Kevin Rudd a 'grandiose narcissist'
Australia's Liberal Party had a secret campaign tool in the form of a personality diagnosis of Kevin Rudd which found him suffering from a disorder known as 'grandiose narcissism', writes The Australian Financial Review's Pamela Williams.
The unelectable man walked across the stage of a hotel ballroom. Against a backdrop of iridescent blue with four Australian flags, he claimed the prime ministership with a mandate the likes of which had not been won by Conservatives for 17 years.
As Tony Abbott's supporters screamed the room down at Sydney's Four Season's Hotel they also buried the last vestige of a terrible three year-experiment on the other side - a saga which had seen a Labor government destroy two of its own prime ministers before flaming out itself.
"Tony, Tony, Tony," the Liberal crowd shouted. Typically, some wept. "I can inform you that the government of Australia has changed," Abbott began, with the rest of his words drowned out.
A one-time journalist and a man who had won his party's leadership in 2009 by one vote, Abbott had defied the calculated demonisation by three previous Labor prime ministers - Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and then Kevin Rudd again - to march improbably to victory.
In the hours before arriving on stage, Abbott had closeted himself in a suite on the 34th floor of the hotel with the Liberal's federal director Brian Loughnane, the pollster and strategist Mark Textor, Abbott's chief of staff and the wife of Loughnane, Peta Credlin, and, for a period, the party's former leader and prime minister of almost 12 years, John Howard as they counted in the vote.
Abbott had had, for the previous five weeks, a political campaign machine which ran with the unblinking focus of a hungry man on the last mile. They had built a strategy around fighting Gillard, but anticipated always a return to Rudd. They had shifted their sights from one to the next.
Liberal campaign experts had sometimes joked to each other that public antipathy to Gillard meant they needed only to hang her photo on walls around the country and then sit back; but when it came to Rudd, they believed his messianic self-belief and micro-managing style would soon emerge to remind voters of why they too had lost faith in him the first time around.
The ruthless manner in which Rudd had been despatched by his own side in 2010 had laid the seeds. His successor Gillard had never explained why Rudd had been destroyed. Had she done so - invoking the tale of dysfunctional management which seeped out in any case - then Gillard might have at least partially headed off the public traction which Rudd was able to invoke later as a victim, and a prime ministerial victim moreover, unjustly dealt with.
The Liberal strategy to turn the focus to Rudd's dysfunction was supported by a secret tactical tool.
The Financial Review reports that held deep within the top strategy group of the Liberal war room was a document which gave a name and a diagnosis to the personality of Kevin Rudd. It was a document provided to the Liberal's strategy team on an informal basis by a psychiatrist friendly to the Liberals after Rudd had returned to the Labor leadership on June 26. In a nutshell, this document offered an arm's-length diagnosis of Rudd as suffering a personality disorder known as "grandiose narcissism".
The document was not shown to Abbott, but rather remained within the strategy group as an informal check-list, often as a tool for comparison after Rudd had already behaved in ways that the Liberal strategists believed could be leveraged to their advantage. The Liberal war room had reached its own conclusions about Rudd long ago, based on his public behaviour and the damning revelations of his colleagues.
Describing grandiose narcissism as less a psychiatric disease and more a destructive character defect, the document suggested Rudd was held together by one key strut: an absolute conviction of intellectual superiority over everyone else. "Kick out that strut and he will collapse".
Rudd, the document went on, was vulnerable to any challenge to his self-belief that he was more widely-read, smarter and more knowledgeable than anyone else "on the planet". Such a condition of grandiose narcissism would make Rudd obsessively paranoid, excessively vindictive - "prepared to wait years to get revenge".
Rudd would be threatened by a rival in any of his fields and would be obsessively paranoid and ready to retaliate to real or perceived threats; he would suffer from excessive suspicion. This could be tactically exploited, the document suggested, by promoting the idea that Rudd was merely a caretaker prime minister, to be terminated by colleagues once the election was won.
The document - simple in its construct and in many ways echoing a view clearly held inside Labor itself where many of Rudd's colleagues had described him as dysfunctional - raised a riddle no one could answer; if the symptoms were all so obvious and the character flaws so marked, how was it that Labor had chosen Rudd not once, but twice to lead the country?
-The Australian Financial Review