Are faces too human?

I can’t say I’ve ever taken much notice of the relative content of The Age’s print and online editions. But I’m intrigued by the non-appearance in print of an online article by Daniel Street, dated 9th July. The assigned headline “Listening, caring Rudd has always been here to help” is de rigueur. But the content recounts firsthand the human face of the Prime Minister one rarely if ever sees.

As one who was closely associated with Mr Rudd at university, none of the qualities of humanity and compassion, as well as vision and discipline, come as even remotely surprising. However the comments to the online article underscore the disconnect between Street’s honest observations and the immutable judgement of the commentariat.

So I ask: What is it with the culture of today’s media, that any hint of humanness in the most senior politicians is so clinically filtered from the public gaze? Is it just the good ol’ tall poppy syndrome? Or is it some ideological determination to retain politics and politicians as objects of entertainment? If a nation cannot respect its leaders, the nation loses.

Go on, shock me. Publish this letter.

Manners, please

After a week in which public political discourse has reached a new low on the common decency index, the community deserves better than major organs of media dancing to the new discordant tune of Labor’s frontbench. To the end of a speedy return to civility, The Age could do far better than publish a column such as Michael Duffy’s puerile character attack on Kevin Rudd (Opinion, 27/2).

Peppered with lines like “Rudd, whose ghastly smile can look so false it seems to come from another face … something constructed using an old police identikit” and “his sentences sound like they were constructed in some other language and turned into English by a cheap translation app”, and phrases like “extreme narcissism” and “this malevolent Tintin”, it is very much to be hoped that Duffy’s piece is not an earnest of the new political “analysis”. Poking fun at someone’s facial features and speaking style is grating though normal in a 10 year old at recess, but entirely out of place in responsible dialogue.

Duffy should apologise and the editorial team should think harder – especially this of all weeks. Oh and Michael, back to school to learn some manners.

Honesty: a political health hazard

A senior politician admits serious error on national television, and the nation’s collective lower jaw hits the dirt.

After the necessary analysis from commentators and letter writers on Kevin Rudd’s already immortalised Q&A gambit, we would be remiss to let this instance pass without asking questions larger than the Kevin & Julia soapie. Why is such transparency at the top so clock-stoppingly rare?

Is it because politicians are fundamentally untrustworthy, as current popular discourse avers? Or is it rather because our democracy is so, err, “robust” that honesty has become a political health hazard? In modern politics, it just doesn’t do to admit failure. Not if you want to extend your time in office, that is. Our culture has become far too unforgiving of human frailty. Admit misjudgement, and howls of “Incompetence!” will erupt, with demands for resignation or sacking. Few of us would accept in our own professional lives the standard of perfection we demand of those we elect to govern us. Mention a mistake and you’ll be sent packing at the next election, that is if your poll-obsessed party machine hasn’t dumped you first.

Don’t blame the pollies. They’re just dancing to our tune.

Fair gone

Julia Gillard, and those chiefly responsible for her elevation to the party leadership, could belatedly recover the respect of many Labor voters with a simple transparent acknowledgement of how Kevin Rudd’s removal may have looked to the watching electorate. We’ve heard the rationale, the justification, the theories about the polls, the leaks and the collapse of the Rudd brand. But we also watched the sudden clinical disintegration of a very public partnership, if not indeed a friendship, a hastily rewritten script, and the tearful public humiliation of a respected, if frail, leader. And in our hearts we said: “Something just isn’t right.” The collective numbness was palpable. And so we were left with questions about loyalty, trust, humanity and the folkloric “fair go”. The answers do not lie in more spin.

That, I suspect, is why many ordinary people voted differently.