October 21, 2007 | Graham

Querulous and shifty v unctuous and shifty

I think Kevin Rudd won the debate tonight. Apparently the worm, which Channel Nine managed to save from extinction, thought so. But after 2001 when the worm gave the debate to Kim Beazley, but John Howard ended up winning the election, I’ve lost a little faith in its predictive abilities.
Why do I think that Kevin Rudd won? (Am I catching the habit from him of interrogating myself?) Largely it was presentational. And if this election is about anything at the moment it is about presentation, and symbolism. Rudd looked younger and more energetic, and while I felt like wiping that annoyingly superior smirk off his face, at least he didn’t lose his cool.
Howard looked angry and cornered. His eyes at times darted about in a slightly crazed way. It reminded me of footage of him addressing the crowd at the Aboriginal conference on reconciliation early in his term – the one where some of the audience turned their backs.
They both avoided answering questions, and there was more than a little confected outrage, although Howard’s anger looked real enough.
In the end it was similar to Nixon versus Kennedy, although Howard is a joey scout compared to Nixon, and Rudd doesn’t have the turn of phrase of Kennedy. I could analyse the arguments, but that’s not how most voters will recall this encounter. We only retain a fraction of what we hear, compared to what we see. Rudd’s tie (which seemed to follow the jesting advice from Radio National to use every colour from blue, through yellow to pink, which might pitch to females) probably spoke more loudly than anything he said.
There was no knock-out punch, although Howard seemed to cement his position as a loser, and now the election campaign can be put back in the hands of the advertising men and spin doctors. That’s the best result that Howard could hope for, based on tonight’s performance. I had thought that he would do better than Rudd, and that it might be in his interests to have more than one debate, but that’s not going to happen now.
And you’d have to wonder what it is that they might debate anyway, seeing there is so little difference between what either of them is promising. Rudd’s entire strategy appears to be to convince voters that while they’re still working out whether they love him, at least none of them loathe him, and that’s his edge. Bulgaria just passed a law punishing vote-buying with up to three years in jail. That’s all our elections involve these days. They’re an auction in which both parties try to assemble coalitions of interests by giving them a little bit of what they want. The party with the slightly biggest coalition while still managing to keep its budget intact wins. They’re not about policy anymore.

Posted by Graham at 10:03 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham, I agree with your assessment although I would not rule Howard out entirely yet – there is a long way to go in this campaign. Interestingly, I read this morning that Peter Costello was chastised for interjecting from the floor. The debate would certainly have had more colour if he had been at the podium.
    I did flick between the sky news broadcast and the nine worm. What I found intriging was that even before Rudd spoke the worm skyrocketed and similarly with Howard it nosedived just by the camera crossing. I would be interested to read what others thought who sat through the entire worming.

    Comment by Russell Biddle — October 22, 2007 @ 7:52 am

  2. I saw the whole worm broadcast. Yes, the worm was “in the white” every time Rudd started speaking. But I think it’s a bit rich, as some have all but done, to accuse Channel 9, of all outlets, of a pro-Labor bias!
    What it shows is the scale of the problem Howard has. As soon as he starts speaking, undecided voters switch off. As soon as Rudd starts speaking, they’re interested.
    As with the previous Labor leaders who have beaten Howard in debates, the election is Rudd’s to lose. Beazley made a specialty of doing this, though he wasn’t ever able to perform so spectacularly as Latham in this respect.
    Rudd is a far safer pair of hands, and people are interested in what he has to say. Hence the angst last night from the PM and the Treasurer, and from Andrew Robb on AM this morning.
    I agree with prior analyses from Graham here and on OLO – the voters have never actually liked Howard. It’s always been a deal about keeping the battlers “relaxed and comfortable”, and he’s stuffed that up with WorkChoices. It’s the perfect storm because at the same time Labor have chosen a leader who is credible and likeable.
    The only person who could beat Rudd in the debate was Rudd. He didn’t, and the PM got frustrated. Let’s see what the rest of the campaign brings.

    Comment by Jason — October 22, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  3. I was listening to an interesting program on RN, so I just watched.
    Howard invariably directed himself to the camera, whereas Rudd addressed the audience.
    Given that the audience was of a carefully chosen 50/50 allegience, it might have been a chance to “calibrate the Worm”

    Comment by clink — October 22, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  4. Rudd talked about what he was going to do, Howard talked about what he’d done (or claimed to have done).
    This meant Rudd talked about the future, Howard talked about the past. In fact Howard didn’t even seem to use the future tense at all, perhaps he only thinks about the past.
    With all the tosh about whether Rudd has the ‘experience’ you’d have to ask how any opposition can ever win government in Howard’s eyes.

    Comment by Mike Bolan — October 23, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

  5. John Howard’s body language let him down.You cannot compensate for words with over aninimated gesticulation.
    He needs to find his confidence and not fight on Kevin Rudd’s terms.
    If it is a rout of the Coalition,the electorate will rue the result of an election that threw out a responsible economic manager,since a rout will mean years in the wilderness for the Coalition.
    I have no confidence in this Rudd Labor Govt.

    Comment by Arjay — October 25, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  6. Interesting that other people seen the worm moving in favour of Rudd before he spoke as well.
    I thought I was imagining things – wonder if Mike Walsh stood there with the button pushed in support of Rudd all night?

    Comment by Jenni — October 26, 2007 @ 10:53 am

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