Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Howard's way

John Howard has to be the flukiest Prime Minister since Menzies (maybe there were flukier PMs before Pig Iron, but for the sake of argument let's keep our story in the latter half of the 20th century/beginning of the 21st). It wasn't enough that a man judged dead man walking by most of his own party during the Liberal Opposition wilderness and through a series of failed leaders (Peacock, Howard, Hewson and Downer) could be resurrected long enough to become leader of the party, he becomes leader when contempt of the then-current Keating administration - and Keating himself - is so strong and so broad that the Liberals could have appointed an echidna as their leader and so long as it was from Sydney's North Shore, the ALP would have been obliterated.
Then shortly into his Prime Ministership, Howard is faced with the unprecedented slaughter of tourists at Port Arthur by a single gunman, Martin Bryant, and in one of the actions in his administration I actually admire, took on the militant gun goons and banned the sort of weapons with which Bryant was able to take out 35+ people.
But come the '98 election and Howard's voter popularity is put to the test. He wins, but the gap between his '96 victory and this one has been so greatly reduced that Labor has in fact a higher two-party preferred vote. It seems hard to fathom today, but Howard was not a votewinner. In 1997/98 people seemed more adept at identifying him as the avaricious, hypocritical, miserly, mean-spirited, intolerant lying ratbag that he was (and still is). Or maybe it's just that these days they know this is what Howard's like, but the perception that he single-handedly battles to save us from Mortgazilla - the evil monster that could cripple Australia with rising interest rates at any moment - ensures that he can be forgiven for a lot more now than he could back then.
Then comes 2001, and not even Nostradamus or Athena Starwoman (rest her soul) could have predicted A/ September 11 and Tampa, and B/ said events happening within two months of one another, so close to the time when Howard is required to announce an election. "Leadership" - ie cynically targetting and exploiting an easy target of "illegal" asylum seekers to gain votes in a hostile and xenophobic (against middle easteners at least) electorate - is required, and who better to fill that role than Howard? Third time lucky, literally. Howard wins three elections not because of any great leadership, but because circumstances beyond his control or influence are kind to him. Fortune apparently favours the weasley as well as the brave, sometimes.
2004 is really the only year that I see Howard "deserving" his win, and I say that because by then he's had eight years to brow-beat the public service into very quiet submission, banish any remotely progressive Liberals into positions of obscurity within his own party such that it is no longer a "liberal" party but a Howard party, and successfully shape public opinion into the perception that he is a great leader, with the help of a shamelessly biased right-wing Murdoch media whose "quality broadsheet", The Australian, could more appropriately be labelled "The Daily Liberal Party Press Release".
My point is that when people feel there is no alternative (don't worry, I have a few choice words on the ALP in an upcoming blog too), when centre-left or even moderate politics has been drained from the public consciousness, when a country substitutes tolerance and idealism with greed, fear and hatred, and when people incorrectly conclude that a single party or person has the monopoly on a healthy economy and low interest rates, of course Howard will seem like The Messiah. In a world with these values, he is a master. To me, he still is and always will be just a very naughty boy.


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