Sunday, October 28, 2007

Kevin Rudd: The biography, by Robert Macklin

(Note: you can read my review of Nicholas Stuart's biography of Rudd here. My essay In Search of Kevin Rudd you can read here.)


Another Rudd biography, although I think this one was published before the Nicholas Stuart biography. Reading this bio after the Nicholas Stuart one is like reading about Rudd's good side after having experienced his bad side, a regular Jekyll and Hyde study.

Robert Macklin was lucky in being able to get full access to Rudd, his family and associates. My jaw dropped to the floor when reading the author’s note with the extensive listing of people who were interviewed. In contrast, Nicholas Stuart experienced all manner of problems.

This is for the most part a sympathetic biography, with very little shading. There are large swathes of quotation, with Rudd giving cosy fireside like chats. A lot of the book reads like a Sunday supplement profile. The interview material from his family gives a kind of Norman Rockwell picture of Rudd growing up. The quotes from famous diplomats and politicians appear like testimonials.

For example, there’s a quote from his wife Therese about how many Play School videos they watched: ‘We watched more tapes of Play School than you can imagine. Kevin can sing in tune and I can sing out of tune every Play School song from the 1980s.’ Adorable. The book ends with another quote from Therese, in the same cute vein: ‘After twenty-five years, I still can’t get him to put his socks in the basket.’ You get the picture.

That’s not to say any of this is bad. Much of the book's interest lies in how Rudd wants to present himself, and with Macklin, Rudd gives much interesting interview material that is more personal in nature. It’s a relief to read Rudd talk away from the confrontational style that is necessary in politics.

This biography is also worth reading for the extra detail that the Nicholas Stuart bio doesn’t have, even though it is information that has not been dug up by the author, but rather handed over by his interviewees.

There’s a fabulous quote from Jason Koutsoukis from The Age about how John Howard rings his pollster Mark Textor every day for an update. Apparently there are 63 topics that Howard tracks. This material is then developed and then Howard sends out his front line lieutenants onto the attack. You wonder what all this stupid talk of leadership is about when modern day pollies live and die by the polls.

In light of the recent controversy over the death penalty and Labor’s support of its abolition whilst Rudd gave a public shellacking to his foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland for giving that speech, I was amazed to read the following quote from Rudd.

‘I believe the death penalty is repugnant at every level and we have a responsibility not just to speak out against it when it applies to Australians, but to argue uncompromisingly that the time has come for the world to put an end to this medieval practice.’
Robert Macklin is interesting to read on this subject too in light of Rudd's later behaviour in 'counselling' his hapless foreign affairs spokesman.
'This is an issue that goes to the core of his beliefs. He would bring to it a passion that has only rarely been glimpsed in his public appearances.'

I found this to be quite a seductive biography. It’s nicely written, and has a jovial, avuncular feel to it. Yet it is only one side of the story. It’s Rudd in his Sunday best. If you want to see the other side to this Dorian Gray character, read Nicholas Stuart’s book.

Stuart was the outsider looking in, whereas Robert Macklin is an insider, almost a court writer. If he isn’t one already, I feel he’s probably soon on the way to becoming the official writer of the Rudd years.

I can’t really favour one book over the other. Strangely enough, I think they should be read pretty much together.

PS: Don't you find the front picture to this book scary? He looks like the CEO of some super successful company on the front of a glossy men's magazine. I couldn't stop staring at the picture in awe and horror.

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