I have a running joke with my wife. Every time she comes home she surveys the wreckage of the house with an exasperated sigh and then inspects the kids for evidence and injuries. Her first words are always something along the following lines:
“Why is there Milo in the toilet?” or “What happened to my grandmother’s necklace?” or “How did the baby get on the roof?”
And with clockwork regularity I look up from the couch and say: “Don’t ask me darling, I was here the whole time!”
The premise of the joke is pretty obvious – the only thing worse than a f**k-up on your watch is the admission that you weren’t watching at all.
And then I saw the ministerial testimony at the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine fiasco and realised the joke had become real. And it wasn’t that funny.
In fact it was just plain sad – not just for the tragic facts themselves but the notion that hard-nosed political operatives would so desperately cling to their jobs by admitting they didn’t know what their jobs actually were.
We have all seen people attempt to whitewash history. Never before have I seen people so desperate to whitewash themselves. It is unbecoming to say the least.
Compare this sorry spectacle to another political trainwreck this week, namely the first US presidential debate. Obviously the word “debate” can from now on only be used with inverted commas but at least its participants used words apart from “I don’t know”.
The most striking similarity is that both cases the political leaders involved were completely disconnected from reality.
In Victoria it was a monumental lack of awareness of what was happening within the ministers’ and Premier’s own departments to combat what they themselves had cast as a once in a century public health and economic disaster.
It honestly defies comprehension that the state government which went so far beyond all scientific evidence and advice to zealously destroy the coronavirus at all costs would have political leaders so utterly uninterested in and ignorant of the hopelessly inadequate measures being taken to do so. Not just in a general sense, mind you, but within their very portfolios. It is nothing short of staggering.
And even when the Health Minister finally resigned – as she ought to have many months ago – it was not from a sense of profound regret and accountability for her inaction but because she sulkily objected to her Premier throwing her under the bus. The Americans are lucky they only had one shitshow this week. Australia has been forced to witness two.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, Ohio the two candidates for Leader of the Free World have also demonstrated they have little to no connection with the real world.
On the all-important matter of the economy, the most significant area of domestic politics over which the US President has real direct power, both were disingenuous – at least insofar as either could keep speaking long enough to be disingenuous.
Obama and Biden did indeed pull the economy and jobs growth out of the jaws of the GFC. They deserve full credit. Likewise it is unfair to blame Trump for the brutal economic crunch born of COVID-19 lockdowns instigated by state governors.
Sure, you can argue that people died because he wanted to keep the economy open, but you can’t then say that it’s his fault the economy tanked because they shut it down anyway. Attack Trump by all means but at least pick a side and stick to it.
Still, at least there was life in the US presidential debate, however angry and ugly that life may look. That’s a very different scenario to the deadened state of Victoria where everyone just seems to be fleeing the crime scene. At this rate it will soon be a chalk outline searching for a body.
It’s a choice that no citizen should ever be forced to make but I’d much rather have a leader claiming credit for something he didn’t do than a leader begging for survival by claiming he didn’t do anything at all.
Ultimately all politicians are sharks: When they stop swimming, they die. And the rest of us are left treading water in a sea of hope and fear.
Joe Hildebrand is the co-host of the US politics podcast I’m Usually More Professional and Nights with John Stanley at 8pm Thursday on 2GB.