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.