After seeing her perform in the Leaders’ Debate, there can be little doubt that Julia Gillard is a highly accomplished politician. I don’t think we’ve seen such a consummate political animal since John Howard.
David Marr, in his Quarterly Essay titled "Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd", (Black Inc Books, June 2010) asks the question “Who is the real Kevin Rudd?” Marr echoes a complaint apparently made by those involved with the last PM that it was impossible to see who Kevin “really” is, that he is adept at disguising himself, and that nobody can uncover the authentic Kevin.
Which is exactly how I’m increasingly feeling about Julia Gillard. Her political talent is in danger of masking the human being. Instead of the human as the vehicle for the talent, the talent has overtaken the human, and is in danger of becoming all and everything she is.
This is a point at which politicians generally trot out their spouses and offspring, as did Tony Abbott at the beginning of the debate. These relationships are meant to reassure us that the politician has more than politics in his or her life. He or she is well rounded, and a full participant in the mainstream culture.
In actual fact familial relationships don’t mean a thing in terms of policies, as a succession of “family” men and women have more than proved.
But facts never stopped anyone when it comes to constructing their own image or someone else’s.
Unfortunately, Gillard is at her most hollow when she’s declaring passion. Declaring that they’re passionate about a particular policy is a dangerous manoeuvre for politicians. They rarely sound convincing. Passion is better in action than in words: declarations inevitably seem inauthentic, unless of course you’re in bed with your beloved. How do you coach someone other than an actor to “perform” passion? It either comes from the heart, or it doesn’t.
It’s a big ask to expect a politician to convincingly portray passion in a highly managed speech.
The most “real” I’ve seen Julia so far, is back when she made her first speech after replacing Rudd. Her passionate jubilation was evident. One wished she would tone it down a bit, because it wasn’t showing her in a good light. It’s bad form to publicly dance on the ruins of another person’s career, especially when you’re the one who’s benefited most from his downfall.
If she’d chucked out a PM who’d been a monstrous dictator, liberating the tormented Australian people from the shackles of his tyranny, jubilation would have been fine. We would have joined in. But she wasn’t. Gillard misread the voters, projecting her own delight at the takeover onto us. I doubt many of us felt delight. Most of us were just plain shocked at something that came out of nowhere and landed in our porridge along with the morning paper, already a fait accompli.
It is impossible to erase these images of Gillard’s jubilation, and everything she says and does is coloured by that first Prime Ministerial performance. Her barely restrained ecstasy as she “took control” invites accusations of hubris.
When asked by Chris Uhlmann how many times Rudd had been warned about his behaviour before he got the chop, Gillard refused to answer. This is not a good look. Gillard’s explanation that she had to make a painful choice between her duty to her leader and her duty to the country is not supported by her public joy. Nowhere could I detect a skerrick of anguish or regret that morning, or any other evidence of a woman torn. She was utterly and totally triumphant.
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