Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's Rudd building in there?

What is Kevin Rudd? Can't he just tear off the mask and come clean?

Stop bloking around, bloke. Fella. Are you a social democrat with a Bonhoffer heart, or a Neoliberal with shaken sauce bottle dollops of moral populism ?

Australians like their leaders to embody some simple, straighforward ethos. That leaders might craft a persona that sometimes cracks open to reveal - gasp - contradictions, media techniques, or even an ambitious driven politician, is unremarkable. The sense of something manipulative, power-mad or even fundamentally false behind the mask(s), has less perhaps to do with Rudd's all-too-common politician's contradictions, than with his 1st term government's position in the electoral cycle (the honeymoon period is waning, and it's time for the "tough" decisions), and with the convulsions that Neoliberal-Finance-Capitalism has been through since he came to power.

Rudd ALP was elected on a cyclic turn away from the hubris of the 11 year-old Coalition and with four main pitches: to roll-back the Neoliberal excess of Howard's Industrial relations laws; to install a carbon trading scheme; to invest in run-down national infrastructure; and to be more fiscally prudent. The collapse of the global mineral commodity market has undercut government revenue significantlty and the second and fourth of these election pitches have been let go, or deferred. The first has been achieved, but with so many qualifications that Unions are pushing for more roll-back.

That leaves national infrastructure, which has been tied into the "stimulus" packages. Certainly, the direction and nature of these investments have been affected by the convulsions in the global credit markets, but what is surprising here is how long it took the government to argue for these investments; how they were framed in the media as soft infrastructure, or wasteful, because the money invested didn't appear in the guise of hard things like roads, rail, ports, or appear in small business investment. The media framing of the story and debates around infrastructure investment reveals that Australia is a place for men who run small businesses. The Howard government did much to normalise this culture, which imposes itself on Rudd and the Mournings with Mel an Cholia constituency that forms part of his public. It's no surprise that Rudd reaches into his own version of this culture when appealing to the ordinary Australians that Howard did so much to form.

I think the frisson over Rudd's persona, arising out of his use of arcane colloquialisms, is tied up in these difficulties and reversals. Rudd has the aura of certain traditions about him, but these are aligned with his bureaucratic techniques, and with his suburban Christianity. The sort of Australia that Rudd and his government is building raise questions about the builders and the project manager: the traditions and techniques he's using.

However, looking for the one real Rudd won't reveal anything except our own desire to know what's going on in this conjuncture. And that is both too difficult, and too complex, to know. At present.


eag said...

Whatever,the real question is "Will he do a good job?"At the end of his tenure, will some of our problems be solved or have solutions and will the country see sense on water,power and those other necessities for a successful but uncompromised Australia?

Michael C said...

I agree with the broad point of your comment, but we don't just live in a technocracy, where problems and solutions are researched then implemented by government and bureacracy. A government has to build what Gramsci called hegemonic blocs in order to gain and maintain consent for its programme. Rudd's media appearances are part of that building process and to dismiss the importance of these apprearances - which were the subject of my post - with a "whatever" is to miss how politics and mass media culture interact in the early 21st Century. Arguing that we can only judge Rudd at the end of his tenure is true to some extent, but we are not there yet, so holding judgement until then evacuates political debate in the present, which is fatalist, quietist, hope-less, really.

The point of my post is that the character - the personal style and traits of leaders - is important. It's important, in part, because how public debate, about these characteristics, happens tells us what we think and feel about the GFC, about Neoliberalism, about globalisation, about responses to climate change, about how new media is reshaping society, economy, polity.

Australia is and always has been part of the world-system. There are, I think, only degrees of compromise. I like to think that we are part of an inter-dependent world system. Ironically, Australian independence is a narrative, rhetorical and media-based concept that makes for a good story of nation and Australian citizens. You only have to look at the compromise with the USA that Curtin took in seeking independence from Britain in WW2 to see that national autonomy is imaginary.