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Sunrise Kevin and Egomaniacal Kevin: the two Rudds

There are two Kevin Rudds. One is the energetic ideas man, the promising new face of the Australian Labor Party who might just be the party’s saviour. “I’m Kevin, I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help…

Will the real Kevin Rudd please stand up? AAP/Lukas Coch

There are two Kevin Rudds.

One is the energetic ideas man, the promising new face of the Australian Labor Party who might just be the party’s saviour. “I’m Kevin, I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.”

This is the Kevin half the country saw in 2006 and 2007, when he inspired the progressive youth and convinced enough of Howard’s battlers to come back into the fold. Wronged by the bully-boys of Sussex Street and the factions, this Kevin won a triumphant return to his rightful position in June. Brought to you by Sunrise, this Kevin is satirised as Tintin: adventurous, intelligent, diminutive, bland.

The other Kevin Rudd is a monstrous, egomaniacal control-freak who flies into abusive rages, a micro-manager whose desk becomes one big in-tray while the business of government grinds to a halt. This is the Kevin of David Marr’s devastating Quarterly Essay and those bizarre YouTube clips which portray a man on the brink of madness. Swiftly removed by his caucus in 2010, this Kevin spent the next three years plotting revenge, destabilising his successor with a relentless campaign of mischief.

Each Kevin is familiar, a real-world expression of an archetypal narrative. The story of “Sunrise Kevin” is an adaptation of the hero narrative: the deposed king has been restored to the throne to show that good ultimately prevails over evil. This story ends happily ever after. Egomaniacal Kevin, on the other hand, is on a trajectory which, like Hamlet, can only end in tragedy.

That people vote after sensibly weighing each party’s policies and record is a useful myth in these rationalist and presidential times. Ultimately, Australians will vote for or against the return of the government based on the Kevin Rudd they see. It is the task of Labor’s public relations machine to convince us that Sunrise Kevin is the real Kevin, against a body of contrary evidence which the Liberal and National Parties will predictably muster.

There were always those who despised the way Rudd ran his campaigns for the party leadership and then for prime minister. Unable to build on a history of mutual back-scratching in the union movement, the ambitious Rudd had to find an alternative path to the top, a search he commenced immediately upon his election to parliament as a 41 year-old former diplomat in 1998. Incapable of forging many genuine alliances within the party, he hit gold when in 2004 he commenced a regular spot on the Seven Network program Sunrise, charming the suburban middle class.

Kevin Rudd began making regular appearances on Sunrise in 2004.

The marketing strategists behind Rudd’s Kevin07 campaign played on this. The last major Labor figure to achieve celebrity status outside the party was Bob Hawke, but that was through his leadership of the unions. Presidential in its scale, Kevin07 traded on the worrying trend toward personality politics. His most trenchant political opponents, such as Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt, saw this at once. Privately, so did more than a few Labor colleagues.

But he won Labor its first election for 14 years and the party was willing to forgive Rudd his foibles, narcissism among them. This was especially so when Sunrise Rudd recorded the highest personal approval rating in Newspoll history, when 70% of respondents said they preferred him to then-opposition leader Brendan Nelson in February 2008 - eclipsing both Howard and Hawke. The first arc of the hero narrative reached its peak. But when his ratings plummeted after his backflip on the emissions trading scheme after Copenhagen, Rudd’s colleagues could not forgive his incompetence.

For months, we were later told, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner tried to persuade Rudd to see at least one big-ticket policy item through to fruition. But Rudd couldn’t take the pressure of his free-falling poll ratings. His response was panicked mania. Winning each 24-hour news cycle became more important than anything else. This was no way to run any organisation, let alone a government. The factions organised a unanimous coup in June.

The breakfast TV demographic was confused. Their image of Sunrise Kevin simply didn’t square with the arrogant and bullying version they saw in leaked YouTube clips, or heard about from those who had worked with him under Wayne Goss in Queensland. They probably didn’t read the Marr essay. The shadowy “faceless men” of the Labor machine had cut down the hero. After an initial flirtation with Gillard, the suburbs deserted the ALP until it restored the king to his rightful throne.

Nowhere was ‘Egomaniacal Kevin’ more on display than in his attempts to agitate a leadership change against the woman who replaced him, Julia Gillard. AAP/Julian Smith

Plenty saw the next three years differently. One who did is former press gallery journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh, who began writing a book about the first female prime ministership but soon saw the story which needed telling: that of a vengeful Egomaniacal Kevin, plotting and scheming his return to the top job through a systematic campaign of undermining Gillard’s leadership at every turn. Aided by co-conspirators in the media, Egomaniacal Kevin set himself and his government on a path to inevitable destruction.

Of course, there was always more than one Kevin, even in 2007. Back then, when he was winning the suburbs by claiming to be a “fiscal conservative” he was also winning progressives and intellectuals in The Monthly and on Phillip Adams’ Late Night Live. Neither demographic paid much attention to the other. So progressives saw in Rudd’s Monthly essays not simply one branch of a broad-based marketing strategy, but a genuine commitment to social democracy.

“Monthly” Kevin was Keynesian and compassionate to refugees. Progressives largely ignored the “me-too-ism” being complained of in the right-wing press. But Rudd was always prepared to do whatever it takes, and in 2007 that meant reassuring the suburbs he would be just like Howard only shinier, at the same time as allowing progressives to think they’d elected one of their own.

Monthly Kevin did not survive this year’s comeback. Progressives now see Egomaniacal Kevin and can’t stomach him. They would prefer that the Liberals dump Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull so they can indulge another fantasy. But Egomaniacal Kevin’s existence is a genuine problem for Labor, because it might not be able to rely on the preferences of Kevin07 progressives it has lost to the Greens.

So, the ALP marketing gurus need Sunrise Kevin to kill off Egomaniacal Kevin. That would truly be a victory for the ages.

Join the conversation

26 Comments sorted by

  1. Hardy Gosch
    Hardy Gosch is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Mr.

    In an ideal world, in a vibrant, fully functioning democracy the election focus should always have highlighted the vast policy differences between the parties. That is what ultimately matters. Leader's come and leader's go.
    In my mind indulging in faux personality analysis is cute, but simply does not add to the conversation.
    The latest ALP slogan "If he wins, you loose" is catchy. The scariest thing about it, it is true. It is not so much about Tony, he is easily replaced. This is about his backers who are running the show in the background.
    If they win, we all loose and that’s a certainty.
    The public should ask themselves:
    Have Murdoch and his IPA/MSM/ABC/LNP mates made up my mind how to vote?

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    1. Jonathan Adamson

      Brain Surgeon

      In reply to Hardy Gosch

      Absolutely Mr Gosch that is precisely what we want. Abbott to win so all of us can all loosen up again and escape the stranglehold of the egomaniac. Who wants to live in a society of tyranny?

      Great Labor slogan - If they win we all loose? Very catchy.

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Hardy Gosch

      One thing for sure Hardy is with Rudd winning, Australia loses.

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    3. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Greg North

      Or perhaps a minority of people, like a certain Mr North, lose if Rudd wins?
      That majority of Australians who never ever vote for the Minority Liberal Party can live with that.
      But, we can see why some don't like majority rule, can't we.
      Mr Abbott's "Bad Democracy"!

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    4. Steven Waters

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to James Hill

      if the LNP win we all lose. maybe im living in an alternative universe cause i thought it was the other way around. aren't we already losing, haven't we lost enough. you are right its not just about personalities but then Rudd himself turns it into that by worrying so much about his photo shoots with school kids and his shiny image. yes it is about the policies and actions the govt takes, its about the trust we put in them and how they spend our money. its about their economic management and getting the economy moving. its about treating the voters with respect and not saying one thing and either not doing it or doing the opposite. people are not stupid they are not told how to vote by news papers they know a flim flam man when they see one.

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    5. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Steven Waters

      But The LNP have won at the state and Territory level all around Australia ( possibly because of the threat of knife wielding boat terrorists slashing their throats in the middle of the night, and running out of steam before they get to SA and Tasmania).
      And so their recessionary conservative policies have stopped the federal budget from reaching surplus.
      Is that about right, Steven?
      No, it is all Labor's fault?

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    6. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to James Hill

      What an idiotic comment to make James. You speak of a fear of "of knife wielding boat terrorists slashing their throats in the middle of the night" as if it's based in reality.It only exists in your own juvenile assessment of politics in this country. Grow up.

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    7. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to John Phillip

      Now, now Gerard you obviously were not in Joanna Gash's NSW seat of Gilmore to see her parading on the beaches of Jervis bay wearing a national flag around her shoulders (Picture in the local Liberal-owned paper) so that the retirees living on the beachfront, quivering in their beds would feel protected.
      Obviously the resident RAN wasn't going to help them.
      The same phenomenon among the retirees of Tweed Heads another conservative strong hold, equally obsessed with the thought of boats silently beaching themselves just metres, no, yards from their beds.
      While their fridge magnets urged them to be alert but not alarmed.
      Too late!
      You don't remember and you don't get out much either, Gerard?
      At least not by Jet which is most commendable.
      Just don't become a lock in, will you?

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    8. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to James Hill

      Two peas in a pod, Gerard, sorry no, John?
      Does it really make any difference?
      A bit of late Friday night desperation, trawling around looking for some ancient posts at which to hurl your manufactured bile?
      I'll trump your "juvenile" with "pathetic".
      Be alert but don't be alarmed?

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  2. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    This is a very sound description of Kevin Rudd and the problems Labor face, not just with an electorate of whom no doubt many are now in the not fooled basket as I have always been, but also just what Labor colleagues discovered about the difficulty of government with someone like Rudd at head of the table.
    Rudd's ego clearly just got in his own way and thus that of the Labor party in governing and what should be so sad to Labor supporters is that whereas like any party you can have those that can…

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    1. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Greg North

      Yes, a majority voters made a terrible, terrible mistake making this man PM in 2007.
      Just as voters made a terrible, terrible mistake in 2010.
      We can see why you are so unsure of the 2013 election result, Greg, seeing as voters just don't get it right?
      It is minority rule that you want Greg, that's a bit selfish of you isn't it?
      Not out of character for a conservative?

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      " Yes, a majority voters made a terrible, terrible mistake making this man PM in 2007. "
      Enough Labor parliamentarians thought so for quite some time in the lead up to mid 2010 James and Kevin Rudd himself seemed to just weep and sulk without so much as a whimper in not standing in the caucus ballot.
      Whether you can or not accept what the electorate delivers James, or even in the case of independents deciding, I accept whatever political outcome occurs.
      And sometimes it might be what people attempt to portray of others is really a self portrayal.

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    3. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Greg North

      So we may take it, Greg, from your reply, that you support minority rule by a Liberal Prime Minister.
      Just so that you are clear about your own position there Greg, assuming, importantly, for the sake of your audience, that this position, minority rule, predisposes the content or your posts.
      The father of economics and political economy argued that in order for such a minority to prevail it would promote "an interest to deceive and oppress the public", that is, the majority.
      That seems to be an…

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    4. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      Haven't read the more James of you tying yourself in knots.
      Quite simply if the LNP win the election, I'd expect they to form government, and plainly, winning usually means a majority of seats have been won.
      Likewise with Labor winning.
      Both leaders have indicated they will not be forming government by agreements with independents and so if that type of situation arises, I suppose we would be back to another election.

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    5. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Greg North

      The LNP is not a single conservative party, Greg.
      When will that happen?

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    6. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg, don't waste your time with Mr Hill. He's too busy thrashing aimlessly about, gnashing his teeth and attempting to avoid the reality of 6 years of labor's infighting and incompetence.

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  3. Jason Begg
    Jason Begg is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Perpetually Baffled Lawnmower Man

    Excellent article providing a very incisive analysis of K Rudd.

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  4. Natasha turnbull

    Student

    Sunrise Kevin is well and truly gone.

    He is frustrated and desperate. He is so positively negative.

    What people can see through is a man who has never had a firm position on policy and conviction ( fiscal conservative, climate change, asylum seeker, gay marriage, Northern Australia development etc).

    Surprisingly, 35% people still support a man who was prepared to damage his own party for his revenge.

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  5. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    First, I want to take issue with one sentence: "His most trenchant political opponents, such as Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt, saw this at once." Neither Bolt nor Akerman, in my recollection (I am happy to be corrected), have ever run for public office, ever sat in a parliament as a representative of a constituency or ever opened their actual views to serious debate and scrutiny. That makes them ideological commentators not political opponents as they have never actually engaged in politics proper…

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Your premise that you have to have been a politician of a sorts to actually be a political opponent when it comes to " saw this at once " as referencing dual personal traits and marketing for best effect is somewhat questionable.
      I myself would consider myself to be politically opposing Kevin Rudd because of his known actions and the way he presents himself and yet I too have never held any political office.

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    2. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg, on my reading of the semantics (a professional foible) you will only be a "political opponent" of Rudd when you are either voting against him in his or, allowing some latitude, your own electorate or standing against him or his party as a candidate. The rest of the time, like me, you are just another ideological opponent engaging through the various channels of the commentariat. Just because you choose to accept the conflation and to indulge in a little self-aggrandizement doesn't make you an actual or real political opponent of Rudd no matter what you consider.

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    3. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      I guess he was probably thinking that 'the Left' would make COMPLETE morons out of themselves. Hey, he was PROVED correct on that score!!

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  6. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    Do we also get the narratives of the Two Tony's - No-Man and Snow-Man?

    No-Man.

    Who stays on message for six years, No taxes, No boats.

    Who says No to every piece of legislation that comes his way in parliament.

    Who can only see negatives in all other MPs, and particularly the PM, (the role he covets).

    And Snow-Man.

    Who whips up a storm to obliterate everything that went before.

    Who suddenly sees the light, and starts to care about people with disabilities, a national broadband scheme.

    Who wants Better Schools, and wants to spend a week, EVERY YEAR in indigenous communities.

    Who's bigger, better and more unbelievable than the Invisible Snow-Man.

    Who's 'Real' policies, like snow, melt when sunlight falls on them.

    Who disappears, like steam, when a costing-blowtorch is applied.

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