President Obama liked Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd so much that he tried to put him in the American Cabinet at their joint news conference today.
“I'm very grateful for Secretary -- or for Prime Minister Rudd's friendship,” Obama said.
It was less a harmful gaffe than a sign of how close Obama and Rudd are in their views and sensibility. Both are politicians of the center-left who don’t talk much about ideology and cast themselves as pragmatists. Both lifted their parties to power after a spell in political exile.
Rudd’s election in November, 2007 struck me at the time as holding lessons for America’s Democrats. Rudd relied on youth, moderation and voters' exhaustion with the ideological categories of the past. But he also deployed the passion of activists determined to end a long conservative era. I don‘t know if Obama studied Rudd’s victory, but the two men clearly used the same playbook. Rudd drew a generational line across Australian politics, overwhelming then-Prime Minister John Howard among voters under 30. A year later, Obama did the same among young voters against John McCain. No, Rudd did not promise change Australians could believe in. But he did campaign on “new leadership” and “fresh ideas.”
Although Obama gave Rudd a warm welcome, he didn’t invite him to lunch. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got that duty. Still, it’s striking that Obama seemed much more kindly disposed to Rudd than he did toward British Prime Minister Gordon Brown when Brown visited Washington three weeks ago. Things seemed so cool with Brown that The Post’s inimitable Dana Milbank led his Washington Sketch column with the words, “Our British cousins are getting the feeling that the new administration doesn't fancy them.” And it went downhill from there. Perhaps the Obama administration learned from the play the Brown visit got that it ought to treat its friends more kindly. I hope so.
Obama’s popularity overseas has created a fascinating new dynamic, with foreign leaders trying to tie themselves as closely as possible to our president in the hope of scoring points back home. Howard was one of George W. Bush’s best friends among world leaders, and that hurt him in his campaign against Rudd. So it’s not surprising that Rudd sounded like an unashamed Obama partisan in hailing “the return of U.S. global economic leadership” and praising Obama’s approach to global warming. “It’s great to have America onboard,” Rudd said happily.
No wonder Obama seemed ready to offer Rudd a Cabinet post. There are a lot of openings at Treasury. And Rudd, who speaks fluent Mandarin, could do wonders for our China policy.
In fact, Obama provided some excellent footage for Rudd to use in his re-election campaign next year, assuming our president maintains his current levels of popularity Down Under. Rudd, Obama said, showed “the kind of vision not just domestically but on the international stage that we greatly admire.” Our president spoke of a “great meeting of the minds” with his Australian friend and said he hopes to be “partnering [with] him for some years to come.” They will both be campaigning on continuity they hope we’ll still believe in.
Posted by: Bukkonen | March 24, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: clem75 | March 24, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse
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