Below are extracts from a speech that Tony Abbott will give this weekend at the Young Liberals convention. You know, if you think about it, John Howard really is a lot like Victoria Cross winning soldiers, Winston Churchill, John Curtin and Ronald Reagan.
Last week, an Australian was awarded the Victoria Cross for the first time in 40 years. Trooper Mark Donaldson deliberately made himself a target to protect wounded comrades.Donaldson also scored the appreciation of the nation, and ample popular coverage in the media.
Another Australian received a medal last week. In Washington, then president George W. Bush conferred on former Australian prime minister John Howard the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
John Howard's final money shot with Bush was not exactly popular with Australians.
Reactions to Howard's award, by contrast, ranged from muted compliments to bilious rage.
He's exaggerating. Most Australians who had grown to shudder whenever Howard appeared on the evening news, no longer cared where he was, or what he was doing, and if Bush was involved, then it was more likely to be, "and I'm supposed to give a shit, why?".
Tony parses the arguments for why Bush is not an idiot :
Eighty-two per cent of more than 11,000 respondents to The Age's online poll said he didn't deserve it. My ABC blog, giving credit to Bush and Howard, generated 367 mostly apoplectic responses within two days.
"Only a fool accepts a medal from an idiot," said another respondent. This is the kind of cheap shot that everyone in politics has to get used to. Whatever Bush's faults or mistakes, idiots don't become president of the US.
About 70% of Americans may disagree with you there, Tony.
It's worth pondering, though, in the different reactions to these medals, the different responses people have to courage in battle and to courage in public life.
It never ceases to blow my mind how politicians so freely, and without shame, draw parallels between being under fire in a war zone and sitting around in an air-conditioned parliament trying to think up new ways to outwit Julia Gillard.
Abbott's on about it again, here :
Field marshal William Slim, a fighting soldier who became governor-general of Australia, once said that moral courage was a higher and rarer virtue than physical courage. Moral courage means facing issues and making decisions that every normal human instinct would rather avoid.
Provided you have to answer for the decision, it takes a similar measure of courage to commit soldiers to battle as to face the bullets yourself.
Except for the whole bit where you're actually facing, you know, real bullets.
At least in Western counties, there is no risk of death in the battle of ideas.
Not unless those ideas eat away at the soul of the nation, and then it's just a slow death.
Tony has so many complaints about that which he has devoted his life to.
Public life is not without its satisfactions but they're rarely sustaining.
Tony is finding life in politics, post-being somebody, not so grand. Hopefully, he can draw some comfort from the morbidly obese parliamentary pension and the Super super waiting for him.
But, yes, there are other rewards.
The chief reward is the knowledge that you've tried to serve your country and the hope, often forlorn, that this might be recognised by people who matter.
Forlorn hope must be viewed as some kind of reward if you want to make in Liberal politics now?
Politicians deal with the problems that are too big or too hard for individuals or private organisations to handle on their own.
If that's the core reason why politicians actually exist, you get the feeling they might not be so essential, for much longer.
The difference between a politician and almost every other citizen is his preparedness to take responsibility, not just for his own actions, but for the state of the wider world.
Including, obviously, taking responsibility for the actions you took that fucked up some parts of the wider world.
Here's Tony having a bit of a George W. Bush moment, imagining himself as a voter complaining about politicians :
How dare he change the circumstances of my employment, revise the way I get to work, alter the rules under which I live, or put at risk the reputation of my country.
Yeah, who'd want to ever get fired up about any of those things?
Apparently, some day, we really will think of John Howard as one part of a triple Return Of The Jedi-finale style glowing team, along with Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.
There are only two kinds of popular politicians: those who haven't yet made a tough decision and those who have been vindicated by events. Rudd and, for all his undoubted brilliance and promise, Barack Obama are in the former category. Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan are in the latter. I am sure that Howard too will be one day.The Politics Is Just Like Fighting In Wars, No Really It Is theme resurfaces as Abbott seeks to honour those who fell in the fields of battle :
There are also all the unknown soldiers of politics who fail at preselection; the backbench MPs, unspectacular ministers, and frontbenchers whose party never made it into government, who are mere footnotes to history.
And on the going down of the sun we shall honour the unknown soldiers who fell at preselection...
Abbott has been caught up in ObamaFever. Feel the call of Change in his words :
At every level, many are called but few are chosen. All of them, at least to some extent, have risked their reputations, livelihoods and personal happiness to try to improve their country.
But he's still talking about politicians.
Abbott gives an apparently miserable, put upon, stressed out, divorce-looming, utterly harassed life in Liberal Party politics the hard sell to the Young Liberals conventioneers :
The hours are long, the responsibilities immense, the exposure relentless, the pay modest, the satisfactions fleeting, and the pressure on families cruel. To the public, travel is a perk of the job. To MPs' spouses, it can be grounds for divorce. Politicians have official and semi-official socialising most days. To the public, it's little more than having fun on taxpayer's time. To MPs' families, it's being married to the job, not them.
And it's an even more shit lifestyle now politicians are not allowed to be raging, or even borderline, alcoholics.
But compared to a lot of other jobs out there, getting paid good money to be a politician is still a pretty damn fine gig, despite the hours. And most of those there at the Young Liberals convention this weekend, hearing Tony Abbott deliver those words, already know that.
Why would anyone be a politician? It's a fair question. Because there are considerably easier ways to earn a living or to make a name for yourself, the only sustaining reason to be in politics is the determination to make a difference. That's what makes politics a calling rather than just a job.
Grods reports that the Young Liberals new plan to unite the nation, following the grand Howard tradition of doing everything possible to piss off the youth vote, involves refusing to give students their university degrees until they've completed nine months of national service.