This piece by Michael Duffy, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald is one of the better short pieces looking at the Howard legacy, and it is a marker for Howard really will be remembered by historians and political addict alike. Duffy is particularly harsh on the Howard lackeys, propagandists and spin masters in the mainstream media for rarely holding Howard to account, or to even shine a harsh light on some of his more questionable policies and lack of reform :
There's a real possibility that people in the future, especially those on the right, will look back on the Howard years as we now view the Fraser ones: as a time of wasted opportunity.
The main achievement of both men was to bed down the reforms of their predecessor, in Malcolm Fraser's case Gough Whitlam's social policies, such as multiculturalism and changes to divorce law; in John Howard's case Bob Hawke's economic reforms.
The main claim made for the government is that it managed the economy well for 11 years, but the notion on which this is based, that governments these days actually do run the economy, is largely false. One reason it's false is that the Howard government gave the Reserve Bank more independence: it deserves credit for this, but the action further reduced the extent to which government can be said to "manage" the economy.
The main influences on the economy are various national and international trends, plus the hard work and ingenuity of the Australian people.
The Howard government deserves little credit for these.
Duffy then details how Howard failed to deliver on a number of nation-changing reforms, including the Aboriginal intervention, until it was all but too late...
They got played all right. Howard told them exactly what they wanted to hear, and the reaction from the committed-Liberals media was like that of a cult hearing from their leader about how he was going to lead them to paradise. Yet again.
Howard was able to get away with all this partly because we were in a boom where there was little demand for reform, and partly because the intellectual right did not criticise him sufficiently. Conservative and liberal commentators, think tanks and magazines got too close to the government and generally allowed the agenda of public debate to be set by politicians, rather than themselves.
In contrast, conservative governments in other countries receive more vigorous and wide-ranging comment and criticism from friends outside their ranks - just as Labor does in Australia.
Howard attended conservative and liberal functions and told those there how important they were. His attendance was most useful for fund-raising, but in the longer term I suspect he played the conservative movement for suckers.
The genuinely bizarre Quadrant dinner where John Howard basically said that those on the right were the saviours of the nation (from all those Evil Lefties) received not a word of caution or criticism from the likes of Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Miranda Devine, Janet Albretchson, Piers Akerman or Dennis Shanahan. They all fervently lapped up Howard's praise and lock-step agreed with him : "Yes, the prime minister is right. We really are wonderful and important!"
Of course, Howard screwed them all, in the end, and destroyed the Liberal Party as a political force for years to come.
Which is probably why so many once-proud Liberals are repeatedly referring to themselves as 'conservatives' instead of 'Liberals'.