It’s a bit silly to have to point this out to the Australian newspaper’s political editor of all people, but Dennis Shanahan is simply ignoring the fact that only about half the Australian people actually voted for John Howard. For example, I think the following edits are necessary to this paragraph:
John Howard is…someone half the Australian people have elected four times. He is the one half the people identify with and he is the one
theyhalf the people trust (even if they disagree with him) to be steady and to admit mistakes [say what?-Ed].
This is the Howard whose record, complete with backflips, blemishes and blots,
theyhalf the people accept as legitimate. This is the Howard who has established two-way communication with half the Australian people and who instinctively understands theirthe concerns, interests and aspirations of half the people like few leaders before him.
When Shanahan writes, "[Howard] has had more vitriol directed towards him than any prime minister since Billy Hughes" it just doesn’t ring true when you remember how much Paul Keating copped. And why must genuine criticism from the Left always be repackaged as "vitriol"? Is our democracy so feeble that the Prime Minister must be regarded as above reproach by all sections of the electorate?
"Much of what is thrown at Howard is, by extension, thrown at the Australian people: they are too stupid to vote the right way, they are racist, they are boorish, apathetic and conservative. The people take exception to this elitist view, and Howard understands them instinctively.
"By extension"? By whose extension except Shanahan’s? I mean, since when is a direct criticism of the Prime Minister’s behavior a criticism of Australians generally? When and where exactly have the political failings of John Howard—Iraq or AWB or ‘children overboard’ or whatever—been attributed as failings of the Australian people? It just doesn’t wash.
"Howard has used hostile media to cement his relationship with the voting public and reinforce the view that he is one of them."
What about the friendly media, like Shanahan himself? Isn’t it useful to Howard to have people like Shanahan endlessly reinforcing stereotypes about the Left, ie. of elitism, political correctness, vitriol? It’s the friendly media who does Howard a huge favor by endorsing his philosophy that it’s best to be pragmatic rather than principled in the real world, so lying, buck-passing and sticking your head in the sand are all acceptable behaviors. The thing is, the Left is not being pointlessly "vitriolic" when it stays on Howard on issues like AWB or Iraq. It is vastly important that Howard is held to account, not least because he only acts for half of us.
"By portraying Howard as a prisoner of his own conservatism, his opponents profoundly underestimate his capacity to change."
Well, I don’t agree that the Left does portray Howard that way. I think the Left is well aware that Howard chops and changes at his leisure. In the example Shanahan gives,
"After years of opposing Medicare and promoting private health insurance, Howard decided that the universal health insurance scheme was a pillar of Australian society that could not be undermined."
I wonder if, after years of opposing the Left, Howard will turn around and "decide" that the Left and "the mob"--for this is what the majority becomes when it disagrees with Howard--was actually right about Iraq. And then I guess we’ll be treated to puff pieces from the friendly media praising Howard for his quiksilver ability to move with the times.