Saturday, February 25, 2012

Can Rudd change? History says he's done it before

Today one of the most live questions in Australia is the question of whether Kevin Rudd is capable of being a better PM than he was during his very eventful first term (in which he spared Australia's economy from the GFC), which was cut short in mid 2010 by "the coup". Can Rudd change? Has the bruising experience of being sacked at short notice given Rudd cause for reflection and transformation? I've read one commentator who seems to actually have a clue about political history (unlike myself) who claimed that in general party leaders do a better job second time around. I can't offer any opinion on this point, or on the question of whether Rudd has changed for the better since 2010 (clearly his appearance has changed and he's looking considerably older). On one point though, there is plenty of evidence which I'd like to point out. Is Rudd capable of major personal change? I'd argue that he has already undergone a striking self-created transformation in his transition from bureaucrat to politician, but it is debatable whether this was a deep or a superficial change.

As David Marr (has he been reading my ex-published piece about Rudd?) recently pointed out on ABCTV, Rudd had to undertake a major transformation in order to become a successful politician. Some people are born politicians, but it appears that Rudd is not one of these people. Perhaps this is the wellspring of his appeal with the Australian people. Rudd was a spectacularly successful politician in 2007, but don't forget that he was once an electoral loser. If there is a formula for "Politics for Dummies" Rudd surely discovered it, smart and persistent as he is, and perhaps following this winning formula with discipline is a more effective method of winning elections than a less conscious and planned approach.

Rudd's first attempt at politics was unsuccessful. In 1996 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the seat of Griffith in Queensland. It is an almost constant theme in the body of literature about successful role models in business and other fields that very successful people have failure in their past, and they bounce back and also learn from their failure or failures, and that learning is possibly of crucial importance. In 1998 Rudd managed to win the seat of Griffith, and it has been the base of his political career ever since. These days Rudd is famous for being a brilliant campaigner, a fact that even his most powerful political rivals will acknowledge. He has come a long way indeed. Some time between 1996 and 1998 a dramatic self-initiated metamorphosis evidently happened. The best place that I know to find information about this is the book Inside Kevin 07 by Christine Jackman. This is a book completely lacking in objectivity, as Jackman was a friend of the Rudd's when it was written (and could still be for all I know), but the advantage to this is that it gives a much more intimate account of the personalities involved with Rudd's 2007 electoral triumph, and Jackman was able to source a lot of information about the time before Rudd was a politician, from people who were there at the time. Rudd's former boss ex-premier of Queensland Wayne Goss and Rudd's brother lobbyist Greg Rudd both described Kevin's metamorphosis in the book. He lost a lot of his illusions and naivety about what it takes to succeed in politics, and most importantly, he got out among the people at every opportunity, a crash course in personal charm and dealing with humans. It worked!

It is one thing to read this in a book, but a picture tells a thousand words, they say. I knew if this personal transformation was really as dramatic as they say in the book, there should be a considerable difference between Rudd's appearance before and after. We've all seen the "after" shots of Rudd in unavoidable media saturation, but the "before" shots are not often shown in media stories and are surprisingly hard to find on the internet. I'm sorry that I can't offer any link to a photo or video of Rudd before 1998. There was once one blurry amateur shot of Rudd on one of the photo-sharing websites (could have been Flickr) of a young Rudd campaigning in 1996, but it appears that it has been withdrawn from publication. It was amazing. It was like a different person. The iconic smile was absent. Rudd stood with a hunched posture looking like he had not a single shred of confidence. A woman looking like that would attract labels such as "wallflower" or "shrinking violet". I know, I've been there, done that! In my opinion this photo casts into doubt the unfortunately popular idea that Rudd has some kind of personality disorder associated with inflated self-image, such as narcississtic PD. It is my understanding that such disorders are inborn, but it appears that there was once a time in his adult years when Rudd manifested as quite a different personality.

I'm so sorry that I can't find anything like that shot to show you first hand, because seeing is believing. I know that Rudd is capable of change, and you can check the evidence yourself in the book. Rudd has changed dramatically in the past, by learning in response to failure. This is a hallmark of very high achievers. Whether or not he has tired of changing to meet the demands of others, or has the basic resources or the inclination to again meet the needs of the top job in our nation while also leading a high-powered team, are questions that I can only guess at.

Inside Kevin 07
Jackman, Christine,%20Christine

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