Losing a Leader in Office: Will Clarke be a JFK or a Harold Holt?

Australia looks set to lose one of its most treasured leaders, with Test Captain Michael Clarke confirming he may have played his last cricket.

This is a tragedy.

Not only is Clarke scoring centuries and providing inspirational leadership during an emotionally-difficult period, but tragically, he should have had plenty of good years ahead of him.

Australia has lost leaders before, whether through retirement, poor form and misadventure – but losing one in their prime is difficult to swallow.

In the 60s we lost a Prime Minister when Harold Holt vanished while swimming at Portsea. His disappearance is now viewed as a bemusing historical oddity, rather than with anguish.

Harry was blissfully unaware his three companions were, in fact, Japanese spies.
Harry was blissfully unaware his three companions were, in fact, Japanese spies.

In stark contrast, losing Clarke will be a national tragedy akin to the JFK assassination.

Both Clarke and JFK represent two popular public figures taken when before their time was up.

JFK, the popular American President with Hollywood looks and Shane Warne-levels of interest in carnal pursuits, was felled by the mafia a lone gunman, as he embarked on an ambitious agenda of social and economic reform.

Similarly, Clarke has been felled by chronic back and hamstring injuries, as he embarked on an ambitious campaign to win the ODI World Cup and retain the Ashes in England in 2015.

Like the Democratic President, Clarke’s achievements will be glorified in years to come. He will become an icon. Just as JFK helped land a man on the moon, Clarke’s 5-0 triumph over England 5-0 on home soil will be etched into the national psyche.

Years from now, schoolchildren will learn about the feats of Clarke's troops
Years from now, schoolchildren will learn about the feats of Clarke’s troops

Clarke’s failures will also be remembered. In his early days as leader, he narrowly avoided full-scale nuclear war with sworn enemy Simon Katich*. Kennedy similarly came close to all-out war with the Russians after a botched attempt to invade Cuba.

These high-profile errors will not be remembered with judgement, but instead with misty eyed nostalgia for a simpler time. Instead, Clarke’s time as leader will be viewed as a period of great success, cut short by the mysterious cruelties of life.

If Clarke does, as feared, retire, there will be a national outpouring of grief. And in this volatile climate, who will take the reigns in Pup’s absence? Will we get an a politically savvy, hard-nosed LBJ who leads us into an unwinnable war, or an friendly John Gorton whose love for the bottle surpasses his desire to lead?

Whatever the case, Australia has a rocky road ahead.

Pretty damn rocky, if the 70s are anything to go by
Pretty damn rocky, if the 70s are anything to go by
By Ben Shine
*An act for which he will never be forgiven.

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