Early thoughts on the Rudd “Risorgere”
The phenomenon that is Rudd ‘Reborn’ has captured the attention of the chattering classes. This is understandable because, to the gens du monde, Rudd is the Messiah come to protect them from the supposed predations of an Abbot led government.
Less understandable is his appeal to the broader masses. At first glance one would have to ask why in the world would these people, normally possessed of a sound common sense, support a thoroughly discredited, disloyal, back-stabbing and principle bereft moral bankrupt?
To understand this one has to look, in large part, at Rudd as the consummate actor.
It is important to appreciate that Rudd was trained to be and served for a short period as a diplomat. It is also critically important to remember that the profession of diplomacy is antithetical to the notion of principle. An effective diplomat has to subsume his principles to either or both his country and the dictates of his government. In actual terms there is little room for principle in the world of diplomacy and real-politik.
Diplomats are accustomed to say no when they mean yes; to smile under sufferance; to be polite and, in the unending war of international diplomacy, mendacity; the art of dissimulation; evasiveness and the ability to speak and think in foreign tongues are their armour. Finally they understand the only principle in diplomacy – that the end justifies the means.
This raw and unflattering picture does not necessarily imply that diplomats are bad people. It describes rather a class of warriors a country needs to have at its service. Some cynics would say these attributes correctly describe politicians. There is a distinct difference - such servants of the state, unlike their political masters, are not answerable to the electorate.
In many respects Kevin Rudd is the personification of the diplomat. For example, given the depth of his sedition and strife caused to his own party, his television advertising calling for political integrity is the height of hypocrisy.
Continuing in this context, his complete volte face on major and supposedly deeply held policy [inter alia carbon tax, boat people, homosexual marriage], has nothing to do with integrity but everything to do with political expediency. He knows that, the people know that. Most politicians would have grace to admit to some awkwardness over such a blatant back-flip. But Rudd has the ability to look the television camera directly in the eye and give the impression that he believes in his latest pronouncement from the bottom of his soul.
This is because he probably does. Yesterday he believed that, but today is another day. Herein lays the consummate diplomat. By his actions Rudd would appear to be a man totally devoid of principle: the archetypal Machiavelli – the Prince has to do what he has to do to retain power. ‘Whatever it takes’ as one Labor hard man said recently.
There is however a hiatus in this picture of Rudd the diplomat. On the question of his diplomatic service the public record is diplomatically silent.
In 1981, armed with a First Class Honours degree in Asian Studies [Chinese] from ANU, Rudd joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Between then and 1988 he served at the Australian Embassies in Stockholm and Beijing. In 1988 he made a remarkable career change to become chief of staff for Queensland’s Labor opposition leader, Wayne Goss. Following the election of the Goss government in 1989 Rudd become director general of the state cabinet office. In effect Queensland’s civil service supremo. He was elected to parliament in 1998.
The diplomatic service is a much sought after career, yet Rudd served only eight years. Why anyone would leave this profession for a job in the Queensland public service is open to question. The media, usually swift to seek out these questions, has been curiously quiet on this matter.
We know that as Queensland civil service supremo he garnered the reputation as a micro-managing tyrant. We know from the very public revelations after Rudd’s toppling by Gillard that he was widely detested by his colleagues. We know that he has a most undiplomatic short temper with a propensity for foul-mouthed tirades. We also know that he exercises strong personal control over all around him.
How does one reconcile this image with the image of the quiet and reasoned man of diplomacy? One cannot. A man cannot change his fundamental character. A man of short temper will always be a man of short temper. A man who enjoys personal control will always seek to exercise complete authority.
Perhaps Rudd was not a success as a diplomat. His lack of interpersonal skills certainly did not endear him to his parliamentary colleagues. A Rudd temper tantrum echoing through the ambassadorial halls of Stockholm is an unpleasant prospect to contemplate.
Despite all the political airbrushing, the signs of the essential Rudd are amply apparent. His arbitrary policy changes flying in the face of everything he purportedly stood for. His complete shamelessness in handling an immigration crisis occasioned totally by his own failed policy; his ramrodding through so-called party reforms in the face of a centenary of tradition purely to shore up his position, and his brazen use of taxpayers’ funds for electioneering purposes as evidenced by he and his wife’s recent jaunt to Afghanistan and his full page adverts in the newspapers apropos illegal refugees.
This is Rudd unchecked. Consequent to political polls he has no opposition in his own party; the left leaning media love him and the people see a man of dynamism taking over from the hapless and hopeless Gillard. Sadly however, Rudd reborn makes Gillard look like a paragon of integrity.
The significant difference between the egregious Rudd and the unlamented Gillard is that Rudd is proving himself more politically agile and acute. However, agility and acuity do not compensate for a lack of principle. Kevin Rudd, in whatever incarnation, remains the consummate actor - an ego driven revanchist: an empty, facile, game-playing professional liar. A Hollow Man: an unpleasant man.
Rudd as Prime Minister? Not even Australian politics in all its vacuity deserves this.