Will the real Kevin Rudd please stand up
LIKE most Australians I couldn’t give a rat’s bottom if Kevin Rudd swears or not.
What interests me is the gap between his frequently foul-mouthed private persona and the popular image of the PM as a civil-minded nerd who’s more likely to be heard reciting poetry in Mandarin than telling factional hacks to get the f… out of his office.
Not only am I not bothered by the fact that Rudd used bad language, I’m kind of thrilled that he aimed his insults at a bunch of Senate no-names who thought nothing of wasting the Prime Minister’s time to complain personally about a 25 per cent cut to their entitlements. Rudd had every right to be indignant at their impertinence in dragging him into such a trifling affair.
His reaction would have been fuelled by disbelief at their whiny demands for more paperclips, some highlighters and some extra reams of Reflex, at a time when so many Australians are still feeling the shocking impact of the GFC. Had Rudd hurled a paperweight in their direction the public would have cheered him on.
The thing that made this a valid news story isn’t the suggestion that swearing is of itself a poor reflection on his character, or the preachy assertion that Rudd is setting a bad example to other bosses by being an abusive, harassing employer.
It’s that the story exposed the divide between Rudd as the gentle, modern softie who you see yucking it up on Rove, speaking sotto voce in Question Time about climate change or IR, maintaining a civil veneer of calm during a probing press conference or radio interview, and the blunter, more aggressive, more acerbic and (often) more R-rated Rudd who is encountered in private.
The story helps form a series of pieces which have shed a bit of light on the private Rudd - blowing up at a young RAAF officer on the VIP plane when they couldn’t arrange a cup of tea for him. There’s also plenty of stories about Rudd shouting at journalists which you can put into the “diddums” category - given that any decent reporter will spend half their day giving public figures the shits, they can’t fairly turn around and have a sooky fit if someone gives them a spray.
But overall a view is emerging of a man who does one thing in public and one thing in private. Whether that matters or not is debatable. The public might think that all it means is that the PM can control himself, by remembering to act in a civil and courteous way when he’s in the public eye. Other people might think he’s a bit of a chameleon, and that the public Rudd is a fraudulent facsimile of the real thing, like one of those late-night ads with an asterisk and a rapid-fire voice-over saying “Rudd may not match Rudd shown.”
Australians often use the phrase “what you see is what you get” to speak favourably of individuals.
The past 20-odd years of Australian politics have seen a consistent procession of political leaders who, for good or for ill, acted pretty much the same in public and in private. Hawke was a larrikin in public and private, Keating was aggro everywhere, Latham more so. Beazley and Howard and Crean were polite and restrained both on and away from the political arena, rarely swearing or belittling their opponents.
It might not be a comparison he would like but Rudd is probably closest in his persona to Gareth Evans, a charming and urbane parliamentary performer who was prone to spectacular blowups in private, and who demanded perfection and tireless effort from his staff. It didn’t damage Evan’s career and it hasn’t damaged Rudd’s but if more and more of the prime ministerial dark side emerges, there’s a chance that down the track it will.
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