I’m not sure that this is the reaction that Labor’s webmasters were aiming for, but I couldn’t help wincing a little when I took my first tour of Kevin07.com. It looks so much like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton‘s sites, with the red and blue colourscheme that’s universal in American politics. And the decision to call him Kevin throughout the site, like he’s our friend, is really quite cringe-inducing, even though it’ll probably help to make him seem more accessible. I blame Sunrise.
And wow, look at all the fresh’n’funky ways you can superficially connect to Kevin! MySpace! YouTube! FaceBook! Mobile phone wallpapers! Forget Gmail, he’s got Kmail! By gum, this isn’t Web 2.0, it’s Politics 2.0!
I have to confess that I couldn’t resist poking Kevin Rudd via Facebook. But only to see if I could make his hair move.
Kevin07 commits the most unforgivable sin on the internet – it tries way, way too hard. It’s so busy being in your face about how hip it is that it forgets to actually be it.
Most lame of all is all the interactivity guff. “This space is not about us – it’s about you”, the site coos. What rubbish. Come on, this is Australia, not America. We know that websites like this are about capturing our vote on election day, not getting all of us to hold hands and sing Kumbaya while we triumphantly propel Rudd into the Lodge.
And you have to ask yourself who Kevin07.com is going to convince who isn’t already inside the Rudd tent. I doubt many undecided voters will pop through and think “I was going to vote Howard because of his record on economic manangement, but hang on, Kevin Rudd’s on MySpace.”
They’re also trying to build a blogging community. Blogging first started to make an impact in the primaries before the 2004 Presidential election. Howard Dean’s revolutionarily interactive website had a blogging component, blogforamerica.com, where those drinking the Dean KoolAid rapturously wrote about how different their guy was. It was soon matched by blogsforbush.com, and since then blogging has become a part of every campaign – most prominently on Barack Obama’s website. So it isn’t surprising that blogs have become a part of Kevin07’s attempt to stake out all the online ground as Labor’s.
But I’ll be fascinated to see if anyone who isn’t a Labor flunkie actually bothers to start a pro-Rudd blog. And that’s because there’s a massive gulf between the online political culture in Australia and America. Most political blogs – certainly on the left – are fuelled by idealism, and that just isn’t as prevalent in our more cynical society. The primaries also make a difference – as candidates jostle for the nomination, they have to build up a base of supporters, and that means spending a lot of time defining what they are ‘for’, in highly abstract, highly rhetorical speeches, delivered with their hands on their hearts that fuels all of this idealism.
By contrast, no-one’s salivating over how Kevin Rudd will transform politics. He has no Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama’s book laying out his own personal vision for a Better World. And Labor’s attempts to use expensive US-style ads that romanticise his personal story aren’t why he’s in the lead. No-one believes passionately in the glistening Rudd vision for Australia – even the man himself, I suspect. If he’s elected, it will be because we’re sick of the Howard Government, and Rudd seems competent, and (let’s be honest) younger and therefore more in touch. End of story.
And it’s the ‘younger’ aspect that is the most important aspect of Kevin07. Because there is no way his opponent would ever launch a site called John07 – or perhaps more accurately, given the need to semi-rhyme and own particularly retro brand of idealism, John51.
For starters, no-one ever calls the Prime Minister “John”. He seeks always to brand himself as “the Prime Minister”, and thereby render himself as inaccessible as possible. Whereas Kevin07 is about telling the internet-savvy generation that Rudd is one of them, that he “gets it”, and isn’t over the hill. His policy for faster broadband is an attempt to do the same thing. Rudd fits as naturally into a flashy but slightly annoying website as Howard does on the wireless.
I won’t be spending much time visiting Kevin07.com. But its existence amply demonstrates shows why John Howard is freaking out so much that his campaign strategy now seems to be playing superhero with the states. (And really, it’s beginning to get embarrassing. Federally-funded plebiscites on local council amalgamations? Holy irrelevancy, Batman!) There’s simply no getting around the fact that Kevin Rudd is younger, and fresher, and has newer ideas than John Howard. And that’s what Labor is desperate to make this campaign all about.
Personally, I’ll be ostracising anyone who put a cheesy “KEVIN 07” button that they’ve downloaded from this website in their email signature. But I’ll bet a whole lot of people do.