After we had lobbed a few atom bombs on Japan in 1945, the Emperor delivered himself of the understatement of all time: ‘The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.’ But in the delusional stakes, it scarcely touched Kevin Rudd’s concession speech last Saturday night.
For Rudd, there was virtually no loss to concede. His take on the election was that others had seen doom and despair, but he had seen opportunity, grasped it, fought a monumental fight and stemmed the advance of the foe to the point where the Labor party remained intact and in as good a fighting form as ever. He was right and had been vindicated beyond argument and, in particular, as the people of Queensland were closer to him and his reflected glory, the vote for him was naturally higher in that state. But that is the way the narcissist sees the world: the unshakeable conviction that he knows best; that the role of lesser mortals is to serve and agree with him and that, above all, losses are seen as victories.
If we ever had doubts that this was the real Kevin Rudd we had in our midst, turning all national issues into opportunities to show his superiority and the inadequacy of others, we must surely have had it confirmed during the recent campaign. First, there were the policies plucked from nowhere, for only he could see their brilliance; add the unquenchable belief that the people would rise and give him a stunning victory; then the faux concession speech and finally the declaration that for him there is no question of resignation but a determination to stay on until others have seen what a national loss his departure has been.
The policies chosen by the leader to be promoted were a series of blinding revelations that no one else had identified, but they were discerned by Rudd through that unique insight he has into all public affairs; the more bizarre the better, for geniuses flourish on the unique and the unexpected. They came like bolts of lightning: move the navy to a northern base, a bold strategy that only he could see; conjure up a new Nirvana in the north and the deserts will bloom; link the farthest reaches of the continent with a fast new railway; and, as nothing is impossible, stimulate the auto industry by hitting it with the fringe benefits tax. And if lesser mortals stand in the way, they must be negated; thus, in the defining moment of the whole campaign, if a harmless Christian pastor doubts the wonders of same-sex marriage when they have been revealed to no less an evangelist than Rudd himself on his journey of discovery, the poor man must be ridiculed and denigrated.
Rudd’s relationship with office staff, make-up artists and stewards shows the ideal class and gender structure of his ideal world; his targets are always women in humble roles, handmaidens to a great man. His preoccupation with the reflection of his own face urges him to photograph it with alarming frequency, even with shaving cuts to be shown around the globe, as the adulating masses deserve this glimpse of the wounded genius in their midst.
Finally, in the concession speech, came the long and tortuous exercise in justification, the claim to have wrought a virtual victory and the call to the new ‘viable fighting force’ to complete the heroic task. But if there is a special place of condemnation for Rudd and his vainglorious perspective, there must surely be another and more discredited place for the Labor party, the party that let him in to its family, trusted him, allowed him to pervert its name, destroy the careers of so many, dash the hopes of others, destroy its electoral prospects for the foreseeable future and then invited him to do it all again.
Some in this naive party think he should stay on. Others, only less naive, think he can remain as a respected party elder, cackling away at the annual conference and perhaps even a constructive force for good. Still others think he will just cause minor trouble and confine himself to settling the occasional score. They delude themselves. Rudd will never change.
I have no doubt that as he wanders the corridors of his wife’s million- dollar mansion at midnight, those delusional urges will come to the fore again and he will ponder the possibility of a comeback. He will reflect that the vanquished Napoleon was only temporarily confined on Elba, yearning for revenge; that de Gaulle retreated to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises until his countrymen came to their senses; that Churchill painted and wrote at Chartwell during the lonely years of unpopularity; that Nixon went home to Manhattan until the temper of the times changed and he became President; why, even the doyen of Australian conservatives, Bob Menzies, went through his own long winter of discontent until he formed a new party and returned to government. Rudd has no intention of giving up and the Labor party will continue to suffer from the viper in its bosom. He will always be there for the destabilising leak, the helpful perspective on world affairs, the forked-tongue denial of leadership ambitions, the backgrounding and the rejection of anything that might curb his ambitions.
That is the nightmare facing the Labor party and it has brought it on itself. But there is a way to solve it. Tell Rudd he is no longer welcome in their party room. If that fails, expel him. They will probably do neither.
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