Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a press conference at Parliament House on Sunday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Perhaps accidentally, but Bill Shorten got it absolutely right when he said, ''I know who's more popular. It's Tony.'' Make-up artist Lily Fontana got it totally right when she said, ''I've never had anyone treat me so badly while trying to do my job.'' A third of the cabinet got it completely right when they resigned rather than work with Kevin Rudd.
They didn't judge him politically - their conclusions are personal and based on the belief that Rudd only cares about himself. According to them the rhetoric and the fine words simply serve to camouflage personal ambition, detached from reality.
Indications that Rudd is living in a delusional world came when he allowed the perception to grow that he'd stopped campaigning to ''undertake, in a calm and measured fashion'' briefings on the situation in Syria. ''These are troubling times in the international community,'' he said, ''and we need to focus carefully and squarely on unfolding events as they affect Australia's core national interests.'' Well, it seems we've done nothing. Perhaps our interests weren't involved after all.
Rudd may have no policy principles, but we can live with that. But sociopathology (the absence of a moral compass and the belief that reality can be defined to suit yourself) is another thing altogether. To justify overthrowing Julia Gillard, he claimed she was ''leading Labor to a catastrophic defeat''. Now he says: ''I will not be engaged in any character assassination of her or her political … record.'' Both statements can't be true.
He's now trying to slam the door on asylum seekers after earlier encouraging them to come. His revamped carbon tax is as meaningless as Tony Abbott's. The inequality of wealth and opportunity has increased under Labor. Neither party is offering a real choice. In minimising differences with the Coalition, Rudd gives no one a reason to vote for him.
Growing up is all about learning to interact with other people. When someone loses contact with our shared reality, we say they're ''on another planet''. What we mean is that whatever they're doing, it doesn't intersect with our shared understanding of how the world works. This is an occupational problem for people in power.
It's also what makes a leader, because they're all slightly mad in their own way. A determined person won't accept limits. They build a myth to insisting they're special. This allows them to slip the bonds holding others back. Bob Hawke, for example, had his ''special connection'' to the Australian people. Paul Keating possessed an ability to pull the economic levers. Some suggest John Howard made the country feel ''comfortable''. Julia Gillard was a ''great negotiator''.
The trouble is these are just myths. It works when somebody's on the way up, but then comes the moment when it all falls apart. Rudd, for example, stops being ''fiercely intelligent'' and becomes just another maddie. Disillusionment spreads rapidly. That's why when Rudd was overthrown, it took his colleagues only 18 hours to agree to pull him down.
But because he was a leader (in other words, mad), Rudd didn't accept their verdict and it's why, still full of self-belief, he clawed down Gillard. He doesn't listen to anyone. That's why his sons (not just one, but both of them) had to be brought onto the campaign team. Their job was to ''speak truth to power'' and keep him in touch with reality.
This, more than anything else, is why Rudd's campaign is falling apart. He is, in short, arrogant and offensive to people whether they're putting on make-up, picking up his clothes or serving up policy papers. Let me assure you, it's not just one make-up artist who has suffered. I've heard similar complaints expressed by many staffers over the years, although always on the basis that the details aren't to be repeated.
Arguably it doesn't matter if he's a rude pig if he gets the job done. Some would excuse a gifted leader because they're operating on a higher plane. Or, as Rudd claimed, ''in the zone''. This works fine while things are going well; the trouble arrives if it begins to fall apart. There's no one to fall back on.
Rudd's going down. People in the party are already peering over his shoulder to secure their future, because he won't be shaping it. They've begun looking beyond Rudd to see who's coming on as the next leader. There's a spreading realisation that this campaign represents the end. There will be no forgiveness.
The election campaign has moved into a new phase. The circle in the Ruddenbunker is growing smaller. Increasingly, people are keeping one eye on the exit. Too many inside Labor hold bitter grudges. It's the media's job to record honestly what others tell them. Facts are verifiable - but packing a story full of fact doesn't mean you're faithfully recording what's occurring. It's necessary to look beyond statements to reality.
There comes a moment, once every three years, when the spinning and construction and the myth-making stops. That time is finally approaching with all the ruthless finality of a Soviet tank army closing in on Berlin in 1945. The phantom defences won't stop Abbott's assault. Many voters may not particularly like him, but they still prefer him to Rudd. That's for a reason.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.