Thank God this week of celebration is almost over!
I don’t think I can take too much more of the unctuous, self-saucing prose that’s been rolling out for a week now — is it only a week? — lionising the political and strategic genius of John Winston Howard. The pompous, servile drivel emanating from the Murdoch public relations service (in particular) and nearly everywhere else that identifies itself as ‘mainstream’ media has been stomach-churning.
To be fair, I don’t think any of this effusion has been the Prime Minister’s fault. Sure, he’s been basking in his own self-reflected glory (if you pardon the slight suggestion of solipsism). And, of course, he seems pretty chuffed. But so he should be after all, he’s won four Federal elections in a row, has a huge majority in the Lower House, a (just) workable majority in the Senate, and there’s no chance that anyone is going to knock him off his perch any time soon.
Thanks to Fiona Katauskas.
But let’s get real. Best Prime Minister ever? That’s a qualitative assessment, nothing to do with how long he’s been warming the seat, or how long he looks like he might remain there (health, sanity and boredom permitting).
Best? Ever? Let’s just say that Howard is pretty average among a fairly average lot.
To use a cricket analogy: as the captain of Australia, he’s no Benaud, Chappell, Taylor or Waugh, and he can’t ever be Bradman because his front bench aren’t that good. He’s more your Graham Yallop.
But if you’d read some of the endless adulation over the past week, you’d think that Howard had discovered penicillin, walked on the moon, collaborated with Bowie on Heroes, and scored a century before lunch on a ‘sticky’ at Old Trafford with a broken index finger on his right hand while facing a bowling attack of ‘Typhoon’ Tyson, Andy Roberts and Freddie Flintoff.
Like all politicians, Howard evinces wildly differing reactions depending on whose opinion is sought. The reactions range from those on the rabid Left who see him as a blood-sucking vampire demanding our first born, to the hairy-chested, testosterone-driven blokes at News Corp (and I include Janet Albrechtsen here) who have been falling over themselves all week, sacrificing journalistic better-judgement before the altar of the Howard’s greatness.
To declare my own hand, I agree with Robert Hughes’s assessment; Howard is the ‘hamster version of Menzies’.
In the end, Howard has graced our lives as PM for as long as he has for a number of reasons: his breathtaking political cunning; good advice from his back-room colonels; unbelievable good luck (God may vote Democrat but she surely directs her preferences to the Libs); and utter, laughable, suicidal political idiocy on the part of the Opposition.
This week, as the Howard mardi gras float sails serenely past champagne corks popping, streamers and confetti flying, the band playing Katrina and the Waves or Michael Bolton selections, spare a thought for the ALP’s flat-bed truck as it struggles along, sad and bedraggled, with the few souls on board frantically punching, biting, scratching and knifing each other.
As the ALP publicly self-destructs over pre-selections in Victoria, the clearest message is that Howard could easily stay for another decade (if he wants to).
But, as we relax into Howard’s second decade as PM, it’s also clear that he doesn’t stride across the Australian political landscape like a Colossus as some of his elite, booster commentariat would have us believe. Rather, he’s a limited politician who has managed his limited talents beautifully, and who has had the immense good fortune to be Prime Minister at a time when his rivals have been nothing more than dwarves and pixies.
If that makes John Howard an average PM, it still makes him better than at least half the rest of the field and just as good as another sizeable cohort. That’s as much a sad indictment of the calibre of the types our political system produces, as it is a cause for (false) celebration.
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