The politician mugged by his own humanity
Note: For the background to this piece read SA Treasurer Kevin Foley’s unprompted tell-all interview here.
Regardless of whether you think Kevin Foley is a good bloke and a talented treasurer, or a boofhead and an economic incompetent, only the most flint-hearted observer could watch his unravelling this week and not feel some empathy for the man.
In order to succeed in the often horrible business of politics, politicians must almost dehumanise themselves – that is, they must think through everything they do, what they say, how they dress, who they are friends with, how they choose to spend their limited free time, because everything they do has potential political ramifications.
Right down to the level of getting your partner and kids to put on their glad rags for the glossy mailout you send out to 20,000-odd households once every four years, projecting yourself as the very epitome of domestic bliss.
That is not intended as a sob story on their behalf. They know the rules when they go into the game. And given the influence they wield over people’s lives, and the fact that it’s the people who pay their wages, people have every right to know more about them than they do about private individuals.
But that disclaimer should not erase their humanity. And over the past few days, we have seen in Kevin Foley a bloke who has been mugged by his own humanity.
Watching him unravel, starting with his jaw-droppingly candid and heartfelt interview with The Advertiser, we have seen in Foley a bloke who suddenly stopped acting like a politician, who went spectacularly “off message”, as the strategists would say, by painstakingly chronicling every one of his foibles before the world.
There can be no political strategy to what he has done. It’s probably destroyed his chances of becoming premier. And it’s unlikely to have helped the Government, as it’s everything political parties try to avoid – instead of the clichéd mantras about steady hands on the tiller, working for jobs, investment, the future, we’ve seen a self-described lonely guy who has trashed his marriage, whose subsequent high-profile dalliance with a TV celebrity sputtered to a halt, who has fooled around elsewhere, who is on medication for depression, who virtually dismissed his positioning for the leadership last year as a flight of ego-driven fancy, who takes solace in cooking himself curries.
Hasn’t exactly got a “Vote 1 Kevin Foley” ring to it, has it?
So if you’re prepared to accept there’s no strategy there, then I’d suggest it follows logically that you can’t feel anything but empathy for what he has done.
No-one can work out why he has done it.
Few in the Labor Party knew about his depression, even if they were wise to his wandering ways. The signs of Foley’s descent into introspection were there a few weeks ago when he started to open up about his demons during a meeting with stunned MPs. Perhaps fearing the news would leak, it was at that point that he decided to go to the press, at length, with complete indifference to the political consequences.
There has been a Polly-Anna aspect to some of what Foley has said. As a journalist, I’m bemused by his being puzzled at the apparently excessive media interest in his private conduct, given his well-established enthusiasm for putting the hard word on hot chicks who are often a couple of decades younger than him. Sounds like a story to me.
But the bigger story with Foley, the human story, is about a bloke whose external confidence so obviously masks a serious level of insecurity and a genuine sense of remorse at some of the sillier personal decisions he has made.
I can’t help but think that much of it stems from the pride he takes in what he has achieved as a bloke who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, and who on seizing power, probably started to think: “Jeez, how good am I going?”
In all my dealings with Foley over the years, which have never really got beyond extended small talk over a beer at sporting events, it’s struck me how much pride – justified pride – Foley takes in being a Taperoo High boy who ended up running the State’s finances.
He has always remembered that people who are close to me were also educated at that school, and have also done well in their careers, and it’s often the first thing he raises when we catch up.
In a city which still has its pathetic network of hyphenated dandys, with their rounded vowels and old collegian ties, and which gravitates in the same gentrified inter-generational social circles that Daddy and Grandpa did, Foley has every right to feel good about himself for making a fist of things without a headstart.
But I’m sure that it was that sense of achievement helped propel him towards self-absorption, especially in power, when he found himself lauded, feted, sought out.
Watching him implode this week reminded me of an extraordinary personal story in Sydney around eight years ago involving a judge who was sacked after spectacularly perverting the course of justice.
It was September 12, 2001. The judge’s marriage had fallen apart. He had lost custody of his kids. He was drinking himself senseless every night. And on the night of September 11, he didn’t go to sleep at all. He sat there, shit-faced, in front of the TV, crying like a baby as almost 3000 innocent people were burned, asphyxiated, jumped to their deaths from the Twin Towers.
The next day in court he was hearing a case involving a paedophile. The prosecution was making a hash of the case, so much so that the judge knew this shocking excuse for a human would walk. So during the lunchtime adjournment he approached the prosecutor and quietly advised her to change tactics, suggesting some new lines of inquiry which would see the paedophile go down. The prosecutor did what she had to do. She reported the judge, and he lost his job.
Setting aside the little fact that this judge’s conduct represented the complete and utter desecration of our judicial system, I still find myself almost applauding what he did. He forgot what it was that he was meant to be in life, and found himself acting instead like a human being.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…