Mr Rudd's Fall from Grace (First Draft)
 
David Marr’s fine essay on Kevin Rudd in the current Quarterly Essay carried the implicit message that Rudd had lost the support of the intellectual left. No friend of the Unions or any Faction, he had now lost his last reserve.  No surprise then that the wolves moved in and he was quickly ‘knifed’ (to quote the leader of the opposition) in the ‘middle of the night’- Mr Abbott again. Having taken time out to clean up after the stoush, Ms Gillard faced the waiting media whilst the immediate past Prime Minister retired tearfully to the back bench. All over red rover!
 
Well not quite. At least one important question remains unanswered. Given Mr Rudd is a man of faith- witness the multiple Sunday press conferences at the gate of St Johns Canberra-how did material considerations dominate his life to the extent that they did? The message which leaps from the pages of Marr’s essay is that above all Rudd was a driven man, set on ‘achieving’ and being in charge, running everything; all things to all events and the centre around which government, the nation even the world revolved. Indeed so intent was he on being lord of all he surveyed that he lost control of his public image and perhaps even forgot who he was and what he was supposed to be doing. Twenty-four-seven Kevin became a megalomaniac taking refuge in Painter and Docker language to alleviate the stresses of the moment, frantic to feed the media and a stranger to reflection. More seriously he lost touch with the electorate. We were prepared to overlook the Billy Bunter appearance, put up with the occasional forced ockerism and tolerate the verbal convolutions.  Unease set in, though, when policy was very obviously being made on the run and directed from the PM’s office rather than by the relevant minister. We were unimpressed when a politely-aggrieved Minister for Resources let slip that mining tax changes had been made without his knowledge. Unimpressed too with multiple bungles whose source was apparently the Environment portfolio but more likely to have been an imperative from the PM. If asked, most politically alert citizens would have confessed to a certain nervousness. Perhaps the country was not in the very best of hands. Fortunately the democratic process took over and labour heavies emerged from their short hibernation to force the installation of Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. So far we have heard nothing of the fate of the ‘Gang of Four’- more accurately now a gang of three; Gillard, Swan and Tanner. Will they continue to direct operations as the executive office of an all-controlling PM? Perhaps not, since Tanner is leaving parliament and Ms Gillard has stated her preference for open government- as, incidentally, did Mr Rudd.
 
So how do we explain the apparent contradictory behaviour of a man brought up in the church and presumably in receipt of its message of humility, service to others and relegation of self. How can someone who hears every Sunday that materialism is the root of most evil, behave in a way that elevated personal achievement and gaining personal power and kudos way above an art form. Does the answer lie in Mr Rudd’s defection from the rigorous Catholicism of his childhood to the more moderate and placid waters of the Anglican Church? Is he prepared to defect from his Christian principles during the week and fill up the tank again on Sunday? This is certainly easier in a church which takes itself less seriously than Rome and in a church where One is less likely to be constantly reminded of the need to stay On Track by weekly Confession. Is it possible that Mr Rudd saw church membership as a political tool to be applied with the same ruthlessness as any other elevating device? 
 
Should we perhaps be more generous? Did this man see his life as being subjugated to the service of the nation? Was he to be the secular messiah who would revolutionise Australia and then the world to create heaven on earth? As he rushed from task to task was he motivated by providing overwhelming goodwill towards all peoples preserving in his mind justification by deed? Did he see himself as approaching the platform of Our Lord, or at least gaining closer proximity than most, by deed alone? If he did then his spiritual directors have led him sadly astray or perhaps he heard from them only the passages consistent with his mania for personal success. The church in its more sensible persuasions distributes the message that wholeness of person can only be achieved by following the teachings of Jesus and these do not include the acutely selfish accumulating of personal power and status. In fact the Church teaches exactly the opposite!
 
We can probably put aside the suggestion that Mr Rudd went to church simply to add to his social standing. Yes, he went to the society church in Canberra but that was possibly because its liturgy suited him or he felt comfortable there for reasons which are his own. Whatever we may say of the previous prime minister social climbing is not one of his failings.
 
Losing the prime ministership was not Mr Rudd’s main failing merely a symptom of it. He lost the prime ministership because his so called colleagues saw the government as being unelectable with him as leader. Theirs was a pragmatic decision, subjugating any sign of principle, to stay in power. Mr Rudd lost office because he lost his way morally. Kevin Rudd the man became the personal icon for Kevin. The man became the master, maker and mender of all things, his name and persona were to be stamped on everything he touched. His mirror reflected not the image of a mortal but Progress. Sadly, now it reflects a ghost.
 
So wither the prime ministership? Will Ms Gillard combine running the country with some moderation of personal and party ambition? So far very few Prime Ministers have: Curtin, Menzies and Hawke perhaps? What is clear from the Rudd demise is that neither party nor people will tolerate naked, uncontained personal ambition and whether it causes discomfort or transgresses some principle of faith is irrelevant. We expect our leaders to be motivated by more substantial instincts than being the centre of attention.
 
JRT
July 2010
 

Here are some responses I received and I am very grateful to the respondents for taking the time and trouble to reply.  I hope readers find them as interesting and informative as I did. 

I have decided to leave the article as it first appeared apart from clearing up a couple of punctuation errors.  It was originally intended to be a draft which I would alter if necessary on further reflection.

The main point I hoped to make in the piece was that it seemed Mr Rudd appeared to have little in the way of reflection in the way he conducted his affairs- something which surprised me given his close involvement with the church and his obvious christian faith. 

 
From Tim Anderson 18/07/2010
 
Read the piece on Rudd's demise. If I read you correctly then I agree that hubris was a large part of his downfall. The question you raise about whether an Anglican would be more susceptible than a Roman Catholic is an interesting one. I doubt Mr Abbott's faith is shielding him from the ravages of sin much more effectively than Rudd's. I don't think we can blame the denominations. In order to rise to the top of politics in Australia, I think you need to be a politician first and a practitioner of your faith second. Will we see you on August 2? Tim.
 
To Tim Anderson
 
My writing about Rome v Cantuar was slightly tongue in cheek though I do think older-style Rome would have had something to say to Rudd about the apparent absence of reflection in his conduct of his own and the nation's affairs.  He was subject to this more forceful version of our faith as a boy.  As I saw it Rudd was so obsessed with being the centre of attention that he ignored any of the churches teachings- some of which we might have assumed he had absorbed after a lifetime in the church.
 
 
 
From Alby Twigg 18-07-2010
 
It's an interesting analysis. I think, however, that Rudd's Christian faith and its practice have nothing to do with his demise. I suggest you read Shaun Carney in The Age. in my view, he has it right. Being a Christian doesn't confer upon you the ability to lead. Rudd was clearly no leader and it is relevant to remember the leadership chaos in the Labour Party before Rudd got the nod. The party was desperate and, although most in the Caucus did not find Rudd attractive, they were prepared to go along with him because there was, in their view, nobody else on the horizon. Rudd was a poor leader and ran a chaotic office. He surrounded himself with similarly disabled office and personal staff. It was a recipe for the disaster that happened.
 
 
Beware of taking up the Tony Abbott characterisation of those who engineered Rudd's fall. They may be villainous to some but the alternative was to invite Gillard to take over when the ship was fully submerged and plunging rapidly to the bottom of the political sea.
 
 
Benedict XVI and G Pell are both Christians [well, I would dispute this, but let's assume they can classified this way] and they are bad leaders too, unless you believe that bullying is an acceptable form of leadership
 
 
The Archbishop of Melbourne [Anglican] ain't much better. He confuses leadership with cutting a public figure.
 
To Alby
 
Many thanks for your reply to my article.
 
One of the points I hoped to make was that Rudd ran his affairs without any recourse to reflection as where he might be taking his life.  How can someone who has been part of the Church in several of its forms not have absorbed at least some notion of the importance of a spiritual side to existence?  This contributed to his downfall- it was may not have been the root cause which was, as you point out and I hope I made clear too, his inability to lead.  Though inability to lead can be a side effect or even symptom of a narrow character.  Poor Kevin in his frantic dash to have the nation and the world to conform to his vision became another piece of materialistic (egotism is a form of materialism) flotsam cluttering up our world.  Reflective behaviour is not the province of Christianity alone but Rudd professed to be a Christian.
 
Wither the nation- only time will tell.
 
From Alby 19-07-2010
 
A brief addendum on Rudd. You might say that his Christianity influenced his political vision. His basic instincts were good, the pursuit, initially at least, of policies which were beneficial to the larger community - indigenous apology, Kyoto protocol, ETS, public health, fairer distribution of the country's wealth, education, for example. But the follow through on these initiatives was either short-lived or fundamentally flawed because of his poor leadership and chaotic organisation. The fundamental problem with Rudd was his apparently appalling relationship with people - colleagues, personal and administrative staff and all whom he needed to support his ideas and projects. How could you, for example, set up an insulation scheme without putting in place all the basic checks needed, such as certifying the competence of installers. It was an invitation to rorters and a prime example of administrative incompetence and this happened in other areas. This usually happens when you have a control freak in charge who insists on overseeing everything with overworked and under-experienced staff. You do have to wonder how a professed Christian could treat people so badly.
 
To Alby
 
Agree but I also say that an important feature of his downfall was his inability to reflect on what he was doing and his frantic desire to be a success for all the wrong reasons.
 
 
From Alby 19-07-2010
You are right. Reflection was missing throughout. When he was questioned after the last bad poll when the support for the government dropped to 32% his response to that was that he would have to work harder. That was frightening and you felt that he had lost contact with reality. Didn't an ancient emperor or potentate have a minder whose job it was was to remind him of his mortality whenever he went too far or whose overweening pride started to take over? Keating was like this in the run up to the election he lost. He wouldn't listen to anybody.
 
Reply to Alby
Lear had his Fool
 
From Tim Anderson 20/7/2010
I think the realities of life as PM would mitigate against having time for reflection. The diary would be frenetic by necessity. But the personal failings of pride and the hunger for power which manifests itself in being a control freak, these were present long before he had the top job. But I would have to say as a minister, it's very difficult to confront members of my congregation about the areas of their lives which could do with some work. We don't live in an era where the church or the ministry carries a high level of authority even among its members.
 
 
 
From Denis Woodbridge, 1/08/2010
Dear John,
       In today's 'Weekend Australian' Peter van Onselen gives a persuasive account of the state of federal politics. I agree with many in the media that this has been a very disappointing election campaign. Politics can be understood as a game and any election campaigning is like a sporting contest: all the combatants seek to outplay their opponents by covering up any apparent weaknesses on their own side and by drawing attention to whatever on the other side might be used to alarm those who will be voting. In this 2010 Australian campaign, however, both Labor and the Coalition are being exceptionally timid and reluctant to engage in any real debate about policies. Genuine matters of debate become no more than glib phrases - 'moving Australia forward', 'saving the economy'. In 2007 Kevin Rudd had his own clichés like 'working families', but he also seemed to be man of conviction. What has turned out to be really disappointing has been his performance in government. He did what John Howard had refused to, signing up to Kyoto and making an apology to indigenous Australians, and in defence of the Labor government we must remember how much the Global Financial Crisis limited their freedom to take new initiatives. Nevertheless, the great hopes raised in 2007 have not been fulfilled.
       Several things really puzzle me about Kevin Rudd. I certainly do not regard him as a hypocrite. He is clearly a man of strong Christian faith and before he came to political power he argued very intelligently what a Christian understanding means for the lives of individuals and for society - cf his admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and for the Christian Socialists in England. It would also be quite false to see his weekly attendance at the Eucharist as a political ploy. What then went so wrong? One can only surmise that the political nous he showed in election campaigning deserted him in the responsibilities of government. Does he suffer from a sense of insecurity which prevents him from sharing power with his Cabinet colleagues and discussing issues with the members of Caucus? And why did he not see the need for him or for the ministers responsible to keep a close check on how some good government programs were actually being implemented, for example the insulation of houses, 'building the education revolution', reforming the taxation system. Perhaps in Kevin Rudd there is too much of Gough Whitlam and not enough of Bob Hawke or Paul Keating. It is sad that the failures of the Rudd government may open the way for a new right-wing conservatism whose only ideals are 'greed is good' or 'stop the boats', a conservatism that will not act against human-induced climate change or make a real contribution to the needs of the billions of poor people in the 'developing' world.
       Perhaps only future historians or perceptive psychologists will help us to understand the enigmas of Kevin Rudd both as a thinker and as a practical politician.