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Obama-Rudd '09

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.

By E.J. Dionne  | March 24, 2009; 5:51 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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I'm afraid Obama IS like Rudd -- a pale imitation leftist who actually adheres to the "lite" right-wing way of doing things. On issue after issue, such as limits on greenhouse gases or labour rights, Rudd has talked a good game but barely watered down the far-right policies of the prior fascist "Liberal" government. Meanwhile, the bank maggots and rich pigs at the top are being taken care of in Australia, just as they are in the U.S. The Labor Party here, just like the Democratic Party in the U.S., is merely the "kinder, gentler" side of the Corporate Party coin. No wonder Obama and Rudd seem like peas in a pod.

As far as Obama's popularity, it surprises me (I'm an American who emigrated Down Under for political reasons during the Bush Crime Family regime) how often he's used in Aussie contexts. The state of Queensland had a parliamentary election last weekend and Obama footage was used in TV commercials for local candidates there. "Vote for me -- I'm like Obama!"

Posted by: Bukkonen | March 24, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

I completely concur with Bukkonen's comment. In Australia we are increasingly seeing Rudd as a populist more than a politician. He is is disconnecting his party from its electorate for political purposes. Tony Blair tried this with his "Third Way" - it sent Britain's conservatives into the political wilderness by co-opting their conservative agenda but in the end this strategy squandered the opportunity to achieve any of the progressive measures left-wing thinkers advocate. It is a self-defeating strategy. Here are the steps to the Third Way dance: The Left shifts slightly beyond centre-right pushing the Right too far from the centre to satisfy a majority of voters. After some time, to increase its electorate, the Right shifts to the centre-right, alongside what used to be the Left. The Right then gets re-elected because the traditional left wing electorate sees no reason to vote for a party no different from the opposition. And then we end up with both major parties on the right of the political spectrum.

Posted by: clem75 | March 24, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

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