Veteran Labor scribe Bob Ellis, not entirely joking, has suggested that Tony Abbott’s strange . . . aaah . . . stilted . . . aaah . . . speech, sudden inappropriate outbursts – “I’ll shirtfront Putin”, lumbering walk, poor impulse control, failure to remember things he said quite recently (i.e. before the election), denial of previous statements even in the face of recorded evidence, may be symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s or some other acquired brain injury, brought about through his earlier fondness for rugby and boxing.
I would not be surprised. There is a clear link between right-wing extremism and brain malfunction. Take President Reagan, for example, who gave the performance of a lifetime as President, far outstripping anything he ever did in movies. When it was finally announced that he had Alzheimer’s, people who had been puzzled by his behaviour over the years exclaimed, “Of course! Now it all makes sense!”
The more cynical wondered how the doctors could tell, since he had been much the same for decades. Which is rather the point. His mental deficiencies began well before he took office, and worsened during his tenure.
Reagan was famous as a ‘do little’ President, unable to concentrate for long, easily bored, delegating practically all the work to others, preferring to spend his time at the golf course, or asleep. This made it simple for his wife, later aided by trusted allies, to conceal the extent of his decrepitude. She controlled access, made decisions on his behalf, relayed instructions purportedly coming from the President himself, but in reality cooked up by Nancy with advice from her astrologer.
Another right wing extremist who descended into dementia was Margaret Thatcher. And again it is clear that her decline began while she was still in office, though it progressed more slowly. Her delusions of grandeur: her infamous inflexibility in the teeth of the evidence; aping Winston Churchill; playing at being Queen, turning up like a ghoul at national disasters; the infamous phrase “we are a grandmother”, were all remarked on at the time. The longer she reigned, the more the rumours of mental illness grew. And as with Reagan, when the diagnosis was finally revealed, much that had been puzzling was made plain.
Could it possibly explain this “Stepford Wives” moment?
So although Abbott is younger and fitter than either of his predecessors, the worrying signs and precedents are there. For the good of the country, the PM must submit himself for testing. Hopefully, Ellis is wrong and Abbott will be given a clean bill of mental health. But if he is not, he will be able to step out of public life and commence treatment immediately to try to arrest the decline. Perhaps his wife could have a word.