Tall Poppy Syndrome

This article first appeared on http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/

Apparently Kevin Rudd is worth $60 million. Apparently Malcolm Turnball is worth $120 million. Apparently this is an issue because apparently the drought has not killed off all the tall poppies. Yes folks the ever-present egalitarian Aussie scythe is out and swinging’ and it has our top two pollies in its sight.

Australian’s are compelled to deflate the pretensions of those who take themselves too seriously or flaunt their success without due humility. We like our leaders to be like us. It’s called the tall poppy syndrome. Turnball’s mistake the other week of not knowing which footy team he supports could eventually prove an election issue and Kevin’s recent nifty off swinger on the parliament lawn could swing a few seats.

We have carved ourselves a classless Elysian Fields, the final resting place of meek, where millionaires rub shoulders with the unemployed under the beach showers, taxi drivers yell with surgeons at the footy and tradies swap waves with intellectuals in the surf. Indeed this all noble stuff but when writ large as with the Rudd/Turnball ‘modesty-off’ we have going on now, there’s an element of farce that echoes Monty Python’s We Were So Poor skit. “Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpaulin, but it was a house to us.” Stop Press! Kevin grew up in a corridor with 126 others and young Malcolm had to eat gravel for breakfast!
For me, the most striking thing to come out of this race to the bottom to get to the top is the contrast with the US presidential candidates. Over there you wear your wealth and success as a badge of honour. It shows the kind folks at home you keenly align with the core US values of rugged individualism and nous. It tells the voting public you are capable and you’ve lived in the real world and prospered on your wits. Perhaps the most direct parallel is John McCain. Just like our Therese, his wife Cindy is stinkin’ rich. Cindy is an heiress to her father’s stake in Hensley & Co. of Phoenix worth over US$100 million. Her beer earnings have afforded the GOP presidential nominee a wealthy lifestyle with a private jet and vacation homes at his disposal, and her connections launched his political career. And no one holds that against him. Sorry Kevin.

Then there’s Mitt Romney a one time serious Republican presidential contender. He was CEO of a significant management consulting firm called Bain & Company, and he was all over private equity as co-founder of Bain Capital. After this stellar business career he was CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics and then became the 70th Governor of Massachusetts. Today Mitt has a net worth of $400 million USD, not including a $100 million blind trust in the name of his children. In the US such a hugely lucrative career as a banker credentials him as a capable administrator, worthy of public office. Sorry Malcolm.

Then there’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, not short of a dollar or two, who racked up more than $30 million in debt during her Democratic primary campaign, (mind you she could emerge from her loss with a bundle of campaign cash to either play kingmaker or mount another campaign of her own.) Sorry Bill.

This article appeared on http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/ in 2009. ABC Unleashed presents diverse and robust opinion about politics, society, belief and behaviour.

Meanwhile back here in Oz it’s all about modesty and to maintain that ruse here’s a few etiquette tips for the aspiring polly. Lose any trace of superiority in public, don’t enunciate too clearly, punctuate sentences with the word mate (pronounced maaattte!!), practise comfortably sipping beer from a bottle for the camera and never, ever say “joy good show” when you can say “on ya”. Be comfortable in the surf, be happy to kiss babies for the cameras, keep your wealth a dirty little secret, and most importantly avoid Italian suits and French clocks.