Months after I started it, I finally got around to finishing George Megalogenis’s Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the end of the reform era (Quarterly Essay, Issue 40, 2010). It’s a fine and rather worrying piece of writing, an insider’s account of what’s wrong with Labor, with the Libs and with the whole twisted logic of contemporary politics (he’s an ‘insider’ because the media is ‘inside’ the dumbed down, polls-driven and personality-driven political machine we currently endure). I would have liked more on the ills and misdemeanours of the media, and on the way the public demands a certain type of politician and then punishes him/her for becoming that politician. And Megalogenis’s argument about clashing generations needed a lot more detail to be completely convincing, Nevertheless, this is top class journalism – opinionated, passionate, entertaining but evidence-based.
One little quote: on the exaggeration of the trivial, Megalogenis writes,
The phony crises blur after a while. You keep expecting one or other combatant to wink at the camera to let the voter know they are putting on a show. But they mean it, every day, because the world ends for them if they don’t win that day’s media.
Late in the essay, Megalogenis quotes Julia Gillard – her comments suggests she fully gets the pointlessness – no, the strongly negative effects – of pollies trying to win the daily news cycle. But it seems that knowing it and changing it are two different things. But the media, business and the public judge politicians on this without considering closely enough the role that we have collectively played in building the monstrosity. It’s not like the world is going to end, but Australian politics at the moment is a little like the new houses that have sprung up all over Adelaide that have huge, designer carport doors, like giant slabs of Lego, behind which the house cowers.