Last week, State Scene highlighted new Labor leader Kevin Rudd’s ploy of copying John Howard’s interview style and approach to campaigning.
That’s likely to reinforce the widely held view that there’s no difference between the Liberals and Labor, something that could help Labor fall over the line at the forthcoming federal election.
Although such an assessment of Mr Rudd seems valid, there is a crucial, and at this stage perhaps seemingly minor, difference between both leaders that may well become electorally fatal for Labor.
Mr Rudd hasn’t realised that the man he’s modelling himself upon doesn’t moralise about Australians, nor does he offer suspect interpretations of opponents, since the Howard approach is to play the ball not the man.
Unlike Mr Howard, however, Mr Rudd has shown a tendency for both.
Here’s an example of the former.
On December 5 2006 Mr Rudd said: “[The Howard] doctrine says that we as a country can only be about the aggregation of personal greed.”
Here’s an example of the latter.
On December 20 2006 Mr Rudd said: “The next election will be about two alternative visions for Australia’s future.
“After 10 years, John Howard offers a form of market fundamentalism in this country that Bob Menzies, the founder of the Australian Liberal Party, would never have supported.
“The prime minister’s fundamentalism is driven in large part by the neo-liberalism of Friedrich Hayek, who argued that the only determinant of human freedom was the market.”
Now, the first of these – the moralising one about so-called “personal greed” of Australian voters – is a bit rich coming from someone who gained a taxpayer-funded tertiary education and went on to hold a series of taxpayer-funded positions that have offered free air travel, free car, petrol, lots of hotel accommodation, electoral and away-from-home allowances, and so on.
All such benefits have been part and parcel of Mr Rudd’s lifestyle from virtually the day he entered the workforce.
And there’s still that nice big taxpayer-backed superannuation scheme after retirement.
If Mr Rudd persists making such comments, he’s in grave danger of sounding like a 1970s, or even 1960s, undergraduate moraliser, someone who has never been inside the school of very hard knocks with which many Australians are familiar.
That proclivity probably stems from the fact that Mr Rudd moved straight from university into diplomacy, so had little-to-no ongoing contact with the average hard working Aussie, and therefore knows zip-all about their outlooks, hopes and aspirations.
And after leaving the world of diplomacy – cocktail party circuits and jet setting between international conferences – he opted for inward-looking political circles within Queensland’s Wayne Goss Labor government.
Mr Rudd’s work in Mr Goss’s office as a backroom boffin meant he paper shuffled, gave orders and generally remained out of contact with the way things are on Australia’s farms, factories, shops and suburbs.
Thereafter, since 1998, he’s sat in the national parliament – he failed to win Griffith in 1996 – and spent more hours than necessary with Labor political operatives, plotting and planning generally futile moves.
He’d be unwise to see retention of his inner metropolitan seat of Griffith as evidence to the contrary, since holding a predominantly residential seat is markedly different to winning the requisite number of quite disparate seats at a national election.
None of his four life-shaping experiences – university, diplomacy, bureaucracy, and Labor Party political endeavour – has offered an environment conducive to gaining a meaningful insight into the lives of average Aussies.
Despite all that, Mr Rudd is ready to claim that something he dubs the “Howard doctrine” panders to what he sees in voters as “personal greed”.
If he keeps that line of argument running throughout 2007 he’ll find such condescension thrown right back at him by Mr Howard, with the help of his many media advisers and spin doctors.
And when that happens, Mr Rudd will quickly find himself floundering like Mark Latham did, and being unable to produce convincing explanations for his pompous contentions.
In other words, he may already have commenced treading the dead end Latham-style path, which suggests he’s not as smart as he and his party backers may believe.
His obviously flawed advisers should immediately stop him from moralising about the material and other needs and aspirations of Australians.
In case they have doubts about such advice they should look closely at Mr Howard’s retort to his moralising and theorising.
In an interview Mr Howard said: “He [Rudd] conjures up a bogus image before proceeding to knock it down.
“He has invested heavily in the charge that I am an ‘extremist’ and a ‘market fundamentalist’.
“Indeed, he goes further, accusing the government of fostering an ethos of selfishness in the Australian community (‘Me, Myself, I’) to the detriment of the common good.
“Survey after survey shows that far from drawing back into their own private worlds, Australians are volunteering their time and money more than ever before.
“Just look at the magnificent work of our bushfire fighters in recent days.
“Where Mr Rudd sees rampant individualism, I see a society that doesn’t wait for politicians to tell it to pitch in.”
One doesn’t need to be Copernicus to see which argument will be more favourably viewed by the average voter, especially when it matters, at election time.
Mr Rudd’s foolish attempt to portray Mr Howard as a zealot is silly since Australians know it is bunkum.
More foolishly, still, is his attempt to use Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek, author of the path finding anti-totalitarian book, The Road to Serfdom, as a whipping boy.
It’s obvious the university trained Mr Rudd knows nothing about Professor Hayek (1899-1992) a pioneer, like George Orwell, in combating totalitarianism.
Hayek, an Austrian, was in England when Hitler occupied his homeland in 1938, so refused to return home, becoming a British citizen instead.
Another reason his criticism is cockeyed is that Mr Rudd’s maiden speech begins with the following words: “Politics is about power. It is about the power of the state. It is about the power of the state as applied to individuals, the society in which they live and the economy in which they work.”
That’s precisely Professor Hayek’s view and explains his lifelong suspicion of political power.
Mr Rudd’s barmy Howard theorising is also worrying because anyone aspiring to be PM should be able to accurately assess political counterparts, which Mr Rudd shows he cannot do.
It’s a real worry if, after eyeballing Mr Howard for eight years in Parliament House, he still can’t get things right.
Myopic Labor MPs allegedly see Mr Howard and his governments as neo-liberal, whereas all the available statistical measures of spending and taxation levels show him to be running a classical social democratic government, with social democratic being another way of saying, you guessed it, Labor.
That’s the problem for men like Mr Rudd – he’s confronting Australia’s most successful ever centralist ‘Labor’, not a neo-liberal or even a Liberal, administration.
Mr Rudd may have an inkling of this but refuses to confront it, because to do so would make winning the next election seem that much more difficult for Labor.
But moralising about people’s aspirations and producing and publicising erroneous theories about Howardism isn’t the smart way to distinguish Rudd Labor from Labor-style Howard Liberalism.
Such a predicament isn’t, however, as difficult to solve as Mr Rudd may believe.
He could, for instance, offer voters clear-cut policy commitments to expunge Canberra waste and extravagance and reverse its ongoing costly intrusions into and duplication of state responsibility that’s emerged during and before the Howard era.
There’s at least $20 billion – State Scene repeats, at least $20 billion – worth of savings to be made, which represents immediate tax relief in the order of $1,000 for every man, woman, child and infant each year, or over $2,000 annually per taxpayer.
Now, there’s a real election winner if ever there was one.
Is Mr Rudd up to such a statesman-like task or would that be pandering to “personal greed”?
Instead, voters will confront having to choose between two big spending parties that want more public servants in distant Canberra, accompanied by lots of ballyhoo about make-believe differences between them devised by tricky taxpayer funded spin doctors.