I often find Op-Ed pieces in the daily rags to be either ideologically biased, un-necessarily critical or fawningly ridiculous. Let’s face it, when expressing our own opinions, which is what an Op-Ed is, we’re expressing our own personal biases, critiques, likes, dislikes or fondest wishes.
So it seems to be with Dr David Burchell‘s piece in today’s Oz. As a lecturer in Humanities and Languages with an expertise in Australian Politics – whatever an ‘expertise’ happens to be – clearly Burchell could be said to be an historian as well. However, anyone with even a passing interest in Roman history will know that Tacitus was not the moralist Burchell seems determined to make him out to be. Tacitus was a politician first and foremost. An orator of note to be sure, but a Plebeian Roman for all of that. Not high born, not a decision maker, but one of a small collective who yearned after the ability to be a decision maker through some of the darker days of the Republic.
His praise for the character of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, doubtless stems from that man’s ability to be both a leader of men as a General in the legions, and as a politically astute man who could sense the direction of the wind in Roman politics and tack with it. His support of Vespasian – himself a successful military leader – was doubtless his making. It’s easy to be a moralist when one has the voice and presence, not to mention the ear of those who make the rules. That Agricola influenced his son-in-law is no doubt correct, but that doesn’t make Tacitus any more or less of a moral man for that. These are, after all, Roman Senators who took advantage of opportunity when presented with it. Let us not ever forget that.
Which brings me to Burchell’s comparison of Rudd to Hawke. Is he trying to claim Hawke to be a modern day version of Agricola? Surely not? These two men, one considerably older than the other and steeped in considerably more of life’s opportunistic experiences than the other, are politicians. Creatures who make their own history off the back of opportunity. The only difference I see between Robert James Lee Hawke and Kevin Michael Rudd are the mistakes made by one and not yet made by the other. As with Agricola and Tacitus, Hawke & Rudd are entirely different human beings both thrust into similar life paths. Agricola became a Senator, as did Tacitus. Hawke and Rudd both Prime Ministers, one rode in on his innate charisma and basic ocker bloke persona, the other on his ability to appear clean cut, forthright, just and even a little righteous. Hawke was and doubtless still is self-indulgent and Rudd does come across, especially in his long-winded textual expressions, as self-righteous. The neo-liberal crusader, flirting on the fringes of neo-liberalism himself.
If anyone’s toga is slipping, I declare it to be Dr David Burchell’s. Perhaps he yearns for the days of charisma politics, for open emotional expressions by people in power and just that little bit of human frailty for which the Hawke-Keating era was known. I get the feeling that he’s not at all comfortable with the overt rigidity of the Rudd political machine, it’s micro-management and unwillingness to allow the great unwashed to see the division and disagreement which bubbles away in the Labor Party, beneath the calming oils of the Rudd regime. It’s there, for sure. We saw some of it on the weekend’s news. In the Hawke era, micro-management was called ‘consensus’. In the current Labor epoch, it’s called unity. Two entirely different concepts from two entirely different political animals but in the final wash, the outcome is the same. Tacitus would recognise collective pragmatism.