Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paul Keating: Does Anyone Cast A Longer Shadow over National Public Affairs?

Does anyone cast as long a shadow over national public affairs as Paul Keating?

I think the answer is: No. Certainly no former politician, at the very least.

Nobody has greater political and commentariat star-power; nobody has the ability to make such a wide range of people stop what they're doing, look up and take notice; nobody gets the chattering classes chattering at such speeds and volume; and nobody, it appears, commands such adulation from some journalists for his colourfully descriptive turn of phrase as the former Prime Minister, Treasurer and Member for Blaxland, Paul Keating.

And this incredible resonance in the public discourse, decades after leaving the national stage, was there for all to see in the social media world yesterday.

The build-up of expectations on Twitter, prior to Keating's appearance on ABC's 730 show last night, was something to behold.

Regular correspondents tweeted breathlessly about the upcoming interview, Keathing's continued love of fashion, blithe references to clocks and Mahler, some with hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute countdowns, some even using a postscript hashtag of #squeeeee (!) to underline their excitement. It was an extraordinary cacophony of utterances from a bazaar of sycophants and acolytes; followed blow-for-blow by some equally colourful Keating-dislikers and tweeters with a keen sense of history and an unmuddled rear-vison mirror.

In fact, it pretty much cut short and part-buried another big story around at the time: Ricky Ponting's resignation as Australia's Test and one-day cricket captain.

And then there was the flurry of faithfully-transcribed tweets of the interview itself.

When the much-attended-on Devastating Keating One-Liners finally arrived - "those dead men and women hanging around your neck" the "sicko populism" "jumping on and off buses and trains as transport minister doesn't give you the authority to lead the party" "it'll be like lead weight in the saddle bag, that's all" etc etc - these were recycled all through the night and dominated today's headlines.

Usually there is something of an arm's length relationship with these sorts of figures. In terms of ex-Prime Ministers: it's all a bit still too raw for the public with Howard; Fraser has an odd public persona these days; Hawke is almost a caricature of his former self.

But not PJK.

The love affair with the Australian political class endures, even after all these years. And channels like Twitter continue to give it a monster run.

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