20 February 2008

The boy in the bubble

It is one thing to criticise "people who saw very little", but this criticism is simply not valid from someone determined to see only what he wanted to see. A bit like his old boss, really.
... it has been open season on John Howard.

No different from leaders who lost previous elections. 2004 saw open season on Mark Latham. 1996, on Paul Keating. 1993, Hewson. 1990, Peacock. 1983, Fraser. Get the picture? It is always open season on political losers. As Michelle Grattan points out, the Liberal Party needs to do that to secure its post-Howard future.

Galilee's sense of grievance can only be maintained in a bubble of ignorance. He has worked hard to burrow into the middle of that bubble, but what you sacrifice is a sense of perspective.

After Stephen Galilee's stellar work as Peter Debnam's chief of staff leading up to the 2007 NSW election, he had the good grace not to claim that "Time at least will be kind to Debnam", but that has deserted him now that people dare to Speak Out Of Turn.

Galilee relies on the reading-too-much-Piers tone, starting out with a fusillade of outrage to soften up the reader in the hope that his weak arguments might gain more force than they deserve (the "heroes of hindsight" alliteration has the instant staleness of Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism"; "the commentariat", all that rubbish).

The lumping together of committed Liberals and rusted-on socialists is a habit that will simply have to be broken.
the Howard haters of the intellectual Left

You don't have to hate Howard to wish for better government than he was capable of delivering, Stephen: trust me on this. It was not hatred that did for Howard in 2007; he could, as you well know, always deal with hatred.

Those who loved Howard as Galilee did and does were energised in reaction to that hatred. What did for Howard in 2007 was what did for him in 1987; sheer indifference.

Besides, "the intellectual Left" is redundant; is there a non-intellectual left? Is there really a sizeable chunk of the union movement, or any other non-intellectual organisation, that keeps the flame burning for Mao or Stalin? I know you and Gerard Henderson need to believe there is, but there isn't really.
After more than a decade in office, the challenges of the nation's toughest job continued to energise him.

No, they didn't. That's why he lost. He might have put on a facade, all those morning walks etc., but when Rudd talked about co-operation and climate change Howard had no idea what he was talking about, and didn't want to know. Being 'energised' doesn't involve micromanaging. It involves engaging with ideas, and working with others in good faith to find solutions.

Sometimes no amount of parroting the party line can make it true, especially after the election result puts public opinion beyond doubt.
But as the 2007 election approached, it was clear Howard's final challenge would be his greatest.

It wasn't clear that it was his final challenge though, was it? The feather-dusters on Howard's End at least grappled with the idea of the Liberal Party beyond Howard (and not necessarily in hindsight, Stephen).
Despite ... a vitriolic campaign from unions, Howard kept going.

Fancy the union movement criticising a Liberal government! In an election campaign! There's a turn-up that nobody could have foreseen.
Try hosting world leaders at an APEC summit while heading off a leadership crisis.

What was he supposed to do, cancel APEC so that he could work the phones? He should have headed off the crisis well beforehand. It's silly to praise someone for being tough in the face of problems which they have created for themselves.
Try managing the equivocation of nervous colleagues who believe you should cut and run, when not so long ago they were begging you to stay.

Well, John Howard has lived by that sword, no sympathy for being unwilling to die by it.
Try keeping your focus (and temper) while you and your family suffer cheap attacks fuelled by those ever-brave unnamed sources.

Ah yes, the Royal Family. Keen to involve themselves in political matters but not keen to suffer the slings and arrows that inevitably - inevitably - come with it. John Howard used to be a Liberal Party man, but as soon as he suborned the interests of his party to that of his family he was gone.

One of the telling images of election night last year was Jeanette and Tim Howard looking out at the Liberals gathered on election night. They looked out, not on friendly faces, not on fellow Liberals as hurt and as mystified as they; they looked on their fellow Liberals as a wild mob that would surge forward and tear them apart. They weren't just gutted; they were guilty. Guilty of a sense of entitlement that worked against, not for, the organisation that John Howard led.
Try maintaining your dignity while feral union activists wait outside hospitals and hotels to call you and your wife "Liberal c-ts" and tell you they wish you would die a "slow and painful death".

Again, this being ambushed by brave friends in the union movement is evidence of strategic idiocy. I remember Stephen Galilee and his friends engaged in similar activity against Labor people in his callow youth during the dying days of the Keating government, and his (real and perceived) factional opponents within the Liberal Party since.
All while your opponent coasts along, forgiven frequent errors of judgment, congratulated for the genius of his political flummery, by a largely uncritical media.

This is the sort of thing Keating complained about in 1996. It's only possible to see the wheel turning full circle when it's not about to crush you.

All those sentences starting with "Try ..." - I don't have to become Prime Minister to know that it's a difficult job. It isn't the only difficult job in the country. I respect the job, and I even respected the previous occupant for a time. What isn't respectable is the notion that no criticism is valid because of the difficulty of the job. From he to whom much is given, much is expected; much more than self-pity or a sense that one's own difficulties are more difficult than those facing others.
You can't always be right and in politics mistakes are magnified.

Not so much magnified as having consequences well beyond oneself.
Howard's trademark conviction served the government well for more than a decade. It was his brand: a willingness to make hard decisions for the good of the nation. But as the government's standing deteriorated, his conviction came to be seen as stubbornness.

Not all his decisions were right, and eventually that catches up with everyone. Not all consequences boomerang back within a 24-hour news cycle, and not all critics are "unedifying" or wrong. There are few things more ephemeral than a brand. I suppose that everyone you agree with has "conviction" and those you don't are "stubborn"; but it is true that his mistakes could have been headed off before they shook the ground on which the careers of Howard, Galilee and others stood.
Howard went to the election carrying the baggage of unpopular positions ... because, rightly or wrongly, he believed his positions were right for Australia.

So what happened here was that he couldn't pick the difference between a policy that was unpopular because it was wrong, and one that was unpopular for trivial and transient reasons. People around him - including Stephen Galilee - couldn't and wouldn't change his mind. So, the people put in place someone of different mind - someone from outside the Liberal Party. Stephen Galilee still can't get used to the idea that Big Daddy was Wrong, but at least he's smart enough to see the steps that might lead one to that conclusion. The phrase "rightly or wrongly" is a poor excuse for not grappling with those issues, for assuming that right and wrong are somehow equivalent.
I saw enormous respect and gratitude from the public. Their enthusiasm and friendliness swamped the anger of activists.

No it didn't, and the result of the election proves that. It also showed that Labor learned the lessons of 2004: Latham believed that the only way you could get Howard out was by hating him and making others share that hatred. People can be enthusiastic and respectful in meeting the Prime Minister without agreeing with him about everything.

There is such a thing as a Liberal activist, Stephen. I used to be one and you still are. Activist is an adjective, not a term of abuse.
From shopping centres to street walks, boardrooms to factory floors, few displayed anything other than appreciation for what he had given Australia.

So, in the tightly scripted environments you saw and helped create, you saw what you wanted to see - well done.

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