Kevin Rudd made his first big blunder just before Christmas. Perhaps it was the euphoria of being in battle zones and dressing up like a soldier that induced him to run off at the mouth in Kabul.
Can’t really blame him for letting his hair down after his tautly controlled assault on the “man of steel”. But, like his predecessors, Rudd has succumbed to a form of absolutism that one day is likely to leave him — as it has done predecessors — at least deeply embarrassed if not badly damaged.
We could go much further back for samples of absolutism but Bob Hawke is far enough — “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty”.
And Paul Keating — “the recession we had to have”.
And then Johnny What’s-his-name — the “never, ever” GST.
And now Kevin Rudd, our eager new leader — “long haul” in Afghanistan.
Surely this seasoned diplomat, presumably trained in the wiles of non-speak, could have couched his nation’s commitment to yet another unwinnable war with words such as “we remain committed”; or “we will monitor the situation” or “we will periodically review our commitment”.
Talking “long haul” is asking for trouble and can only end in tears.
Will they never learn? Suez, Palestine, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan (Russia’s war), Iraq, Central America, South America, Cuba, North Korea . . .
The “long haul” blooper is not the only utterance that will bewilder and niggle true believers who could only bring themselves to vote Labor because, above everything else, the outcome of November’s election had to be “any THING but Howard”.
Well, true believer votes did help to get rid of What’s-his-name. But a few more incidents like the “long haul” — and yet more degradation and suffering heaped upon David Hicks in the form of a 12-month control order — and Rudd Labor will find its grass roots support going the way of New Labor’s in Britain.
David Hicks: hasn’t this poor broken bugger copped enough yet? And didn’t his “admission” of guilt in Guantanamo have “deal” written all over it just to enable Johnny What’s-his-name to get him home from the US’s Caribbean torture chamber so that the Islamist sympathiser would not become an election issue? As far as I can discern, there is no evidence (apart from his own braggart claims) that Hicks ever physically harmed anyone — and all of us have mentally harmed someone at some time.
Funny how thinking of Hicks leads to Guantanamo, torture, death, Bush, What’s-his-name — and Tony Blair. One cannot but help musing on the former British PM’s desertion from the wishy-washy, dwindling Anglican crowd to the rankly dogmatic Catholic lot, who will unhesitatingly hand out forgiveness to anyone willing to toe their party (sorry, church) line. Those hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq I’m sure were weighing very heavily on Blair’s conscience when he decided to join his missus and kids in the Vatican fold. Confession is a wonderful bolt hole for the guilty.
Blair’s shift does suggest that he (now, laughingly, a Middle East peace envoy) at least has a conscience. We cannot expect the same of his partners-in-death George Bush (who doesn’t appear to have a brain capable of harbouring a conscience) and our own Johnny What’s-his-name (whose hubris is likely to continue to blind his otherwise very shrewd mind). A man who gets his knickers in a knot over, and resorts to semantic acrobatics inspired by, two little words — sorry and apology — is really a worrying specimen. God forbid he has in mind any further Lazarising, say in the form of a tome entitled The Real John What’s-his-name.
So, it seems, in this holiday season, up there in Canberra it’s business as usual. All the predicable breast-beating, all the usual gaffs, all the programmed double-speak. It’s not that I’m doubting that all those generous election promises will be kept. It’s just that I like them kept with the sincerity with which apparently they were made. I cannot stand scotch diluted with water. I cannot stand promises diluted by small print.
I know Rudd didn’t say we would get out of Afghanistan. And I know that he did indicate redeployment to Afghanistan after withdrawal from Iraq. But I don’t remember any of this “long haul” talk.
Dangerous words Mr Prime Minister.
Absolutism? Absolution? Absolutely!