‘Hi Dadda! Watchya doin?” This is the characteristic greeting of my two-year-old grandson, known to the family as Junior. He has a repertoire of such statements, including “Hey buddy!” or, when he sees you heading for the great outdoors and wants to come too, “I with you!”
Just recently — and this, as you will see, is intimately connected to Junior — I stumbled on a superb new interpretative lens for politics. It is a revelation. The whole nature of our political culture has become clear to me in a moment of dazzling insight.
This arises from a rare advantage I enjoy. Right now I have three grandchildren, aged respectively two, three and four. They explain politics completely.
Junior is the master politician. He has magnificent message discipline. He is a natural leader. He always has a plan. He always knows what to do next. And he is a bit of an enforcer. If he wants something, especially something in the possession of his four-year-old sister, he doesn’t give up. Persistence, persistence, persistence.
Also, he understands that political dialogue is a golf game, not a tennis match. He hits his drive, you hit yours. He hits his next shot pretty well regardless of what yours was. There are moments when you are talking and he is silent, but he is never truly listening to you.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. He may pay some attention to your response, but only to see if you are doing what he wants you to do.
In one respect, Junior is entirely different from most politicians. He is full of charm and goodwill. And yet of course that is what politicians aspire to, or at least aspire to look like.
My three-year-old granddaughter, Maneesha, quite different from Junior, is more like a junior minister.
She understands that Dadda — that’s me — is a public service resource that she can command at will, which is not to say she cannot be kind and loving to this resource, but she understands its place in the hierarchy.
Her papa, on the other hand, she relates to as a junior minister relates to the PM. She always wants his attention, she always wants more resources, but she engages in a good deal of buttering up as well. She also looks to the PM for political protection.
I don’t want to get her into trouble with the state authorities, but she is quite devoted to some fairytales. In some of these fairytales there are dragons and monsters. She was impressing her Papa recently with tales of how she would slay such a monster.
But at the end she disclosed that she would undertake this task only if Papa was by her side, and added a further stipulation: “You have to hold my hand, ’cos I’m a scary cat.”
My four-year-old granddaughter, Tatiana, on the other hand, resembles a promising new backbencher.
She is articulate, shrewd, judges people nicely and has reached the stage where she values my good opinion.
Staying with her parents recently, I took her to mass one Sunday night in southwest Sydney. She has, I am told, a record of occasionally being distracted in mass. Not this night.
For the hour and 10 minutes of mass the church was bursting at the seams, there was sublime hymn singing, offertory processions, signs of peace, people moving forth for communion and the like.
She was during all this perfectly selfcontained and attentive.
A rather forward older man (that is, older compared with Tatiana, perhaps five or six) brazenly approached her and without proper introduction told her he liked her shoes, which were indeed pretty dazzling. She responded with the cold hauteur and uncompromising disdain the situation demanded.
After mass, she not only valued my good opinion, but wanted it relayed to the ultimate party bosses, Mamma and Papa.
So you see I now have a new theory of politics to rival the insights of Alexis de Tocqueville, Edmund Burke and Jim Hacker.
Politics is for infants; the smaller the infant, the better the politician — the big difference being that politicians lack the charm, warmth, cuteness and infinite capacity for love that characterise infants.
Other than that, the theory’s a winner.