The resident megalomaniac

Next year, you really should consider volunteering to help out with BB08 – that is the Best Blogs for the year series that James Farrell is currently editing with the help of a few of us.  There’s some dross of course – which gets most of us grumpy!  And then there are some marvellous posts.  One of several I’ve particularly liked was Barista’s obituary to Norman Mailer.

There’s a paragraph in there that reminded me of an expression of Peter Walsh’s – he of Failed Finance Minister fame.

In my smaller, Anglo-saxon petit-bourgeois parvenu immigrant soul, I have never been able to comprehend literary lions, those agonised, bellowing carnivores of the literary Serengeti, obsessed with fame, breeding and marrying and writing seemingly by priapic impulse. I see myself as a kind of short-sighted giraffe, munching leaves above it all, blurrily vague on the details, tripping knock-kneed and spindle-legged on bones and burrows. Mailer and his vastly gushing American mates demand their faces carved in stone on mountain tops, while I want to amount to the proverbial hill of beans. I am content to survive, and I celebrate those who want more.

Peter Walsh used to refer to the Prime Minister as ‘the resident megalomaniac’.  One of the things that strikes me about the PMs of my lifetime is that, whether you like them or not, or much more importantly, whether you think they did a good job or not, they were all up to the job.  I think John Gorton once said that the job was just too much for him.  I suspect that since the passing of Menzies, no-one was big enough to take on the job till Gough came along, then Fraser, Hawke, Keating and then Howard.

As a matter of fact I’d only call one of them a really good Prime Minister, and that’s the one whose party was silly enough to get rid of when its Opposition had just committed political suicide by announcing that it would impose a 15% tax on everything.  Caught inside the great echo chamber, not enough Caucus members could see that it would have been easy pickings for the Great Communicator.  But Hawke never got the chance.

In any event, we’ve had a remarkable string of people running the place, and they’ve all been larger than life.  They’ve all been ‘up to it’ which is to say capable of commanding the office and somehow – God knows how? – cobbling together some response to its impossible demands.   And they all wanted the job – viscerally – though, judging by his behaviour one of them seems to have spent the four years after he won the job wondering why he’d bothered.

Megalomaniac is such a loaded word.  It’s associated with the monsters of the world.  Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and so on.  Anyway, my definition of a meglo follows the logic of the passage I quoted above.  A meglo is someone who pushes themselves, who is never content with one level of success and pushes further. Such people often transform themselves in pursuit – an extraordinary thing for a human being to do, since for most of us life is a project of searching, finding, settling on and building a particular orientation to the world.  In my book Lady Di was a meglo. She probably would have simply been a nasty bored, Kensington wife had she not managed to snaffle the prince. But after a short while in the palace she found that her new position – and perhaps a few years of anti-depressants – allowed her to seriously consider embracing her inner meglo – and into superstardom she rocketed.

Winston Churchill was this kind of meglo, physically brave to the point of utter foolhardiness, Churchill’s fantasy was to save the world.  Extra-ordinarily enough – announcing to a no doubt startled Cabinet that he was sure they’d all prefer to be lying dead in the gutter in a pool of their own blood than to preside over the defeat of the British – he did just that!  And of all the PMs we’ve had Bob Hawke was my kind of meglo, like Churchill the Good Meglo – a person who’s ambition, sense of mission and fantasies of himself, led him not to simply grasp as much power as he could.  He understood that his own goals would be better served by being the conductor of the orchestra. And so he transformed himself from the brilliant, irascible larrikin and drunkard that he was into a disciplined, teetotalling, workhorse who got up at some ungodly hour each morning for a game of golf before work.  He gave us the best years of his life.

And now we have another Prime Minister.  I lived in Burgmann College with him – lived next door to the lovely Therese – and had no idea what was ticking away in there.  And though the demands we place on our leaders are simply inhuman – the range of skills we require them to have have never been incorporated together within a single human frame – I doubt it’s at all daunting for the new incumbent.  I doubt he’ll ever wonder if he’s up to the job.  The last PM who did that would have been Billy McMahon – and he was right to wonder.

It looks like we’ve got another larger than life PM on our hands.

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Bill Cushing
Bill Cushing
16 years ago

He’s now known among Canberrans as ‘Kevin24/7’.

Especially Public Service Senior Execs who have had their Christmas leave cancelled (to dismay of their kids).

16 years ago

This sorta glances off an earlier comment of mine on another thread.

Australia’s generally done pretty well with our PMs. Sure there’s been no shortage of meglomanics and emotionally damaged goods there but they’ve pretty much all displayed commonsense, sharp lateral leaps and keen footwork when it comes to getting out in front and leading where the populace is going. Barton, Deakin, Fisher, Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Holt, Gorton, Gough, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd. I’d have a drink with any of them and I’m sure vice-versa.

Except perhaps for Hughes and Bruce.

Winston Churchill was this kind of meglo, physically brave to the point of utter foolhardiness, Churchills fantasy was to save the world. Extra-ordinarily enough – announcing to a no doubt startled Cabinet that he was sure theyd all prefer to be lying dead in the gutter in a pool of their own blood than to preside over the defeat of the British – he did just that!

Oh yes. Just got for Xmas, Five Days In May and it’s pretty clear from reading it (where Lukas draws on the Mass Observation archives amongst other unexpected but effective sources) that pretty much no one saw that drunken showboat halfbreed-yankee political adventurer as anything but a stop-gap in the dark spring of 1940. Except perhaps the RN.

By all accounts Winnie got the job because a) he had better back-channels to FDR and so could get the Yanks in eventually and b) Halifax reckoned he couldn’t lead an effective wartime Cabinent with Winnie rampaging around underneath him.

But comes the hour, comes the man. And as I mentioned before, most of our PMs have generally done better and no worse than we would have in the chair.

Though I think Howard really fucked it up in terms of infrastructure.

And to keep this thread moving, I propose that the Hawke Cabinent of the mid to late eighties was the best government Australia has had so far.