There was a peculiar, forced character to this assumed intimacy, of the kind you get when an incumbent is too painfully aware of the lingering moral authority of his predecessor and yet too unwilling to acknowledge it. And yet, as Tacitus well knew, it’s through your manner of giving respect to your elders that you reveal your own fitness for the role.

Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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