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Kevin Rudd's political cowardice

  • 17 October 2007
On Sunday afternoon, Kevin Rudd confirmed that his official election campaign will be the vanity exercise, the gutless appeal to a shallow and disaffected electorate, that most of us suspected it would be.

Positioned against the ubiquitous sky-blue billboard — which now bears the rather pretentious slogan 'New Leadership' — Rudd could have cashed in a little of his electoral capital and kicked off the campaign with a 'vision for Australia' that is so generous, so expansive and morally engaging that any residual concern over his federal inexperience would have evaporated amid the heat of his fidelity to such an ideal. He could have lifted his listeners out of their prosperity-induced lethargy and directed them, much like Paul Keating did in his 1993 campaign launch, toward 'a great Australian social democracy, a proud and independent country, united and cohesive — and able to deliver to all our people living standards and a way of life unequalled in the world'.

Instead, the launch was everything we’ve come to associate with the 'Kevin Rudd Show' to date. He presented as relaxed, vaguely affable, and completely sterile. The actual content of his speech was inconsequential, because its overall intention was to give the public nothing to object to, and John Howard no ammunition to fire back at him. Rudd is clearly convinced that this election is the Coalition’s to lose, and that popular discontent with the government has finally reached critical mass — as it had in 1996, the election that saw Howard defeat Keating. The political pendulum is swinging. The time for change is nigh. All Rudd has to do to win is play it safe, avoid any issue or matter of principle that Howard could use to drive a wedge between voters, and, above all, keep playing the media dandy.

There’s no doubt that this has been a remarkably successful strategy, one that will more than likely carry Rudd through to victory on 24 November. If it does, the media will have played a crucial role in determining a candidate’s fate: it would seem that years of whoring himself to journalists (Latham once described him as 'a fanatical media networker … he is addicted to it, worse than heroin') has finally paid off. And yet one cannot shake the feeling that Rudd has sold his soul in the process — presuming, of course, that bureaucrats have souls in the first place.