The outsider

Not for the Faint-hearted, Kevin Rudd, Macmillan

The title refers not to the task of reading the book, but to the business of politics. Politics may take courage, but it also involves vanity, charm, ruthlessness, a sense of humour, a thick skin, high ideals and low tactics. All of these are on display here. The media tends to portray politicians as one-dimensional. Rudd’s memoir is an argument for politicians – or at least some including this one – as complex human beings.

What makes the book is that Rudd clearly enjoyed revealing himself (at length). And here are all the things Australians have loved and hated about Rudd – his ego, his frankness, his long-windedness, his cringe-worthy ockerisms, his cringe-worthy sentiment, his intellect, his self-deprecating humour. Some journalists have labelled Rudd a Jekyll and Hyde character, but like most of us, he is simply multi-dimensional – acting differently in different situations, containing good and bad, saint and sinner.

Although he argues for the worth of political life, his career makes you wonder at times why he persevered (though he boasts of being tenacious). In politics he was something of an outsider, on many fronts – a Queenslander, a progressive of the centre, not a player in the Labor factions, a self-described nerd, a former career diplomat and public servant rather than a career politician. And a Christian in a party that often sees Christians as conservatives and sometime hypocrites.

His faith is of particular interest. Catholic as a child, he is dismayed at the brutality of his Catholic education. In the fervour of youth he saw himself as a Marxist and atheist. While at university he flirted with evangelical certainty and stumbled into a Chinese church, which stimulated his faith and his love of Chinese language and culture.

Early on in the book he establishes, articulately and passionately, the grounds for his faith, with an eye on the compatibility of faith and intellect, as well as, for him, the compatibility of Christianity and progressive politics, which, at its best, seeks to make change rather than keep the status quo, the latter being, he argues, the raison d’etre of conservatives. And he makes a compelling argument for this. Of course the book will seem self-serving, but it is also an explanation as to why someone would take on the fraught business of politics, besides, and perhaps along with, the egoistic reasons.

(Originally reviewed for Journey magazine.)

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