It's not often that Mike Carlton misses the mark, but today his frolic for the Fairfaxians sounds quaint, as he disinters an old figure of fun, and has the hoary stockinged wretch, Lord Downer of Baghdad, scribble a tome of memoirs, My Foreign Affairs.
Not that there's anything wrong with Carlton's The memoirs of Lord Downer, it's just that the time and the world has moved on, and amazingly - well not so much if you contemplate NSW's infrastructure - Bob Carr has briefly managed to erase memories of Lord Downer as a pompous git.
This is a considerable feat and deserves recognition, all the more so as the book-flogging trouper Carr has turned up in all sorts of odd spots in a bid to flog his book.
He even turned up last night on Rebecca Huntley's Question Time on RN, after Huntley's guests had paved the way by gently mocking Carr (why would you endure it for the first time or again, but you can endure it by heading off here).
The online image features steel cut oats, Carr's breakfast of choice as a cruising foreign minister:
Too much information.
Carr is of course so tone deaf, or perhaps so inured, or so egotistical and deluded and narcissist, or in so far that to go o'er were as tedious as to return, that he played the supercilious ponce to perfection, and then after filling the vacuum and avoiding radio dead time (of the kind that lately sees RN playing its standby tune on almost a daily basis), he was off into the night ...
It does also say much about the wasted, woeful life the pond leaves. After all, there's Bob Carr on a Friday night on a station with an * for ratings, and there's the pond listening to it. How to preen and sound superior to Jackie O?
No, Carlton needed to give at least equal time to the existential absurdity that overnight Carr has become.
When the chattering classes gather around the water cooler to chatter, there's no point remembering Lord Downer's many monumental follies, with their sundry assorted wretched consequences, as he fellow travelled as a deputy sheriff in stockings.
Not that there's anything wrong with a taste for high heels, unless you're a conservative and have a thing about leopard patterns.
No, it's just that there's a current poseur gadfly to deal with ...
The Australian Financial Review understood the enormity of the task, and sent in Mark Latham to scribble Verdict: Bob's your boring uncle (outside the paywall for the moment).
When asked to review the tome - no, it's not a book, it's a tome - Latham understood the deeper dilemma:
OK, I’m up for it. Bob is an elitist twat, but so what? The whole system is upper-class and up itself. When I was there, I wasn’t allowed to swear or even rough up the odd taxi driver.
I hate the thought of wading through the book. It’s bound to be full of self-indulgent American stuff; Bob sitting around with old farts like Henry Kissinger, pontificating about the third day at Gettysburg. How about I just defend Carr as one of the great characters of Australian politics? He’s under attack from News Corp, so my autopilot is to push back against the Evil Empire.
Yes, the evil empire has been having a field day with Carr, and no nostalgic yearning for the lost days of Lord Downer can make up for it. Naturally Latham was numbed:
11.40pm, Thursday April 10, 2014, Mount Hunter, NSW
That’s a half-day I’ll never get back. Absolute, mind-numbing tedium. Bob wasn’t popping sleeping pills as foreign minister, he was devouring serious pills. The media has cherry-picked the eccentric bits to get their headlines, but the other 99 per cent of the book is wearisome pap.
Carr didn’t need Normison to overcome jet-lag on the diplomatic circuit, he just needed to read his own diaries at night.
I should have known better. How one forgets the media’s treatment of political diaries. The hype about Grasshopper’s diaries tells us more about the tabloid press than the book itself. It’s all about headlines; the integrity-sapping drive for commercial media revenue.
Of course Latham half-hoped that Carr would step outside the tent with him, and they could both be gone from the political scene for some little time:
8.15am, Friday April 11, 2014, Mount Hunter, NSW
I can’t believe Bob wrote that book. He’s become a Truss, a Bowen, an Andrews – a self-absorbed, serious insect.
Where are the witty anecdotes and pen-portraits of wacko international figures?
It doesn’t sound like Carr. What happened to the carefree character who used to read German textbooks during question time in the NSW Parliament?
Where’s the quirky fellow who boned up on the teachings of Marcus Aurelius, wrapped in a paper bag, during the volleyball finals at the Sydney Olympics?
Where indeed? Perhaps Aurelius would have had something useful to say about planning aqueducts and water supplies and roads ... You know:
That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.
Never mind, Latham finishes off with gusto, and a place in the pond's heart for evoking Monty Python:
He used to be part of the fun of politics, part of the theatre of the absurd. Then someone told the silly bugger he was running the world.
No Australian foreign minister has achieved anything of any note since Gareth Evans’s 1991 Cambodian peace plan, and Bob is no different.
So why the great pretence that an endless circuit of talkfest meetings mattered any more than a warm bucket of spit? The diaries reflect the feverish inconsequence of Australian diplomacy. We’re not as important as we think we are.
At times, the book takes on a Monty Pythonesque tone, through its galaxy of obscure acronyms (CARICOM, LLRC, FSA, AIPAC, etc). With the incessant focus on the Middle East (rolling Gillard on some meaningless UN resolution), I was half expecting the People’s Front of Judea to take on the Judean People’s Front.
Forget the media critique. Bob’s greatest sin is not elitism; it’s eye-glazing boredom. In his dietary habits, Carr is obsessed with protein. It’s a shame he didn’t put any into his diaries.
Ah, the steel cut oats again.
But it's the Python joke that helps explain exactly why a humourless git like Chris Kenny isn't up to the job, as he goes about doing his hack hatchet job on Carr for the evil Empire.
Kenny opens up his own tome, First-class whinger provides a gift to the Coalition, wrapped up in silk pyjamas (inside the paywall because you're routinely expected to pay for routine stupidity and bear-baiting), with this effort:
The party of the workers has donned the first-class pyjamas and flown away from the suburbs to some climate change conference or policy symposium
WTF? A climate change conference?
If only Carr had flown off to a climate change conference and done some useful things.
And what's so offensive about a policy symposium?
The problem of course is that the climate change reference says oodles about Kenny, his delusions and obsessions, and bugger all about Carr.
It's to suggest that climate change and climate science is on a par with first class silk PJs or steel cut oats.
Only a genuinely deluded fop could see it as a sharp barb.
As for policy symposiums, Lord Downer of Baghdad wasn't above attending the odd symposium, as relief from his onerous junkets, and duties as deputy sheriff ...
Kenny's thrust is a bit like an adult at a party game valiantly attempting to pin the tail to the donkey, and managing only to pin himself.
The problem for Kenny is that he was once part of the circus, one of the clowns in the ring, and what a high-heeled circus it was:
For Carr it was an irresistible gift, an autumnal star turn on a global stage. Soon after he took the job Carr invited me to dinner to pick my brains. (I worked more than five years as media adviser and chief of staff to the nation's longest serving foreign minister, Alexander Downer.)
I was hoping to discern a sense of Carr's foreign policy priorities. Carr was engaging company (of course) but conveyed no sense of how he wanted to shape our international relations. He struck me as a dilettante and this impression was reinforced by indiscreet snippets from diplomats in subsequent months.
Here's a man who worked for Lord Downer of Baghdad dismissing Carr as a dilettante!
Was that the high heels kind of dilettantry, or the flat soled kind?
And amazingly he seems to have expected Carr to outline to Kenny, his - which is to say Carr's and the federal government's foreign policies and how he intended to shape Australia's international relations.
It might have been a brain picking exercise but was there much of a brain to pick?
Lord Downer's adviser speaking of dilettantes!
It isn't remotely sustainable, and Kenny knows it.
In the end he lets Carr off lightly, by trying to take a grander view of the world:
Carr's diary inexplicably reveals his peccadillos, as well as gripes about his jetsetting lifestyle.
Sssh, don't mention the high heels.
And the tedious column comes to a tedious point-scoring conclusion:
This week, while Carr was drawing Labor back into its own divisions, preoccupation with marginal issues and love for the trappings of power, the Prime Minister was in Japan, South Korea and China cementing and progressing trade deals and re-emphasising security links.
The contrast could not have been more flattering.
Which is of course to assume that the agrarian socialists are happy with the deal done with Japan, or that South Korea seriously imagines that an image of Tony Abbott standing in the DMZ is roughly equivalent to Ronald Reagan demanding that walls be torn down, or that Abbott has a snowball's chance in hell of resolving the ongoing turf wars between Japan and China, with South Korea adding extra spice ...
Carr is already a feather duster, and thus far Julie Bishop has proven to be a lightweight, and it's typical of Abbott's grand-standing that he's attempting to score all the kudos ...
Now if we wanted to talk about flattering contrasts ...
As always, the pond is left looking for answers, and as always, they don't come from the likes of Chris Kenny, they come from the likes of David Pope, and there is, we always mention, more Pope here.
In this one, Pope draws together the pond's profound irritation at the buffering experienced nightly when attempting to connect to the world, fear of old age in an Abbottian world, and plantation life. If only he'd mentioned Python, it would have been complete.
Oh okay, maybe string would be better than HFC ... better let the grand Malaise know that this might well be the multi-function technology that provides the perfect solution to all the nation's woes ...