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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

So who's the Everett Looney here, then?

Continued mutterings about Latham's illness, activities and future are providing journalists with something to speculate about in the sleepy languour of January. There has even been Latham spotting (he went to the pictures! he mowed the lawn!). But, I ask you, how could anyone seriously call this "an intriguing mystery"

Despite my enjoyment of Bob McMullan's deliciously naughty comment that:
"if Mr Latham was taking strong painkillers for his pancreatitis, which could make it difficult to sound rational and sensible, it would be sensible to avoid public appearances",
I can understand a doctor saying take it easy, avoid your ridiculously high pressure job and enjoy some time with the missus and kids.

But I still have some sympathy to the view of "many Labor MPs, including his supporters", as reported by Mark Metherell in the SMH, that
"if he was well enough to mind his children as they played in a pool at Terrigal, he was well enough to sign a declaration of sympathy for the tsunami victims".
It's not like he would have to write it. The days of the Prime Minister travelling by ship to England (Menzies did that, right?) are over. Mobile phones have killed it. I'm not a big fan of mobiles, and in particular the expectations of availability they have created, but this situation was not handled well. It needed to be.

For the historically minded, this is what Lyndon B. Johnson did when the popular Governor of Texas entered the race for a vacant Senate seat in 1941:

When doctors told Johnson he would have to be hospitalised, a violent scene erupted at his Happy Hollow Lane house. He insisted to Connally and Gordon Fulcher, an American-Statesman reporter working in his campaign, that his illness be kept secret - an insistence that the two aides considered irrational since he wouldn't be able to make scores of public appearances that head already been scheduled; in Connally's words, "He just threw a fit, went into a tirade, ordered us out of the house, said he never wanted to talk to us again." His hospitalisation - not in Austin, but, for reasons of secrecy, at the private Scott and White Clinic in Temple, 57 miles away - was in fact kept quiet for almost a week; fiery stump speaker Everett Looney substituted for Johnson at speaking engagements, saying that the candidate was "busy with organisational work" - an excuse echoed by Marsh's cooperative American-Statesman. When, in the second week, the candidate's whereabouts became public knowledge, the American-Statesman explained that "the young congressman is getting a much-needed rest from congressional and campaign worries.") The situation became so serious that Wirtz abruptly resigned his Interior Department post and rushed back to Texas to run the campaign on the spot. There may even have been some doubt that Johnson would resume the campaign; there was quiet talk that if he didn't get out of hospital sooon, he might withdraw, using his illness as an excuse. "But," Lady Bird [Johnson] says, "he did get out."

- an extract from Robert Caro's "The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power", a brilliant book I have now finished. All 768 pages - starting Volume 2 today.