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Chris Kenny's Don Quixote moment

  • 19 February 2015

Trawling through the political commentary in the weekend papers is normally a pretty sober business. But once in a while you find something that makes you chortle with delight. So it was when I fell upon the opening sentence of Chris Kenny's piece in last weekend's (February 14–15, 2015) Australian:

'For all the Coalition's failings and missteps it is surely incontestable that Tony Abbott has provided the best 16 months of government Australia has seen in more than seven years.'

Initially it was the crevasse between the claim (for which, incidentally, Kenny argued his case strongly) and public opinion that surprised. But the delight arose out of the crafting of the sentence itself.

Consider its elements: the chutzpah of the initial concession of the failings and mishaps, which to most people have come to be the whole story; the crisp magisterial tone of 'surely incontestable' to stare down the small boys all too ready to contest; the central claim that this was not merely a good government but the best; the dying fall of the reference to the last seven years; the teasing of 'more than' — might perhaps we consider this government better than that of Mr Howard's latter years?

This is a sentence full of defiance, of self-assurance, of disdain for naysayers. To me it evoked the image of a gold braided and bemedalled captain on the bridge, proclaiming the sea-worthiness of his ship, and saluting as the sea rises to meet his nose while the wailings and scrabblings for the lifeboats by lesser mortals die into silence.  

Such magnificent gestures of defiance are not to be despised. They ennoble politics by reminding us of the fragility of any human endeavour and the ambiguity of human plans, while at the same time embodying the human spark that transcends any political project. They bring us back to what matters.

That is why so many such gestures have become part of our myths:

- Diogenes going by daylight with a lantern through Athens in search of a just man.- St Peter wanting to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die like his master.- Lawrence asking his executioners to turn him because one side had been adequately cooked.- Thomas More asking the axeman to spare the beard that had done the king no wrong.- The then grandfatherly Colin Cowdrey flown out to face the rampaging Lillee and Thompson.- The young women who put flowers