26 February 2006

Fit for office

On ABC's The Insiders this morning was a fitness instructor who said that she admired John Howard for going for a walk each morning, and that his "Energiser bunny" persona was important to her in demonstrating his ongoing fitness for office.

She acknowledged that it was shallow, but this observation may well be the tip of a deeper truth. Except for Whitlam, all Prime Ministers of the television age have looked as though the burdens of office were too much for them when they were defeated. Regardless of what Keating said in the 1996 election, and the "sources" who said that he was keen to beat Howard, his body language said, to quote Bob Dylan: come take this badge offa me, I can't use it any more. Hawke was exhausted in 1991, and Fraser looked much more worn out and haggard in 1983 than he does now. Bob Carr, Richard Alston, other senior politicians who have made the decision to go but haven't announced it go through the motions with their tidying-up announcements while their hearts and minds are not really in it. Mark Latham tried to convince people that he was more energetic than "old man" Howard and it didn't work; even before the pancreatitis, even before subsequent gaffes that showed cabbie-tackling energies could not be directed to good instead of evil.

Fat jokes aside, nobody believes that Beazley will take a more energetic approach to government than the incumbent. You can trust Beazley to explain why something can't be done rather than why some reform can and should (and damn it, will) go forward.

While it's true that a great deal of bollocks is talked about body language, it's true that a great deal of bollocks is spoken by politicians so sometimes people regard body language as pretty reliable or, at least, all you have to go on. It's one of those phenomena that is very telling in terms of outcomes, and which no amount of spin has any effect at all.