John Howard - how this clusterfuck started
God save the queen
And bless all her palaces
Johnny was stuck in a time-warped paralysis
Back to the future is where we should be
Chaplains in schools and WorkChoices macht frei
Summers of cricket
And white picket fences
Bugging East Timor with no consequences
Men at the coal face and women in kitchens
God's in his heaven; to hell with Chris Hitchens
The blacks should be grateful
There'll be no notion of 'sorry'
There's just bin nights and bingo in his grand oratory
Mabo got land back but not on his watch
He'd rather die in a ditch, take a kick to the crotch
Then came the Tampa
Laden with distraught refugees
Said Little Johnny "they're all killers and thieves"
FUD and dogwhistling and throw in a wedge
For the coming election brown folks were his best hedge
Planes into buildings
He couldn't believe his good luck
At the bombing of children he would give not one fuck
He got out the atlas to locate Iraq
This was the keys to The Lodge to be handed him back
But the electorate awoke
And kicked his arse to the kerb
It was our national conscience he'd no longer perturb
Now his future's uncertain, a little bit vague
But if karma's a bitch he's got a date at The Hague
Every election, without fail, the Tories turn on the heating in John Winston Howard's crypt and trolly his defrosted, cadaverous presence around to jape and jolly for the cameras with their candidate du jour. To many this is not unlike exhuming a long-forgotten egg sandwich at the bottom of a pre-teen's schoolbag. Or finding your weirdo old neighbour indulging in hand-to-gland combat on your nature strip. But for the posh north shore ladies and the Mercedied Toorak bankers and the Kings School born-to-rule old boys he's Tory royalty.
John Winston's a shrivelled little man with a petty little mind. In Paul Keating's assessment he was "a shiver looking for a spine to run up" and he's still Mungo MacCallum's more earthy but equally on point "unflushable turd". Or in the words of the Tories' own - a "lying rodent" who's "mean and tricky". These apparently are the characteristics of Liberal Party iconography.
Our own diminutive Maggie Thatcher in drag Little Johnny didn't want to keep things as they were. He wanted to send us back to the '50s and beyond - a land of curtain twitchers and the cultural cringe, of portraits of Betty Battenberg hung in every classroom, church on Sundays (preferably Anglican), the missionary position, doffing of caps to our betters, busted unions, closeted gays and doclie, out-of-sight indigenous folks. It's to the country's credit that he failed at each.
Howard, like any die-hard conservative, sees the world through his own cozy lived experience and lacks the intellect to imagine anything outside of it. 'Relaxed and comfortable' was his grand ambition for the country; bland and beige as in his oxymoronic manifesto of 1950's nostalgia -Future Directions.
"I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about their history; I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the present and I’d also like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the future."
This explains his appeal to the fogies, young and old, in the leafy surrounds of the Tory heartlands. When your biggest problem is your over-chlorinated pool then a new cabana boy is all the change you want. Howard's achievement was to convince tradies and suburban travel agents and Jim's Mowing franchisees that with him in office then they too could one day employ their own pool guy.
Howard's legacy is two-fold.
Australia's Big Lie. The highest taxing, highest spending government in our history was carried along by the Hawke/Keating reforms to spawn the enduring myth of the Tories as better economic managers. They dine out on it to this day.
And his awfulness laid the groundwork for two horrendous successors - a badly shaved yowie in red sluggos and a failed marketing spiv who gets career advice from an eagle painting. Abbott's style was to burn everything down, Morrison's is to watch it burn.
To be fair to Little Johnny there were other accomplishments:
The lie-detecor destruction test of core and non-core promises
Entrenched middle class welfare
Punitive industrial relations
The move further right - flushing any talent down the drain should they give any hint of less than enthusiastic endorsement of RWFWittery
His AWB wheat for oil crimes
His East Timor bugging crimes
He killed the republic referendum
He finessed dog whistle politics
He's was a dedicated practitioner of propaganda not pursuasion - "stir emotion, scapegoat the innocent, enforce group identity and arouse suspicion without evidence*"
He provided a character reference for George Pell
When you see him wheeled out round the Tory fundraisers and media it will confirm an election date is imminent.
*How Trump, Elon Musk and Gwyneth Paltrow short circuit your ability to think rationally. Business Week.
Related readings wherein he hasn't been called a cunt:
"if we judge Howard by his own standards as a reformer, there isn’t a great deal to show for his lengthy period in office". John Winston Howard: The Biography. Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen
John Howard. A study in policy consistency. M.L.Murry. A long read of 355 pages. But interesting.
In truth, Labor is the superior economic manager. Craig Emerson Economics