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Plastic Rudd is Labor's safe option

This morning, my eight-year-old son summed up the election campaign. 'Dad, if Kevin Rudd wins the election, does that mean he joins the Liberal Party?' Out of the mouths of Playstation, Youtubing, sometimes TV newswatching babes...

I laughed at his political analysis, but then wondered why?We've got the Labor leader — and campaign — we asked for.

There has been much vilification of Rudd's approach: the supermarket tours, the plastic smiles, the soundbytes (I bet you canname them: education, fair go, future etc.). But Kim Beazley was toldhe wasn't media savvy because he tried to explain policy in more than one sentence. Mark Latham went to the guillotine, at least in part, because he had genuine emotions. Labor was bound to produce someone prepared to run a colourless campaign, or it would risk watching Howard from the other side of parliament for four more years.

Sorry, umm, three and a bit more years...

We act as if we want honest politicians who have real emotions and beliefs. But when John Hewson told us he would introduce a GST if elected in 1993 election, he was trounced at the polls. When JohnHoward said he wouldn't, we gave him the green light to come into office and introduce a GST. We say we don't like John Howard's emotional detachment, the fact that he cares only for the opinion poll, but Kim Beazley cried over the Stolen Generation, yet couldn't get elected. And Mark Latham, well, he had feelings . . .

Now we whinge because we've got Kevin Rudd: 'He's too bland, he's Howard only younger, he's got the same policies; he's nerdy, he just does BBQs and open shirts for the crowds, he's not into the footy. . .'

And so on. After I stopped laughing, I answered my son's question thus: 'No, he's not going to join the Liberal Party. But people are scared he sort of will, that he'll just copy John Howard.'

My son looked at me quizzically. It was a not so pithy, one-sentence soundbyte between getting him and his sister fed, their lunches packed, the bags in the car etc. I didn't have time for my real answer. Here it is:

'Son, Kevin Rudd is something of a social democrat, actually a social liberal (I know that's confusing). He's a bit like Tony Blair in England — that's right, the country who beat us for the Ashes a few years ago. But — and this hasn't been mentioned very much in the campaign — like Mr Blair, Kevin Rudd is a Christian and he says Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the people he admires most. Those of us in the community who know who Bonhoeffer was (no, he didn't make bread!) think that's pretty significant.

You see, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian minister in Germany who was so outraged about Adolf Hitler killing millions of Jews that he joined in plots to assassinate him. No, that's not very Christian! Bonhoeffer was himself killed for standing up to the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was what is called 'a man of principle'. He was prepared to die for
his beliefs. He was prepared to die to make sure others lived.

So, son, those of us in Australia who know who Bonhoeffer was, and who believe in a lot of things that Bonhoeffer did (like justice for the oppressed, yes, that's right, like indigenous Australians and people living on the streets), are watching very carefully to see if Mr Rudd is going to be more of a follower of Bonhoeffer or popularity polls. We're watching closely to see if Mr Rudd, like Bonhoeffer, who was prepared to compromise his beliefs on murder, is now compromising his beliefs on honesty.

We hope, son, it's just long enough to get votes from those people who like their politicians to say they're going to do one thing and then do another when they get in office.

Paul MitchellPaul Mitchell's most recent books are Awake Despite the Hour (Five Islands Press 2007) and Dodging the Bull (Wakefield Press 2007), which has just been chosen to be part of the Victorian State Library's Summer Read promotion. www.paul-mitchell.com.au





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