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Tin pot dictators, timid sycophants, and corporate schills – is that the best we can do?

“There is,” said an Italian philosopher, “nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

When the world needs inspiration, courage, integrity and resolve, we are dished up leaders like Trump, Boris and ScoMo – a bunch of buffoons completely unworthy of the title ‘leader’.

I recently read a speech from a leader that I consider truly inspirational, parts of which I would like to share with you, where he outlined in general terms the dangers we face.

“First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

The second danger is that of expediency; of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities.

…. idealism, high aspiration and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs – there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities – no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems.

A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.

For the fortunate amongst us, the fourth danger is comfort; the temptation to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of an education.”

These words resonated with me, eloquently articulating my despair and frustration with our current leadership. They were spoken by Robert Kennedy at the University of Capetown, South Africa, in 1966.

This is the same man who reminded us a couple of years later at the University of Kansas:

“the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Less than three months later, he was assassinated.

Did courage and inspiration die with him?

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  1. Jack Cade

    This article could have been written at any time in Australia after WW2, apart from a very brief interlude between 1972 and 1975. Nothing has changed; in fact it has worsened.
    And Sycophantic as Menzies was, at least he didn’t plunder the public purse or allow any of his party to do so. Biden’s ascent won’t make any difference – he will soon have a pair of Blundstones poking out of his arse. The only problem Morrison may have is his membership of the sort of Fundamentalist cult that Trump relied on. Biden’s Catholicism might mitigate against allowing Scummo to lick his arse.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Jack, Morrison would fly halfway around the world to get a photo op with Joe Biden.

  3. Jack Cade


    ..and he’d take his corrupt tongue-speaking mentor with him…

  4. Michael Taylor

    Jack, and he’d also take 412,000 photographers with him to make sure the photo is flashed across every screen or plastered in every newspaper – hard copy or online – in Oz.

    (Don’t know if Joe’s into the thumbs-up pose though).

  5. Kaye Lee

    I find it hilarious, and vomit-making, that ScoMo has an “official photographer” (ex-News Corp of course) who distributes ‘candid’ (but very obviously staged) shots for us all to….I dunno….’like’ or sumfin?

    “There was the PM, standing in his shorts, looking at his phone, with his thongs clearly on. There he was on an exercise bike while in Covid isolation after returning from his trip to Japan. And an extreme close-up, his nose, face and polo shirt, waiting patiently for the Covid-19 test swab to plunge in.”

    Perhaps someone needs to tell him that he isn’t a celebrity?

    Just f’ing do your job and stop with the ridiculous photos.

  6. Andrew J. Smith

    It’s interesting how the ‘leaderships’ of the Anglosphere i.e. the US, UK and Australia (latter two mostly following) are bad cartoonish knock offs of real tin pot dictators and/or ‘illiberal democracies’, who they wish to emulate, but more about autocratic tendency to retain power ‘whatever it takes’ and legislate on behalf of corporates, the real power.

    The major difference is the US obsession with God, guns and evangelical Christianity, but even the US is following secular liberal democracies with a decline in religious practice and belief; but all manage to adopt economic damaging to their respective nations.

    First common strand is autocratic radical right libertarian economic ideology (inspired by von Mises, Hayek, Buchanan, Friedman, Rand et al. and the Austrian/Chicago Schools plus their ‘experiement’ in Chile) exemplified by Brexit* on behalf of corporate entities to avoid EU standards, regulations and its supposed bureaucracy to become ‘Singapore on Thames’; forgetting their biggest market on their doorstep, the EU, that’s working out well?

    (*Australia has been trying to have its own i.e. ‘Chexit’ under orders from the Trump White House for an Anglospehere trading nirvana led by the US)

    Backgrounded by NewsCorp etc. agit prop, dog whistling the EU and immigrants for decades, drawing inspiration from US based Koch linked think tanks whether economic IEA Institute of Economic Affairs, TaxPayers’ Alliance etc. (IPA in Oz) or ‘immigration research’ (Paul Ehrlich’s mate) John Tanton for Migration Watch (also informs SPA, ON et al. others too numerous to mention in Oz).

    Again NewsCorp etc. dog whistling the latter to ageing monocultural electorates observing and becoming anxious about demographic change, then using their existential angst in ‘wedging in’ observant political ‘leadership’.

    Leaders are doing the bidding of corporate power while watching the hollowing out of liberal democracy e.g. policy making (think tanks), communications (NewsCorp, Crosby Textor etc.) and legislature or parliament (disrupt often and make unfit for purpose ex. tv content), while they carry on and present like Keystone cops….

    One would like to think this time will pass as it has been very dependent on electoral demographics of above median age voter and right wing media, hopefully to be balanced out with more diversity to follow; using some of the white nativist cliches the ‘tipping point’ and ‘great replacement theory’ will come into existence while MPs start looking like society 🙂

  7. Matters Not

    Re that introductory (partial) quote from Niccolò Machiavelli, best known for The Prince, written in 1513.. The remainder of this ‘thought’ then becomes the lesson(s) soon learnt by Ministers bent on significant reforms as well as other change agents.

    Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them

    Ah yes – the incredulity of the citizens; particularly as they age.

    As for Ministers and their media support, broadly defined, it’s only going to become wider and deeper. And because Menzies has been mentioned it might be pointed out that he was a great off the cuff speaker who had nowhere near the support available today. Most of his BS (and there was much of that) was self-generated. He didn’t need any help.

    Suggest that all Ministers will have their own U-Tube Channel in the immediate future because currently in Australia, it’s provided by SKY and that may not last.

  8. Max Gross

    Sideshow Scott isn’t a leader, he’s just another Liebral

  9. wam

    Yes, kaye, it appears so but bobby was going to be the donkey nominee who would defeat the elephant. My atrocious theory is sirhan acted to remove the catholic threat to nixon(loss in 1960 to JFK) Anja-Maria Bassimir and Elesha J. Coffman August 21, 2019 at 4:00 a.m. CST White evangelicals voted 84 percent for Richard Nixon in 1972 and 80 percent for Donald Trump in 2016. And many of the leaders stood by Nixon as scandals swirled around him, just as they have with Trump. The three murders of the 60s were men of action with King and Bobby the way out of racism and vietnam. Scummo is not worthy of being on the same page nor will he achieve anything worthwhile. But doing nothing has won 3 elections and a 4th is on the cards. I think he would sink if his christianity could be exposed as the instrument of recognition of homophobia or his sexist talk over anne ruston or his fossil fuel fetish.
    ps ming had the cold war he needed no other help but he got santa maria and 7 years of two wongs don’t make a white

  10. RomeoCharlie

    Another thought provoking read KL.

    MN, I findI am becoming more radical in my views as I age. Nearly always a Leftie I am told I am becoming rabid. If it is true the elderly favour the LNP, I wonder why. Pensions haven’t kept up with CPI and that in itself is an imperfect indicator and why the pollie a don’t use it for their pension calculations. Mind you, the alternative, average male weekly earnings, isn’t much better given the current governmental and business obsession with keeping wages down.

  11. Liz

    Welcome back, Kaye Lee
    How I have missed your incisive, fact based and comprehensive comments

  12. Matters Not

    RomeoCharlie re:

    If it is true the elderly favour the LNP, I wonder why

    A glance at the link below shows that it’s true (as a generalisation). Support for the Liberals in the last election (as reported by age) begins to rise in the 35 to 40 age bracket (but not in a straight line). By the time the population reaches the 65 plus bracket, the Liberals lead Labor in percentage terms 55 to 29. A massive advantage – which means that not too many carrots have to be offered to that cohort when the electoral campaign begins in earnest.

    Votes for Conservatives tend to be fairly consistent across older people because (as the ‘conservative’ name suggests) they are not in the business of making great changes. People who have planned for retirement don’t want the rules to alter when they are not in the position to do much about proposed new arrangements.

    Besides, as Guy Rundle points out in today’s (Sunday) Crikey.

    The bitter fact for progressives to accept is that Morrison is now perceived as a quietly competent leader, avoiding the chaos seen in the UK and US, and not pushing his own religious values into the general social space. Culturally, he’s governing to the left of himself in a country that has avoided the upsurge of a right in anything like the way that has occurred in the US, the UK or continental Europe

    Rudd attempted to ‘buy’ that (older) group with pension rises etc but it didn’t pay dividends. They remained conservative. Now Labor seems to be in a holding mode – trying not to lose more votes. No more talk of ending cash returns for franking credits etc


  13. Kaye Lee

    According to the IPA’s 1960 review of the previous decade

    “The great majority [of wage earners] are becoming “men of property” and men of property are conservative. What they have, they do not want to lose. This is economically, socially and politically one of the most portentous developments of the 1950’s.”

    Go Gadget

    And we’ve only gotten worse.

  14. Sailor Mick

    Kaye Lee

    Like many others have commented, it is great to have your excellent articles appearing again. I also, have missed your brilliant articles & comments.

    The fourth danger listed in the article (comfort), is the one within our society that concerns me. I feel/fear that the Scomo train is coming down the tunnel towards us again. And, to mangle & combine cliches, the current Opposition is standing, like rabbits in the trains spotlight, transfixed.

    They do not seem to be articulating an alternative narrative, to draw the electorate out of its comfort zone, & vote for it. Labor needs to do something, but not frighten the horses!

    Scomo has already done the Queensland thing. “here I am, & I’m one of you”. It worked last time, so why not again? I get the feeling that we’ll be off to the polls later in the year, & it’s likely to be more of the same afterwards. Now that’s comfortable, providing you’re not one of the ones receiving the rough end of the pineapple!

    So many cliches! (my apologies)

  15. David Stakes

    True ScoMo flying to meet Biden in a jot, as long as there is something in it for him. This time he may get a suprise.

  16. Kaye Lee

    Thanks everyone. I actually come here to read what all you are saying.

  17. DrakeN

    @ Kaye Lee: “I actually come here to read what all you are saying.”

    Me, too, also, Kaye.
    I often find the comments on articles, here and on other sites where comments are encouraged, to be at least as educating as the articles themselves.
    Being rather aged one of the great lessons that I have learned over the years is that there will never be an end to the ‘learning’; every answer invites another question, each new piece of information leads to a need to inquire further, and every “certainty” that I hold to will, sooner or later, need to be reviewed in the light of new information.
    I will go to my grave in the full knowledge of my own infinitessimally small understanding of the realities which I have encountered.

  18. Kaye Lee

    But that is a wonderful thing DrakeN. I love learning. I consider my articles conversation starters and then have the enjoyment of chatting with people without having to feed them or clean up. No-one can know everything. No-one is always right. Which is why we must keep questioning and updating. Which is a kinda ironic thing to say considering the article is about words spoken over 50 years ago.

  19. ajogrady

    Scott Morrison is the perfidious pentacostalot Pinocchio.
    Being corrupt contemptuous, contentious, contempable, arrogant and dismissive is not leadership. Scott Morrison is a reflection of him and his parties absolute corosive and corrupt poor governance standards that is regularly evident when ever one of the other failures in his party is found to be wanting in their respective portfolios. Corrupt and calamitous sums up the failed Morrison experience.

  20. Carole

    Being of an age where COVID would certainly finish me off, I think I can add something to the debate about old people and their voting habits. For five years now I have lived in a retirement village and I swear I am the lone leftie.
    They either
    Don’t want to hear bad news.
    Stopped reading anything but the Australian (I am in Queensland)
    Don’t watch any news, too depressing.
    Their children are relatively comfortable.
    Are bordering on dementia.
    By the time they move into aged care the wake up has come too late.
    At election time the management invite someone to come to the village to hand out postal voting applications. Guess which party would be invited by management ??
    It is enough to make you wish for voluntary voting.
    If you take my family as being average, only half of them are politically aware. There more affluent, the less interested. One member who is University employed with a PhD doesn’t know what party Dan Andrews belongs to. Neither does one other family member who has been living in Victoria.
    If that doesn’t depress you, nothing will.
    I start my day with several on line papers and rely on the BLT community for a bit of sanity. Without you people I would feel truly alone in this chaotic world.
    Thank you all, even the ones I don’t agree with.

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