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.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey