Jonathan Green on the ABC's Drum today, fawning over Howard's "steely chutzpah" and contrasting his supposed "conviction" politics with the weather vane-driven, craven populism of the current crop.
Press gallery doyen Laurie Oakes, who just three days before had used his Herald Sun column to accuse Howard of putting his ego ahead of the long-term welfare of the Liberal Party, immediately chimed in on Twitter urging Gillard and Abbott and "anyone into politics" to read Green's piece.
The inference in all of this is that the gallery is suddenly nostalgic for the glory days when politicians actually stood for something. Focus groups be damned. These steely-hearted policymakers, epitomised by Howard, had the long-term good of the country at heart and they would not be stooping to the sort of jelly-backed, short-termist political fixes so easily resorted to by the current generation of hollow men and women.
The first point to be made about this was that Howard was never a conviction politician. Aside from the gun buyback and the GST, his record in office was mainly about using the once-in-a-generation windfall from the commodity boom to buy off favoured middle class constituencies, outsourcing his foreign policy to a neo-con cabal in Washington and cynically manipulating the most base prejudices of the community to wedge his political opponents domestically.
What Howard was good at was making people, including the press gallery, believe he was a conviction politician - persuading them that what made him tick was some higher purpose than hanging onto power at any cost. Howard, like all successful politicians, was a myth-maker, a story-teller, a creature that could construct a feasible disguise to mask the grubby business of grabbing, exercising and maintaining political power. Like a good stage actor, he kept an invisible wall between himself and those who reported on him and this helped protect him over and over again when a line was fluffed or an entry missed.
The difference now is the press gallery has decided to stop playing along and is enjoying life backstage with the politicians. There is no separation between audience and cast. The journos see the greasepaint being sloshed on, they see the lines being rehearsed, they are virtual stage-hands, providing a running critique of the play before it even hits the stage. There is no room for conviction in this production - and claims to such draw the most cynical responses from a press gallery just too smart-arsed for its own good.
With the journalists preoccupied with stagecraft and not the play itself, no politician will actually fight for a position on principle. The press gallery simply does not believe that such a thing is possible. Every interest is a vested interest. And every proposed policy is just another excuse to draw out the possible sources of conflict, thus guaranteeing copy for weeks on end. So we have seen it since the election with the carbon tax (the dreaded 'backflip'), the Murray Darling Basin Plan (too hard) and now the Singapore Stock Exchange merger with the ASX (a xenophobes' picnic in the making).
In this new politics, there is nothing to be gained by leading on principle and policy and everything to be won by just tearing things down. No conviction. No change. Nothing happens. Issues are only of interest to the media insofar as they generate heat and conflict. The consequence is we see a politics of constant rehearsal for an event that never occurs. Or as Laura Tingle described, in her masterly feature for the Media Alliance magazine on the media's shallow reporting of the resource rent tax debate, policy is never debated in Australia any more, only the politics of it - because that is all that a lazy, inbred and philistine media is interested in.
And so it is that the audience goes home without the play ever being performed. All the action is among a narrow inward-looking group backstage. And it seems the major players, the media among them, are happy with it that way. So much for the new paradigm folks. It's same old same old in Canberra.