Love him or hate him . . . (when I grow up I want to be director of cliche management for Hill and Knowlton).
Anyway John Quiggin has a characteristically good post about Paul Keating, contrasting the expression ‘Howard haters’ with ‘Keating haters’. His point is that the world was not full of people who hated Howard (in contrast to his policies) but that it was true that lots of people hated Keating (despite not strongly objecting to his policies).
Anyway reading the post it struck me how differently John and I see the world of politics. For John, Keating lost because “[f]or the majority of Australians, Keating was tied to the recession and that was that.” I have little doubt that Keating was tied to the recession and that that didn’t do him any good. But the problem with this interpretation is that Keating won the election where the recession was most strongly in people’s minds. True, they got spooked by Dr Hewson. But that gave Keating plenty of time to get the recession out of people’s minds. He didn’t. Why not? Because people wanted to see a bit of contrition.
They wanted to see a bit of humility and failing that they wanted to see the common touch. The strange and sad thing about Keating was that he had all the talent to give them what they wanted. All he had to do was edit out a few of the less attractive features of his personality – or those that the people didn’t like. His aggression in Parliament, his contemptuous and arrogance in dismissing contrary views. Editing our personalities for the onlooker is a skill all of us learn from primary school on. It’s not a hard skill, though perhaps editing out the more visceral aspects of one’s persona might require a little more self discipline. But it’s not as if people weren’t giving him this advice. But he was somewhere else.
Keating lost because of the way he presented his personality. Of course “the recession we had to have” became one of the things onto which people focused their dislike. And vice versa those who reacted negatively to the way he put himself over fulminated about the recession we had to have. But a few presentation skills, a bit of humility – faux or otherwise – would have given Keating a good chance at victory.
It is strange watching someone want something so much and yet be unable to hang onto what they have because they cannot yield on points of such little consequence.