If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I’ll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I’m your man*
It’s unsettling to observe the speed with which Tony Abbott is attempting a personal transmogrification from street fighting, slogan-chanting, Putin-wannabe stuntman into calm, responsible, intelligent and concerned alternative prime minister.
Some might argue this is an indicator of the man’s ability to adapt to changing situations, and therefore positive. Others might point out that Abbott’s willingness to turn himself into whatever he thinks you want him to be is a troubling personality trait for the leader of the country. Does it indicate a lack of certainty on his part as to who he really is? Or, if he does know who he is, does his preparedness to adapt indicate a compulsion to act out what he thinks is required of him in any particular moment, rather than be himself?
We saw a similar early attempt to be who she thought we wanted her to be on the part of the incumbent PM, Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard went so far as to publicly declare the emergence of the “real Julia”, in retrospect not the most wise course of action for a leader, and likely a contributing factor to the punters’ lack of trust in her. Announcing that you’re going to be real now, as Abbott has done without actually declaring he’s doing it, can only cast troubling doubt on what you’ve been until that declarative moment.
The majority of punters don’t really care for leaders with shaky personalities. Someone who will change with the wind doesn’t inspire trust. There’s a fine but important line between mature adaptability, and self-interested false accommodation in the interests of gaining or maintaining power.
Abbott has spent the last two years showing us his aggression, his wilful ignorance, his inability to deal with anything remotely complex, his fascist reliance on slogans, and his willingness to use women close to him as human shields. In the space of forty-eight hours he wants us to believe he’s become prime ministerial material. All he’s done is change into yet another set of new clothes and clothes, as my grandmother always told me, do not maketh the man.
*Leonard Cohen, I’m your man.