We need to talk about Kevin

I thought one of the more interesting opinion pieces in this morning’s press was Imre Saluzinsky’s piece in The Australian, analysing the collective psycho-analytical aspects of the axing of Kevin Rudd.

Labor’s Orwellian dream of making Kevin Rudd into a “nonperson” within hours of his downfall, and “moving forward” to an election, was destined to fail, according to psychiatrists and other experts on the collective unconscious consulted by Inquirer. If there is a lesson from the campaign so far, it is that, to quote the title of the successful 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Douglas Kirsner, an expert on the history of psychoanalysis at Deakin University, likens the demise of a popular politician — and Rudd’s approval ratings were in the 60s as recently as nine months ago — to the end of a marriage or love affair.

“The public has had no time to process it,” Kirsner told Inquirer. “It’s something that needs to be faced and mentalised. But there has been no time for the public to recover from a sort of collective trauma that has happened.”

Kirsner says Labor’s problem stemmed from a “disconnect” between how Rudd was viewed by his caucus colleagues, and how he was regarded by the public. While voters had cooled on Rudd, nothing had prepared them for the internal loathing towards the former prime minister that was uncorked on June 23. Kirsner believes Labor’s problem is that there was not enough leaking against Rudd in the first half of this year, preparing the ground of public perception ahead of his execution.

“People feel they voted for something and somebody, and the rug’s been pulled out from under their feet,” he says. “The public is nonplussed about it all.”

Even before the debate, Kirsner felt Gillard was softening her position on her predecessor: “Originally it was, ‘It’s over, let’s just get on with it.’ But that was not taking the reality of what humans are like into account.” …

Sydney psychiatrist Neville Symington says that in politics, as in love, “there has to be grieving for a loss before a new person can come”. “Let’s say someone’s wife dies and they marry someone else in two weeks,” he says. “It always causes disquiet.”

He says: “Rudd departed in a fairly brutal way: it was impulsive and not thought out. Those sorts of impulsive actions come from a bad place in a group. If you do that, you never really get rid of the person or the image you’re trying to get rid of. If they had given encouragement for him to leave, then a space would have opened up for a new person, not as a substitute, but as a new venture.”

I particularly liked the idea of someone’s wife dying and remarrying two weeks later – I guess most people would regard this as highly inappropriate.

I then read Peter Hartcher’s analysis after reading Imre (all at the football, mind you – my team was being thumped). He outlined the ‘genius’  strategic plan put together by the Labor ‘power brokers’.

  1. Get rid of struggling PM (apply very sharp knife, preferably machete).
  2. Elect popular new leader and bask in honeymoon with public.
  3. Announce three decisive actions dealing with outstanding issues – on mining tax, boat people and climate change.
  4. Run to early election and be re-elected comfortably in the context of an extended honeymoon.

Hartcher was querying the fourth part of the strategy.  If you read Imre, you might not get past the first.

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13 Responses to We need to talk about Kevin

  1. Bit disturbing imagining the entire public and Kev to be in a marriage together but otherwise it’s a good point well made.

  2. daddy dave

    I’d just like to smugly remind everyone that I’ve been saying all along that it was a terrible idea, that it would backfire, and that Labor would still lose. So there!

  3. THR

    The general principles here I agree with, but the grieving analogy eventually falls down all the same. Rudd and other Australian pollies are nothing like a wife – more like temporary blow-up dolls. They burst; the public says ‘meh’.

  4. Fleeced

    Heh… I can see the mini-series: “Brides of Kevin”

  5. JC


    I was wondering when that book title was going to be used in this context.

  6. Sinclair Davidson

    (Surely not Carlton)

  7. Myrddin Seren


    There may be a Rudd media jihad on, but I’ll bet pretty much most of the claims in the “Rudd we never knew” story would stand up if tested in court, should Citizen Rudd be moved to defend the claims.

    And given oped writers like Andrew Bolt have been pointing out for some time that numerous editors and other senior media execs have been on the receiving end of Rudd incendiaries and Biff Latham has been calling him out for some time – about the only significant people who didn’t know Rudd is a maniac ( of some technical sense ) are the junior reporters suddenly discovering there is a story here, and possibly Therese Rein – who seems serene in her mastery of the Ruddinator.

    Who knew ? The media and virtually the whole of the political class. Who said nothing as long as the gravy train kept rolling.

  8. Peter Patton

    Well quite!

    “I don’t use the c-word, but I do use the f-word pretty freely, and I can tell you that Kevin Rudd is a f****** awful person,” he [Mr. Downer] said.

  9. Peter Patton

    God reading all this stuff, it seems Rudd was more Rosa Klebb than La Gillardtine!

  10. On second thoughts though the article makes a good point it’s a bid hard to take anything seriously where the phrase

    ‘according to psychiatrists and other experts on the collective unconscious consulted by Inquirer.’

    appears in the first sentence.

  11. Peter Patton

    Tim, you really have to question any psychiatrist who would claim they can understand/diagnose somebody they have never even met, let alone in a clinical environment!

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