In 2006, US blogger Duncan Black coined the term “Friedman unit”, based on Thomas Friedman’s repeated declarations over 2½ years that the next six-month period would be crucial to the outcome of the Iraq War.

We know find ourselves in need of a similar term for Australian political journalists, because Julia Gillard keeps facing crucial periods over and over again.

“The next nine weeks of Parliament is [sic] make or break for Julia Gillard and her government. This is the most crucial period of Parliamentary sitting since the election,” opined Dennis Shanahan yesterday. “There are nine sitting weeks before Christmas. If Gillard is to survive and Labor is to recover, it is a critical period,” said Phil Coorey on Saturday. “Gillard is entering an important phase of her leadership,” Ross Peake said the same day. Geoff Kitney called it a “crucial parliamentary session”.

Crikey got in on the act too. “The Houston report and the next move on asylum seekers now looms as the next crucial test for Gillard,” I boldly opined on Friday.

But it appears Julia Gillard is rarely not in some crucial period.

“Even in her parlous situation Gillard’s actions over the next 12 months remain crucial,” said ANU professor John Warhurst last month, discussing her possible resignation from the leadership. Back in June, Tony Jones asked the Prime Minister if “the coming months, trying to sell the carbon tax, are actually critical for your leadership?” Then there was the “test” of the Melbourne byelection. Tony Abbott declared that the last sitting week in June was crucial. Her response to the Thomson and Slipper affairs was “make or break”. The budget back in May, too, was a “critical test”.

In fact, the further you go back, the more tests and critical periods there are. The Qantas dispute last year was a “critical test” for the Prime Minister. There was a “crucial” Parliamentary sitting last October, not long after she’d faced a “crucial week” in Parliament last September. In April last year, legislating the carbon price was “not just a test of Gillard’s authority. It goes to the survival of her government.” Way back in February last year, “the next few weeks” were “crucial”. In December 2010, the “next year” was “critical for Gillard and her government.”

Given so many journalists have used it, perhaps the unit should be named not after its most frequent users, but in honour of the woman so frequently subjected to it: the Gillard Unit.

Labor is itself not above such febrile commentary. Anthony Albanese declared last year that the whole nation had entered a crucial period. But it’s the media that is primarily responsible.

The logical conclusion from such repeated invocations of crisis and critical political moments is that  Gillard, being still Prime Minister, has passed them all, that she’s managed to survive this extended political trial by ordeal. But her only reward is still more trials, tests and critical periods, set for her by commentators and journalists.

One could argue that with a minority government, everything in politics is somehow crucial, but when pretty much everything is a crucial test, when no Parliamentary sitting, passing incident or political set piece comes without the political equivalent of life-and-death stakes riding on it, the consequence is a peculiar combination of tedium and hysteria. Our political coverage (that is, the political coverage produced by the media, including Crikey) becomes consumed with a sense of permanent crisis, which is undoubtedly what some media critics of the government want to engender, but coupled with a growing jadedness; one can’t remain permanently hysterical (at least not outside the offices of The Australian).

There will, inevitably, be more Gillard Units, more crucial periods, more make-or-break moments, more critical tests as the election draws nearer. But somehow Julia Gillard survives them, even when she mishandles the make-or-break moment or another sitting passes without a big breakthrough. She even manages to continue to produce solid policy outcomes amid the permanent sense of hysteria. For all her flaws, her resilience becomes ever clearer as the Gillard Units flow past her.