IT IS VERY hard to find good, objective writing about the philosophies, motivations and political skills of this country’s second-longest-serving prime minister. It seems to have been difficult for many commentators to approach John Howard objectively. There is a mountain of writing that ranges from the dismissive to the hysterically anti-Howard. On the other hand, the one biography, written by David Barnett and Pru Goward in 1997, has been justly criticised as a shallow hagiography, hurriedly compiled and riddled with factual errors.[i] Surveying the paucity of writing on such a dominant political figure, The Australian’s Opinion Editor Tom Switzer concluded that Howard is simply regarded as too boring a subject to attract authors, publishers or readers. [ii]
This inability to take Howard seriously as a topic for careful, objective analysis reflects poorly on the nation’s politics scholars. As Katherine Betts observed in The Great Divide (Duffy and Snellgrove, 1999) most members of the Australian intelligentsia are unable to overcome their contempt for what they see as Howard’s embodiment of the crass, parochial values of lower middle-class society or their dismay at his perceived manipulation of social prejudices and divisions for political purposes.[iii] Howard’s critics’ heavy reliance on simplistic stereotypes – “nineteen-fifties man”, racist, “little Englander” – results in their constant underestimation of him as a politician, leading to despair and disbelief after each of his election victories.
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