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Journalism

Jun 9, 2010

David Marr’s anger hypothesis is torturously argued

Kevin Rudd should be judged on the public benefits of his actions, not on a whole bunch of inferences from his biography and cherry picking by David Marr in his Quarterly Essay on Rudd.

David Marr’s Quarterly Essay, “Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd”, already highlighted in the weekend papers, will no doubt garner even more attention now that it’s been released. Indeed, Marr was interviewed on his piece by Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report.

Marr argues that Rudd is primarily driven by anger. Purportedly, this rage stems from his childhood experiences.

It’s a tortuously argued hypothesis. And it’s one I suspect that informed Marr’s conversations with others, rather than emerged from the evidence he examined. Marr himself highlights the notorious belief in Canberra circles that Rudd’s squeaky-clean image was dissonant with the face he presented privately.

Marr contends that Rudd revealed himself as “most human” when he was angry at the conclusion of a dinner he’d had with the writer, and after Marr had told him that his argument in the essay was that Rudd’s “contradictions” were borne of rage. This seems to me to be absurd. I can’t imagine anyone under the same circumstances not being angry at such an insulting, wounding and trivialising line of argument.

Marr, it seems to me, was “thin-slicing”, using one aspect of his interpersonal experience with Rudd to confirm a purported broader pattern.

Certainly, the claim he makes that the only issues on which Rudd displays courage are those with some tenuous connection (in Marr’s mind) to his so-called childhood traumas seems to mask an unreflective disappointment that the issues Marr himself holds most dear are not the ones Labor is highlighting. And the selective quotation of Rudd’s first speech to Parliament obscures other statements of his political beliefs, and the public purposes that have inspired his career.

It may be true, as Marr contends, that we don’t really know Kevin Rudd. After this latest exercise in amateur psychology, I’m not sure we need to know.

Surely Rudd should be judged on the public benefits of his actions, not on a whole bunch of inferences from his biography, and a highly selective cherry picking of evidence, a lot of which appears to come from those with an axe to grind.

I’m sure Marr would not like his own public career to be assessed on the basis of a reductive argument that one emotional state, putatively the result of childhood trauma, determines his entire life, and I’m not at all sure that he’s done anyone much of a service by doing that to Kevin Rudd, whatever his private failings may or may not be.

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65 thoughts on “David Marr’s anger hypothesis is torturously argued

  1. Richard Mildren

    Great article Mark. These echo my thoughts too after seeing the 7.30 report. Does Marr have any formal training in this kind of psychological analysis? If so, he’s not convincing.

  2. baal

    It gets worse. Yesterday’s Financial Review carried a barely literate letter from Mark Clayton (of Mt Colah NSW) who, without evidence or definition, extended Marr’s thesis to say that Rudd was a ‘narcissist’, which he informed us displayed ‘a pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration and a lack of empathy’. He then went on to assert (again without justification) that Rudd is ‘an angry man bent on revenge for his poor childhood bereft of a strong and positive male.’ God help us if this is the level of discourse practised by real psychologists. Reading his mini-tirade, one is tempted to say more about Mr Clayton’s own personality , but perhaps it’s kinder to assume that the AFR (circulation 77 000 and falling) published it because they got nothing from the Director of the Institute of Private Enterprise yesterday – it could be very unsettling to discover you are a Clayton’s Des Moore.

  3. Nigel Westrock

    Rudd clearly has some sort of phobia or resistance to contrary opinion. He certainly seems to have an odd idea of how to engage people in the resolution of policy concerns. Marr, on the other hand, has a habit of rushing to judgement. In this case he has avoided the more laborious task of researching the circumstances of the Rudd phenomenon and notably his decision making and gone straight for the pigeon hole of choice.
    Marr is at his best when observing live action. He is predictable and often appalling when empathy or subtlety is required.

  4. deccles

    Has anybody who has posted read the Quarterly Essay? The points that Marr make are highlighted with lengthy contextual direct quotes from Kevin Rudd himself. To suggest that Marr constructed a 100 page essay based on a lunch and short walk with Kevin Rudd alone is frankly insulting.

    Secondly, the Essay has every quote referenced and annotated.

  5. Delerious

    I liked Kerry’s interview with David. David looked in constant pain and tried to ascertain from Kerry empathy after Rudd’s big scary rage attack the last time Kerry interviewed Rudd. Kerry wasn’t buying in. I did agree with some things David was trying to say, pop-psychology aside, I just don’t think David had an constructive argument.

  6. PatriciaWA

    Kevin the Terrible of Australia

    This man has sinned.
    He is undone because found out.
    Men everywhere complain.
    His crimes are broadcast far and wide.
    He is unfit for public office.

    He was once seen in a night club.
    He has berated an air hostess.
    He has worked too hard.
    He has expected too much of others.
    He engenders fear in colleagues
    Such that none will speak ill of him
    And all comport themselves well.

    He has publicly eaten his own ear wax.
    He has raised his voice in interview
    With redoubtable Red Kerry.
    He once privately expressed impatience
    With agents of all powerful China.

    His affectation of a gentle mien,
    Pretence of domestic harmony
    With loving wife, cat, dog and
    Loyal children does not convince.

    Nor does his bringing us prosperity
    Amidst the chaos of a broken world.
    There his greatest wrongdoing has been
    To place the welfare of the common man,
    The national economy and body politic
    Before the powerful interests
    Of international conglomerates
    Whose rights to the riches of our land
    Transcend all others.

    All this because of anger in his heart
    Against a father now long dead.
    For that he still attacks
    The powerful, the great, the good,
    Our mighty mining magnates,
    Heroic men, more fathers to this nation,
    More generous to us their media sons,
    Than this would-be patricide.

  7. JaneShaw

    I thought Marr was just desperately trying to dredge something interesting out of a study on the most boring person on earth. Hidden depths of RuddRage (aka sulks) was the best he could come up with. My heart goes out to him, but I didn’t think it was worthy of the Quarterly.

  8. David Sanderson

    The trouble with Marr is that he has aspirations to be much more than just a journalist. He feels that he has a level of insight into the ‘dark corners of the soul’ that entitles him to go on these Freudian novelistic explorations, which have a rather dated and period flavour.

    At the risk of committing the same sin myself may I suggest that he has an unrealised desire to be the modern-day Patrick White and that these novelistic excursions are about his own rage at not achieving this goal.

  9. kev

    Aggressive Narcissism includes the following traits:

    • Glibness/superficial charm
    • Grandiose sense of self-worth
    • Pathological lying
    • Cunning/manipulative
    • Lack of remorse or guilt
    • Shallow affect
    • Callous/lack of empathy
    • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.

    (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism)

    Doesn’t this describe Kevin Rudd to a tee?

    “Pride goes before the fall…”

  10. Syd Walker

    Perhaps re-branding the article might help. How about:

    “Ego Trip: The Psychoanlytical Meanderings of David Marr” ?

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