In a perfect world, Kevin Rudd would not be campaigning for election but visiting an analyst. Therapy is the treatment of our age for those the ancient Greeks saw as tragic heroes, personalities at once sparkling and deeply dysfunctional. But an election campaign it is, with the Australian people as the judge and jury, and it is important to keep in mind a key issue at stake: just who is Kevin Rudd?
Much has been made of the shambolic nature of Mr Rudd’s first term as prime minister. But it remains unclear why the 55-year-old former diplomat is such a dysfunctional figure. Most people don’t expect political leaders to have well-adjusted personalities. As Matthew Parris has argued in these pages, most politicians are ‘dreamers, attention-seekers and risk-takers with a dollop of narcissism in their natures’. But even by this standard, Mr Rudd’s character is really weird.
The centre of the dysfunction is not simply his ruthless political ambition — and the treachery, betrayal and frantic 24-7 mindset that go with it — although that trait certainly explains why so many of his colleagues have resigned from the cabinet ministry and/or parliament (see below).
Nor is the root of his problem his longing to be all things to all people. Most of what depresses and even disgusts people about Mr Rudd now was visible in 2007 when he ran against John Howard. His salient characteristics were trickery and fakery, the chameleon appeal to all sides at once, which helped him persuade the so-called Howard Battlers to come home to Labor without being embarrassed to tell their mates they were doing so.
From the outset, however, his leadership was an exercise in bad faith. From border protection and carbon pricing to economic reform and fiscal policy, Mr Rudd was always trying to say too many things to too many different people, to square circles and reconcile the irreconcilable. Given his recent flip-flops on gay marriage and 457 visas, nothing has changed.
But there is another explanation for the Rudd dysfunction: self-gratification taken to an extreme, an obsession with always being the centre of attention — like a spoiled child — and an addiction to being in the media spotlight. In our therapeutic age, perhaps we could call this pattern of behaviour megalomaniac or sociopathic, but perhaps these words go too far in pretending medical precision. To describe the same phenomenon, the ancient Greeks coined the word hubris.
When we write about Kevin Rudd, we feel like the pub bore. ‘Haven’t we said this before? Or maybe you knew that already.’ Alas, there are none so blind as those who will not see. This magazine has long maintained that Mr Rudd has only ever taken the Australian people for a ride, yet too many voters — how many remains to be seen — continue to be deceived or live in false hope. Despite the risk of appearing too negative, Tony Abbott is obliged to alert the electorate to what many Labor people already know: this bloke is a complete and utter fraud.
According to the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann, in 2004 a senior Labor staffer was so captivated by the unflattering portrait of Billy McMahon in Paul Hasluck’s diary in March 1968 (later reprinted in The Chance of Politics in 1997) that he copied it and circulated it among some party colleagues with the question: ‘Who does this remind you of?’ So we thought we’d have fun and adapt Sir Paul’s withering critique of the hapless Billy to the Labor assessment of their dear leader:
‘We confess to a dislike of him. The longer one is associated with him the deeper the contempt for him grows and we find it hard to allow him any merit. Disloyal, devious, dishonest, untrustworthy, petty, cowardly — all these adjectives have been weighed by us and we could not in truth modify or reduce any one of them in its application to him. We find him a contemptible creature and this contempt and the adjectives we have chosen to apply to him sum up defects that cannot be balanced by better qualities.
‘He lost the good opinion of those with whom he is closely associated in politics for very simple reasons. He is disloyal and he can’t be trusted. He works for his own advancement by trying to destroy the reputation of his rivals. He worked against Brereton, against Crean, against Latham, against Beazley and against Gillard. We wonder if he deceives himself or whether in private there come the sad or the infuriating moments when his conceit breaks and he exposes himself to himself.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 6 July 2013 Aus