Howard haters exposed

Wednesday, 28 November 2007 

I want to acknowledge now for the entire nation and publicly recognise Mr Howard’s extensive contribution to public service in Australia.

K Rudd’s Victory speech 24 November

Rudd’s thanking of Howard’s extensive public service in front of a crowd celebrating the end of something that unfortunately for them, had been so extensive, was the first act of disciplining the Labor party in government. It took away one of their most important excuses over the last eleven years.

There has always been something slightly irritating about those who made such a song and dance about Howard and his, er, relaxed attitude to the truth. Blaming Howard for lying for some people became much easier than dealing with their own political weaknesses. It didn’t need a military occupation of Baghdad to work out that maybe a country, which under decade long sanctions was struggling to maintain its infrastructure, would be unlikely to develop weapons to threaten the world. Maybe that was easier than providing opposition from a party that went in the first time in 1991 on equally spurious grounds (non-existent Kuwaiti democracy and remember the babies in the incubators?). Nor did it take a Senate inquiry to work out that maybe parents that had risked their lives to travel around the world to give their kids a future would be unlikely to throw them into the ocean as a ruse to get picked up by the Navy. Again it would have been difficult to oppose from a party that brought us mandatory detention camps.

Nor is it easily imaginable that whole communities in this country would be so degraded to allow their kids to be systematically abused. The NT intervention is a classic example of this political displacement activity because while Howard’s intervention was widely condemned on the left, the report which made the accusations without bothering to provide any proof, received barely a word of criticism outside parents in the communities. The teary resignation of the Chief Minister responsible for that shoddy piece of social worker prejudice, who cares so much about the indigenous communities that she thinks the best thing to do is give up, is a fitting end to that whole disgraceful saga.

Giving up is now something that Howard is being criticised for failing to do from a new group of Howard-haters, this time from the right. Gerard Henderson provides the latest example in a piece that is extraordinarily convoluted as he tries to explain why his predictions about Howard’s retirement turned out to be wrong (like anybody cares). From a group of right-wingers that have been in denial all year over the government’s clearly imminent defeat, blaming Howard for not handing over to Costello a year ago has been a handy escape clause from having to face tougher political questions.

Of course none of this makes political sense. Even if the Liberal party had undertaken the bizarre act of replacing their most popular asset (more popular than the party) with someone much less so, what then? What exactly was the programme that Costello had that would have led to a fifth term? As the current leadership battle shows, this is a question that the Liberals cannot answer. Even if the Labor party was right and Costello was ready to take Workchoices further (doubtful given the lack of interest the first round received from employers), would that have won? Unlikely. Gillard was right on election night, Costello would have produced a worse result. Unlike Costello, at least Howard could keep up the pretence of being a conviction politician.

It is the Howard-haters who helped with this pretence and who he appealed to in his last election campaign with the call to love him or loathe him. Through the last decade he rode a vacuum both on the left that preferred to make him a right wing demon than face their own political bankruptcy and from those in his own party, like Downer, that could not replace him even when they knew they were heading for defeat. A lot has been made about how Howard’s place in history would have been secure if he had retired early. One wonders how important that was to someone who ended the 1980s having been humiliated by practically every major political figure of that decade. Someone who worried about what history thought of him would surely have given up. Keating’s view of him was always more believable that he was a fraud but Araldited to his seat. He would probably even have broken his retirement promise if he had hung on last Saturday.

In a decade of political pygmies, Howard was not a big man. But he did at least have the appropriate appetite for what is supposed to be the top job for a politician. This has become unfashionable in a period when state premiers and party leaders seem to be succumbing to highly demanding families. But the Liberals should ask themselves this, who has done more damage to the party, Howard or a Treasurer who walked off and left the party in chaos because the top job wasn’t handed to him on a plate?

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 28 November 2007.

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