the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

‘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.

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