Politicians have considerable vanity. It goes with the personality type of those who believe they know what is best for the rest. Politicians just hate having to admit that they are not know-it-alls.

Journalists love the characteristic. It gives them a wonderful chance to play let’s be smarter than the pollie. Ask John Hewson to describe the GST that would be payable on a cake and watch him flounder. Get Kim Beazley to name his South Australian Labor Senate colleagues and giggle when he gets it wrong. Catch John Howard out about the name of his candidate for Denison. And yesterday con Kevin Rudd in to failing to name the income levels at which the tax rates change so he sounds silly on national radio.

Aren’t we journalists clever fellows! And, my oh my, can’t we make a mountain out of these little molehills of mistakes. In The Australian this morning we have elevated a memory lapse in to “Rudd faces fresh claims of economic incompetence after failing in an attempt to name the Australian tax thresholds” although the authors did have the grace to add that “Labor hit back, noting that the Prime Minister made a similar tax gaffe in May.”

The truly clever politician would refuse to play this rather silly game and both John Howard and Kevin Rudd should forget their vanity and develop a form of words that enables them to sidestep idiot questions; say something like “running the government of Australia is not a memory test and I’m not Barry Jones and I don’t play quizzes.”

If they don’t then this election campaign will quickly degenerate into a political version of 20 questions.

Peter Fray

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