It’s Tough at the Top

July 12, 2007 at 2:52 am (Uncategorized)

Poor old Johnny. His faculties have started the slow but steady mass walkout of old age. Think of it as a kind of union strike, if you will. One key member of faculty jumps ship and the whole institution comes tumbling down like a house of cards. It seems his powers of recall are not what they used to be. Or perhaps it’s nothing to do with memory loss at all.

I’m married to a man who has difficulty remembering names. I know perfectly well it can happen to anyone. Llew sometimes struggles to recall the name of someone he went to school with for six years. Occasionally he stumbles over my name, on more than one occasion calling me ‘Flick.’ That’s his sister. It doesn’t do a lot for a woman’s confidence to be misnamed at all, but I can tell you it’s especially mortifying when your husband calls you by his sibling’s name. There’s nothing flattering about it.

So I don’t want to suggest there’s anything deeply sinister simmering in John Howard’s white head. He forgot someone’s name. Big deal. He must be so tired – I bet he’s not sleeping as soundly as he used to, and not only because he’s old. I bet he’s got a pretty fair case of stress-related insomnia on the brew, and that makes it hard to function, let alone play name games on national radio. But I did find it interesting, I did, reading this article on SMH online, to note certain similarities between this latest blank and the last time it happened. You see, Johnny’s done it before. Last year, when he couldn’t remember the name of the Liberal member for Makin in SA. That member’s name is Trish Draper. This time we head further south to the great state of Tasmania. When pressed, Johnny admitted he didn’t know the name of the Liberal candidate for the important, Labor-held seat of Franklin. The candidate’s name is Vanessa Goodwin.

Can you see what these two people have in common, aside for Howard’s amnesiac reaction to them? Yes, that’s right. Pass GO and collect $200. They’re both women. Maybe I am drawing a connection that is unfair and incorrect. That’s possible. But when I look at John Howard’s politics, and when I look at the Invisible Woman, who has done absolutely nothing as far as I’m aware in her 11 years as wife of the country’s most powerful man, I can just about believe that Howard’s barely concealed, 1950s-style chauvinism might – even on a subconscious level – have contributed to the mental cue cards slipping.

I can only hope he stumbles over Maxine McKew’s name the same way, because that will mean he’s underestimated her. Because on some level forgetting the names of these two women is not a momentary lapse of memory. It’s about not having made the effort to know them. Something about those two women failed to penetrate his mind in an indelible way. I know Beazley had the same problem, and I’ve already said these things sometimes simply happen. But the fact that this particular chauvinist has forgotten these particular names did give me pause, and I wonder if it means more than the fact that our PM is old and tired.


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