Having been abandoned by the Australian electorate, his own constituents and, finally, by his own party, John Howard has had to retreat to the United States to find a sanctuary from where he can defend his record.

For his Irving Kristol Award, Mr Howard received an elegant glass salad bowl. Given the way Kristol bounced around the ideological spectrum over the decades, one would expect it to toss the salad by itself. Whatever, it should look lovely on the sideboard at Wollstonecraft, or perhaps among the lunch things on the table outside when he and Janette next holiday at Hawks Nest.

But one suspects that the American Enterprise Institute – think of the Institute of Public Affairs, though bigger and minus the milk of human kindness that flows like a river through the IPA – has been duped in thinking Howard merited an award for “exceptional intellectual or practical contributions to improved government policy, social welfare, or political understanding.”

Even in the rambling lecture Howard gave to his hosts – amongst whom numbered a rogues’ gallery of neo-con duds like convicted perjurer Scooter Libby, disgraced World Banker Paul Wolfowitz and failed UN ambassador John Bolton – he couldn’t avoid dealing with a number of areas where his record isn’t quite what the rugged individualists at the AEI would like to believe.

Howard professed to be “disappointed that Australia’s battle group will be withdrawing from southern Iraq in June…”

This presumably will come as a surprise to Andrew Robb, who supported the withdrawal when it was announced in February and said that Howard himself had been planning it for 2008 and had told his American friends about it.

He also spoke about cutting taxes and running surpluses. Doubtless he was hoping his hosts weren’t aware that his was the biggest taxing, biggest spending government in Australian history, which died vomiting cash to every interest group it thought could be bribed for support.

His comments about avoiding regulation were probably best not considered in the light of his efforts in broadcasting, pharmacy, newsagents or anywhere else where competition threatened his Government’s mates.

And global warming is apparently “a new battleground” with “bullying and moralising.” It’s only a few months since Howard assured us during his election debate with Rudd that he accepted the human role in climate change and that he was bent on doing something about it.

Defeat doesn’t appear to have agreed with Howard. Perhaps, deep in the bowels of Parliament House, there’s a Dorian Gray-style portrait of him. Now that the spell has been broken, the picture has reverted to the Howard with hair, black-rimmed specs and bad teeth, and the man himself has started decaying before our very eyes. There’s something pathetic about his preaching to his last remaining mates. It must infuriate him that Australia has so quickly moved on from him, and taken most of his former colleagues with it, leaving him to look like a relic from another age. But as Paul Keating would tell him, there’s nothing so ex as an ex-Prime Minister.

Peter Fray

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