Two Cheers for Howard

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said Yogi Berra at his most Chestertonian.  Charles de Gaulle, in more meditative style, observed: “Les fins des régimes sont toujours tristes.”  Both maxims are relevant in the context of Australia’s general election on November 24, 2007, which saw John Howard—prime minister since 1996—crushed by an untried but personally popular Australian Labor Party leader, Kevin Rudd.  Mr. Howard thus followed into the sunset Tony Blair and Spain’s José-María Aznar, his fellow lieutenants in the so-called War on Terror.  He had the additional humiliation of being defeated in his own electorate, the first Australian prime minister since 1929 to suffer this punishment.

Drawing up a balance sheet for assessing Mr. Howard’s reign (the longest of any Australian leader save for Sir Robert Menzies) is difficult, purely because its highlights bear no discernible relation to the rest of his actions and give the impression of having been brought about by a different person.  These highlights, which deserve to be remembered amid the general scorn Mr. Howard now inspires, are two in number: the freeing of East Timor in 1999, and the de facto ending two years later of mass illegal immigration.

Perhaps one day, when the principal actors in Australia’s political dramas of the 1970’s,...

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