A Freudian would have had a field day with Tony Abbott's recent denial that his government was as bad as the Gillard government.
Even invoking Gillard's name was peculiar - she's long been gone from the front page - yet there it was as a header (and the story is here, with forced video):
...he bristled when asked if other key election commitments, including his prized paid parental leave scheme, might also be dumped.
''You're trying to say the current government is as bad as the Gillard government, we're not. We are a government that takes its commitments seriously,'' he said.
Oh yes, a Freudian could have a field day with that one. Why invoke Gillard? The immediate thought is that deep down he suspects he's mucking up the job ... just like Gillard. And who can argue with that?
There is of course a rich, fetid strain of guilt and self-loathing in any Catholic brought up within the Australian tradition - don't ask the pond how it knows, it just knows, oh bless me father, if I say a dozen Hail Marys will my filthy, perverted, sluttish ways be forgiven ...
When mixed with the difficult art of political re-invention, this can become a poisoned chalice.
Now some artists can re-invent themselves when the old brand becomes too familiar and jaded - think of all the wells Bob Dylan has visited. And some have a deep and wide enough well that it just keeps on giving, like a Beethoven ...
But political re-invention? Well everyone saw how Gillard was pilloried when she attempted to discover and sell the "real Julia Gillard".
Amazingly the attempt to discover the "real Tony Abbott" has now become a crisis for the reptiles at the lizard Oz, and who better to do the job than Greg Craven, furiously scribbling Strip off the cling wrap and just be Tony (behind the paywall, but you know how to google):
Why that's an illustration up there with the kinky plastic wraps of the angry Sydney Anglicans.
Leaving mummification in plastic aside, no doubt Craven thinks he's helping by acting as cheerleader, life coach and bottle washer for Abbott.
The approach allows him to get in some hearty, hefty swipes at the Ruddster - vanished into the orifice of history - and Gillard - a miserable tenure - and zany Clive Palmer.
It reveals what we might think of as the real Craven.
Ah, but what happens when the real Craven applies the same blowtorch to his hero?
Now Tony Abbott faces a population terminally cynical about political leadership, while struggling to get a restaurant bill through the Senate. In terms of waning institutional prestige, it is a bit like the decline of the Roman Empire, ending with six emperors on a single day, one of them a pumpkin.
The reason is obvious. Power cannot survive successful defiance. Rudd was defied by everyone, including the laws of physics. Gillard “ruled” under a triumvirate of quirky independents. Now Abbott faces daily veto by Clive Palmer and a zany group, some of whom seem to have won a reality show entitled Who Wants to be a Senator?
Oh dear, what to do, what to do?
Well that's when the life coach routine gears up, and Craven mingles forelock tugging with life coach bottle washing:
The critical task for Abbott in these circumstances is to break the cycle of prime ministerial pathos. He cannot afford to become another Rudd or Gillard, a helpless hostage to parliamentary misfortune. Remember that given a choice as prime minister between a plausible bastard and a decent marshmallow, Australians will opt for the bastard every time. They can tolerate mean effectiveness but detest weakness.
What this means is that, nearing the end of his first year in office, Abbott faces the defining choice of how to project a prime ministerial personality.
As a newbie, he has so far only been trying out expressions in the mirror.
Now reading that casually, you might think that what Craven is proposing is that Abbott should become a plausible bastard.
Which is absurd. Everyone already knows he's a bastard. He was a bastard when he was a boofhead head-kicker for John Howard, and he helped send Pauline Hanson off for a taste of jail. He was a bastard in opposition, and quite an expert bastard at that.
As for a plausible bastard, it seems Craven wants to turn Tony Abbott into Bob Hawke? How wondrously weird, implausible, impossible, delusional and sick is that?
What the inept Craven is on about is actually authenticity. You know, the quest for the real Tony, which is to say not a bastard, but a human bean.
Now the pond doesn't mind if Craven gives Abbott immensely stupid advice:
The key decision for a prime minister here is whether he is going to be a “product” or a “personality”. A product is the carefully manufactured idea of what a prime minister ought to be. You take the incumbent, chip away the horrors and camouflage the weaknesses. You accentuate the positive, try to fill the holes with political putty, and spin, spin, spin like Sarah Hanson-Young in a rage.
When it works, you get a sort of avatar prime minister, programmed for public perfection. Britain’s Tony Blair was perhaps the most successful example, until the political Botox began to sag. When it fails, you have a disaster: a plastic automaton mouthing the right lines in utterly the wrong way, knowing they are doing it and showing it all too clearly. Think of Gillard, transformed by spin doctors and spivs from a feisty education minister into a stuffed dummy prime minister.
The personality prime minister is completely different. This is where you run with the natural tendencies instead of running from them.
Dear sweet long absent lord, he wants to turn Abbott into a personality prime monster!
Normally, you do this for one of two reasons. Either your guy is God’s gift from political casting, like Hawke. Or they have such a strong personality that trying to disguise it would be as pointless as attempting to cover Mount Everest with a tarpaulin. Think Jeff Kennett.
Abbott is no Kennett, but he is going to have to face the fact that he will succeed or fail as a personality prime minister.
Yes, there it is again, he really does think that Abbott can somehow, at this stage in life, transform himself into a personality prime monster. A strong personality raging about like Jeff Kennett or King Kong, and never mind the political fate of those two apes.
There is no way you can airbrush that mind, those values, that speaking style or those ears.
Mind you, until now there has been a serious attempt.
Abbott has been so careful and so measured in most of his public utterances that he seems to be channelling a funeral director at a chancy burial.
But it does not work. The genuine spontaneity becomes strain. The quirkiness becomes awkwardness. The deeply held convictions become potential traps to be avoided.
Given time, the whole impression will become Gillardesque, a prime minister encased in cling wrap.
Are we there yet?
And yet, there it is again, the foreshadowing of doom, the invocation of the name. It's a bit like a Greek tragedy ... Gillardesque, encased in cling wrap ...
Yep, we're already there, and no doubt with this sort of useless, hopeless advice from his friends, that's why of late Abbott's been showing the strain.
If that's the best his friends can say about his public performances - strained awkward funeral director stumbling into deeply held traps, a prime minister encased in cling wrap - then Abbott is doomed, and the sooner he's put out of his misery before the next election, the better for him and for the rest of us and maybe even the Liberal party.
You see, it's just another search for the real Julia Gillard, only now Tony Abbott is the one who has mislaid the real Tony Abbott, though Craven thinks he caught a glimpse of it:
The only way for Abbott to succeed as Prime Minister is to be Abbott.
What's that? We've had a fraud, an impersonator, a dissembler, pretending to be an Abbott, as opposition leader and now Prime Minister, but all along not really being an Abbott?
How weird is that?
A confection, a thespian, an ingénue in the lead role, a stooge, a soubrette, a barnstormer, a clown and a comedian, an understudy who did the walk-on and the warm-up but now must realise he's got his name ahead of the main title:
If he is indeed ineradicably Tony, then the job of his minders is to make him “Our Tony”, not their Anthony.
Uh huh. Just like "Our Tony Blair" ...
Forget all that actor stuff. We're talking marionette here, Pinocchio and never mind that the lie-laden nose was recently seen crossing the equator ...
Which is why his performance over the Malaysia Airlines catastrophe was so impressive. Not because he showed unique qualities of leadership: most Australian prime ministers can rise to a disaster.
But for a moment he forgot not to be himself. And he looked good.
In short, what Craven seems to be suggesting is that the country has a deeply alienated funeral director in charge of proceedings, and the only way he seems to be able to come good is if the country endures a series of disasters.
Seriously, this is the best that Abbott's friends can do?
Are we going to have years more of this stuff? It was tiresome enough when everybody went on the hunt for the real Julia, but lordy, lordy, now we have to hunt the snark again, in a quest for the real Tony, as constructed, moulded and shaped by his minders?
As if somehow you can escape yourself and become someone else entirely.
Uh huh. Credit where credit is due:
Greg Craven is the vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University.
The long absent lord help its students ...
But is there an upside? Well of course there is. There always is at the pond, which is always standing by, ready to discover the real inner pond ...
So the pond was reminded of Alan Moir's immortal series of Popeye cartoons, which, unlike Craven's useless blather, caught the real Abbott with a scalpel, and pinned the dissected butterfly to the wall.
And he didn't need kinky jibber jabber about plastic wrap. He only needed that can of spinach:
There's many more of course - and more recent Moir here - but it brings us back to that hidden fear, that psychological trauma, that scarring deep in the heart and mind of Abbott.
Having destroyed Gillard, relentlessly, mercilessly, without pity, love, charity or Christian kindness, he saw his own future fate in her eyes. And now it haunts him, like Poe's raven or Wilde's Dorian Gray canvas or any other number of doomed anti-heroes:
Ah, the good old albatross of past behaviour and deeds.
And nothing his life coaches and his cheerleaders say, do, suggest or propose can stop it, and there is no transformation to hand which will help him avoid it. And even worse, he hasn't had a tormentor in his own class to do it to him. All he's had is Bill Shorten, which is to say no opposition at all.
Instead he's managed to do it all to himself, though the help of his team, not least Tongues Morrison, Poodle Pyne, jolly puffing Joe, and George "Barnacle" Brandis, should also be acknowledged and commended ...
Which is why Freudians can have a field day ...