By Darryl Mason
How many Australians silently whispered the words "C'mon snipers..." when they first saw footage of prime minister John Howard fleeing, at speed, out the back of a smoking Hercules on a wide-open airstrip in Iraqi insurgent territory.
Hundreds of Australians? Thousands? Millions?
'Howard Hating' is now officially Australia's new national sport of choice. But do the vast majority of Australians merely dislike John Howard? Or do they hate him? Do they despise him? Do they wish for his political or physical death? Or both?
I know I've cited the unofficial caravan park campfire poll before, but I think the vibe from such gatherings of lower and middle class Australians aged 20 to 80 from all states of the nation can be extremely revealing.
On a trip through ten caravan parks and campgrounds in West Australia in late February and early March, the raw fury and teeth-grinding hatred that virtually everyone I met held for John Howard was disturbing in the extreme.
They could smell the blood of Howard's coming electoral savaging, and they didn't want to wait another month for it to become a flesh-splashing reality. They wanted it, needed it, right there and then. If the prime minister were a newborn baby, they would have tossed him to the dingos.
As Newspoll results today show, not only has Kevin Rudd and his policy-focused front bench ministers opened up a completely unbeatable lead of 61-39% over the "conga-line of suckholes" that leer out from the prime minister's quivering shadow, John Howard himself is now the primary target of choice for the loathing of a nation.
Naturally, the opposition leader's numbers will rise in the polls if the prime minister's popularity and approval ratings fall. But Howard's numbers aren't falling, they're plunging into the basement like a lift crammed full of concrete blocks that's snapped free of its cables. He's almost in George W. Bush territory. And Rudd has led Labor to their best numbers in two decades.
The decline of John Howard's political kingship has already become an amusingly harrowing spectacle. But the laughs won't last. The cacophony of lies, deceit and fear mongering that have punctuated his reign have deafened the masses and deadened their souls. Now they want their revenge. They want to scrape the filth off their shoes and put the past decade of derision and division, of Tampa, of Truth Overboard, of legitimate refugee toddlers razor-wired into desert prison camps, of Australia-funded missiles slamming into Iraqi civilians, of propping up Saddam's hideous regime by plausibly-denying the bribes of the AWB, all of it, all that muck and filth, Australians in the overwhelming majority now want to push it all deep into the back corner of their memories.
Perhaps appropriately enough, the kiss of death for John Howard was delivered in the main editorial in The Australian today. Two kisses, actually. One for each cheek.
"The record shows that far from being too close to the Howard Government, as our detractors would argue, this newspaper has in fact been a fierce critic."
"....for a government that argues its strongest virtue is economic management, the real economic achievements of the past 11 years are slim pickings."
The Australia's editor is trying to force the lid shut on Howard's political coffin before the fetid stink of death seeps into his pleasant suit.
There is no going back now. The opinion makers and fakers of The Australian can go for the throat, and the arms and the legs and the bloated liver, of Howard for all they are worth.
Australia has been transformed under the War On Human Decency waged by John Howard for 11 solid years, and many of us have become more like Americans than perhaps even John Howard and Tony Abbott and Piers Ackerman and Andrew Bolt might like to realise.
The Fair Go For All has faded. Give The Little Bloke A Chance is not so popular anymore. But most of all, we don't seem to like Losers as much as we once did, even the ones who try really hard. That's the chief reason why the Iraq War is so vastly unpopular in the United States today. America is losing, and Americans don't like to lose. And now, neither do we.
Howard is a Loser. And everyone knows it. When you're a Loser in Australian politics, you don't get a second chance anymore, as Mark Latham so comprehensively learned.
The stumbling, bumbling, simpering, whimpering decline and fall of John Howard is really going to be almost too cruel to watch. Alan Ramsey called the coming spectacle of Howard's downfall "delicious" in the Sydney Morning Herald last week. Maybe. But there's nothing pretty about a six month long autopsy.
John Howard is like a once glorious multiple Melbourne Cup winning racehorse that's gone lame and now needs a well-lubricated fist to clear its bowels in the misty morning. Peter Costello and Malcolm Turnbull must do the decent thing, the humane thing. The only thing that can and should be done. They must feed Howard a handful of sugar cubes and coax him down into the back paddock and do what the insurgent snipers failed to do in Iraq on the weekend: put him out of his misery.Politically speaking, of course.
John Howard Sees Only "Faint Glimmers Of Hope" In Iraq
On the night Australian troops enter their fifth year of war fighting in Iraq, Australian prime minister John Howard was downbeat on the prospects of any eventual result approaching great success in the Iraq War.
Two days ago, the prime minister visited Iraq, meeting with prime minister Maliki, and Australian troops, before he committed Australian forces to at least a few more years of support for the embattled Maliki government. Howard is also expected to announce further increases of troops to Iraq in the coming weeks.
When asked, on the 7.30 Report, about whether he thought the Iraq War would deliver the kind of freedom and liberty promised to the people of Iraq in 2003, Howard said he still saw a "faint glimmers of hope".
"Australia will continue its presence in Iraq to assist in bringing about a situation where the Iraqi people are reasonably able to provide for their own future and for their own security," Howard said while in Iraq, last weekend.
This is yet another example of Howard's steady, sustained deflating of expectations of what state Iraq will be in, as a society, as a nation, when Australia eventually withdraws its troops as the United States does so.
John Howard will give a major speech on Wednesday evening to mark the anniversary of the Iraq invasion, where he is expected to downplay earlier claims and boasts of success in Iraq, and to prepare Australians for a long commitment and the likelihood of Australian casualties, as insurgents chased from Baghdad by the US troop "surge" relocate to Australian controlled areas in the south of the country.
During the 7.30 Report interview, John Howard was completely busted by interviewer Kerry O'Brien trying to portray Iraq as a country besieged by Al Qaeda terrorists before the 2003 illegal invasion began :
KERRY O'BRIEN: You've just come from Afghanistan, too, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been able not only to survive but, it seems, rebuild strength, in the case of the Taliban. In the case of Al Qaeda, its ongoing strength is clear for all to see, it would seem. You must have pondered what might have been if America and its coalition partners had focused on that primary battle front in Afghanistan after September 11 rather than the disastrous four year distractions in Iraq?No, you were talking about pre-war Iraq, post-Afghanistan pullout when you said you had pondered why "it was important to defeat the terrorists".
JOHN HOWARD: Well, I've pondered two things about Afghanistan. I pondered, firstly, why is it important to defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan, but it doesn't matter in Iraq?
KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, what was the evidence that Al Qaeda was a terrorist force in Iraq when you invaded?
JOHN HOWARD: But I am talking of the present, Kerry.
Nice try, though.