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Our Leaders Lie. We Lap It Up.

They lie, play us for fools, change their minds on a dime and waste our money.

Sometimes they do much worse.

We wouldn’t have them as friends in a fit.

We’d avoid them like the plague at a dinner party.

So why do we keep electing them?

They, of course, are our “leaders”.

And around the world, in any era you care to name, they’re a pretty dodgy bunch.

The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes”  – author unknown

Leaving aside their politics – this article isn’t about partisan positions, it’s more about personality types and why we support them – let’s focus firstly just on how our leaders present themselves.

After all, that’s a lot of why we voted for them, right?

Some frightening examples from the near past.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher; surely among the most patronising public figures ever.

She always addressed us as a schoolmarm might tell a feeble-minded student their goldfish had just died.

Later, her successor Tony Blair would come to embody spin over substance in the most terrifying way, John Major would turn the simplest sentence into mind-numbingly dull word salad, Gordon Brown would perpetually sound angry with us – although we never knew why – and on and on it went.

In the US, former president JFK smiled a lot but was assassinated before we found out how spectacularly unfit – physically, morally and emotionally – he was for office, Richard Nixon turned looking furtive into a cringeworthy artform. Ronald Reagan made everything – from the mundane to military intervention – sound like third act exposition in a B grade movie and the less said about the personal “styles” of Bush Jr and Clinton the better.

Onetime Australian PM’s Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser competed for insufferable arrogance, Bob Hawke surpassed them with ease, Paul Keating looked and behaved like the Grim Reaper’s attack dog, John Howard’s media appearances made him the poster boy for unfailing untrustworthiness and Rudd-Gillard-Rudd was a blur of ego, ambition, subterfuge and government by soundbite.

I want to stress – again – that I’m talking about public persona and perception here, not the particular leader’s policies; some of the above achieved brave and remarkable things for their countries.


But given how they presented themselves, why did we elect them in the first place?

And it’s not as if we’ve learned our lesson.

Our blind spots at the ballot box continue with the current crop.

(Or crap. I wish this was the collective noun for politicians.)

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron sounds like the youngest headmaster ever to address St Trinians; his every utterance at the same time highly rehearsed and yet somehow ridiculous.

America’s Barack Obama looks for all the world as though he’s watching an all-important basketball game that’s going on just behind the camera.

Off to one side.

He’s not actually talking to us, he’s charmingly preoccupied and will get back to us after the match.



Australian PM Tony Abbott’s presentation is part neanderthal, part bully-boy.

(In the interests of balance, Bill Shorten is the “Tribute Band” Opposition Leader; while he turns up for gigs mostly looking the part, his pitch is off and you just know he hasn’t written his own material.)

Every nation gets the government it deserves.”Joseph de Maistre

If the above quote is true, our problem with our political masters goes way beyond how our leaders and would-be leaders look and sound.

It goes to their actual substance.

So, how do voters make that judgement?

And how do we get it so wrong, so often?

Psychologists say it’s complex but a major factor is that we have a “schizophrenic” attitude to what’s strong and what’s weak, depending on the context.

For example, in some political situations, we value and reward unwavering determination; it’s seen as a strength.

In a personal context, we’re more likely to judge the very same qualities as inflexibility and arrogance.

Our leaders, it turns out, are always facing this kind of double-edged sword.

Psychologists agree – broadly – on the qualities that make great leaders.

But the problem is these same qualities can also mask sociopaths, narcissists and just plain tossers.

For example, leaders show intelligence and make choices that move a group forward.

So too, do know-it-all wankers. They’re bright, they know it, and they’re determined to move you in one direction. Theirs.

Leaders embrace responsibility, psychologists say.

Again, we’ve all been led down the wrong path by a loud voice that sounded as if he/she knew what they were talking about but didn’t. Or wildly incompetent people who put their hands up for a job and then failed miserably. People like these were just itching for responsibility. It didn’t mean they were prepared for it.

Leaders, psychologists say, understand their followers and focus on their needs.

So do telemarketers, used car salesmen and jihadi recruiters.

Another trait shown by leaders we’re told is excellent interpersonal skills.

But the ability to influence doesn’t guarantee a desirable – even moral – outcome.

Think Adolf Hitler.

Or cigarette advertising.

Strong leaders have a need to succeed, we’re told.

Again, so do Nigerian e-mail scammers.

Drug addicts who need their next fix.

And angry loners with guns and too much time on their hands.

Psychologists cite courage and resolution as leadership traits.

But too much courage, or courage in the wrong circumstances, can be deadly – to oneself and others.

And people can be “resolute” about the darndest things; it doesn’t make them right.

In 1974, the world’s top scientists were focussed on the coming “Ice Age”, for example.

Perseverance is also listed as a prerequisite for leadership.

But when does single-mindedness, doggedly pursuing some objective against all the odds, become foolhardiness?

It might be another quality that’s downright dangerous in a leader.

Great leaders, according to psychologists, have abundant self-confidence.

So did my late cat, with particular reference to heavy traffic. (You’ll notice I said “late” cat.)

Flexibility and adaptability are leadership cornerstones, psychologists say.

But too often they can be seen in a political context as “backflips” or “broken promises” so politicians tend to err on the side of inflexbility.

In a sense, our leaders are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, on this one.

Assertiveness is often quoted as a mark of leadership.

And so it can be.

Leaders need to to able to lead.

But in the cut and thrust of political argy-bargy and to “win” the current round of the news cycle, it can easily tip over into outright bullying.

And then there’s the Magic Fairy Dust of politics – charisma – that indefinable quality that seems to make certain people popular.

But to be popular isn’t always right.

And to be right isn’t always popular.

Perhaps that best sums up the dilemma for our politicians.

Sometimes I pity our leaders, I really do.

(Not often; after all, they signed up for it.)

But in their defense, they’re being held to an almost impossible standard, hour by hour, in a goldfish bowl.

They’re being judged – often pre-judged – and then hung out to dry.

And, as the saying goes, they “can’t please all of the people all of the time”

But mostly I just wish they would make better choices.

And that we would too.

No Chairs. Just Seats.


Just weeks ago, Treasurer Joe Hockey told us that we’d “fall off our chairs” over some aspects of the Intergenerational Report.
It didn’t happen.

In fact, the silence was almost deafening.


The “national conversation we had to have” was a whisper, at best.
Expert analysis was quietly measured.
Comment was muted.
Meanwhile, a few puzzled pensioners pondered a future career at Bunnings.

But it left most of us feeling – rather than falling off our chairs – more like we were getting up from a bean bag.
There was a brief moment when we all realised we were getting older but after a few creaks and groans, getting back up seemed pretty do-able.

(Nothing to see here, folks. No chairs and no voters were injured in the making of this report.)

Smilin’ Joe probably should have saved the Hockey hype for the upcoming budget, due in just two months.
All the signs are he’ll need it.
To paraphrase another battle-weary cigar-smoking politician, this is a budget that is going to have to mean “so much, to so many, and be paid for by so few.”
And it’s LCP MPs who will be losing their seats if the government gets it wrong.
Remember, government attempts to get any of its key measures from the previous budget – was it really 7 months ago? – one after another have crashed and burned.
Senate difficulties aside, it’s been a legislative disaster.

So how is the next do-or-die document shaping up?
Remember, this is a document that has to turn around the iceberg-prone, barnacle-encrusted ship of state that is the Abbott government.
It has to re-set – can we stand another one? – the Abbott agenda.

Officially, the PM is upbeat.

“This will be a budget that is prudent, frugal, responsible,” Mr Abbott says.

“But there’ll be something in it for families, a better child-care deal in particular, and there’ll be much in it for small business.”

That’s good.
And bad.
Good because everyone loves fluffy kittens, sensible budget management, incentives and handouts.
Bad because it does nothing to address the real issue; the government has a hole the size of Texas in its income stream.
Too much money going out, not enough coming in.
It’s not like the Abbott government can plead ignorance.
This is the government – in fact, it goes back to when Mr Abbott was in opposition – that has banged on about the “Debt And Deficit Disaster” left by Labor until it was blue in the tie.
Yet even now its locked into a schizophrenic narrative.
On the one hand – politically – the government must counter the perceived surprises and unfairness of its first budget.
On the other – economically – it must reign in spending, potentially alienating the very people it is trying to woo back to the cause.
(A third imperative is to find large, reliable, politically-palatable income streams. But politics is “the art of the possible”, not the damn-near-impossible.)

Moving the nation’s finances from the red to the black seems as far away as ever.

Deputy secretary of Treasury’s fiscal group Nigel Ray has confirmed that the Abbott government’s current fiscal settings would never achieve a surplus.


That’s perhaps the most complete and competent refutation of the LCP’s claim that they’d put the adults back in charge if we voted for them in 2013.

And all the while there’s the ticking time bomb of Tony Abbott’s leadership.
A budget backlash would almost certainly lead to an explosion in the party room and then the PM’s office.

Leader-in-waiting Malcolm Turnbull must be on the edge of his chair in anticipation.

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