Kevin Rudd is, if nothing else, a man of substance. A policy wonk, even, to use the American phrase. Hes a former diplomat and writes lengthy, ponderous articles for The Monthly at the drop of a hat. When buttonholed by Julian Morrow for The Chasers Pursuit Trivia segment, he was the only contestant who not only got the question right, but provided a positively embarrassing amount of extraneous detail. So its a bit strange seeing him trying to remake himself as an ordinary man of the land in his latest advertisement.
Its actually scarily reminiscent of Will Ferells excellent parody of George Bushs folksy style right down to the candidate standing with an arm on a country fence! Still, many Australians still dont know who he is, and its probably better to rebuild his image from scratch than continue his previous persona of that smug bloke with the daggy haircut.
Rudds ad even packs in the hyper colour-saturated images of Australias beaches and bush that we saw in the Where The Bloody Hell Are You? ads. Though thankfully he omitted Lara Bingle. Given the media fixation on Julia Gillards physical attractiveness, though, we probably shouldnt be surprised if she crops up grinning in a bikini in future instalments.
This is a move to American style campaigning the inspiring biography, the bold, sweeping vision that touches emotive themes without going into any specifics, underpinned by a subtle but not overtly negative critique of the status quo. In fact, its rather like the recent video put out by US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Rudd is evidently aiming to emulate this easy style and populist appeal, and doing surprisingly well at it.
Then again, anything seems folksy and down-home over a fingerpicked acoustic guitar backing track. Which is why, ironically enough, the WorkChoices ads in 2005, which featured all those ordinary workers used a very similar backing track. (I tried to find a link to illustrate this eerie parallel, but the government ads seems to have vanished without a trace.) Accordingly, Rudds mildly irritating persona has been smoothed out by some excellent packaging.
Truth be told, he probably learned how to do this on Sunrise. That show has a remarkable effect of making virtually anyone look like an ordinary, decent bloke and theres no better illustration of this than its host. David Koch, now blokily known as Kochie, used to be a finance reporter, and he even still looks like one but pulls off the Average Joe act brilliantly.
Both Rudd and Joe Hockey have done well out of their regular appearances Hockey receiving a promotion this week. Kochie and Mels magic wand has worked wonders on two of the politicians whose manners I personally found most irritating. Ive disliked Hockey ever since he gave an incredibly arrogant speech at an Orientation Week, but hes learned to tone it down and channel his natural affability into a kind of bearish charm. Perhaps even Kim Beazley might have learned how to appeal to middle Australia if hed appeared regularly on Sunrise?
I generally detest political ads for their hamfisted manipulativeness, but even I have to concede that Rudds effort is classy. Itll need more than a swelling soundtrack to convince me that Rudd is actually likeable, but as ever, he radiates competence and integrity, with the arrogance nowhere to be seen. If I was John Howard, Id be worried. If they can recast Rudd as a likeable bloke, it could well be that finally, after a decade, Labors campaign team actually knows what its doing.