A review essay of B.A. Santamaria, A Most Unusual Man by Gerard Henderson (Miegunyah) and While We Were Young and Foolish: A Memoir by Greg Sheridan (HarperCollins).

When Bob Santamaria was in the final hours of his life, he was visited at his deathbed by the then-prime minister, John Howard. Such a visit was inevitable. Howard's hero, Robert Menzies, had been kept in power for 16 years by the Labor split, the result of a process Santamaria had put in train. Howard himself had won power by campaigning against the "elites" and "political correctness", a campaign made possible by the culture war staged by the vast array of right-wing front groups that Santamaria had founded, from the Australian Family Association to the Council for the National Interest. And a favoured son of Santa's, Tony Abbott, was by that time a rising star in the Liberal Party and spoken of as a future prime minister. Proper respect was being paid.

And yet the visit itself can be seen as sadistic, because the truth was that B.A. Santamaria loathed John Howard, seeing in the "new right" Anglican/Methodist suburban solicitor the embodiment of a certain type he had come into politics fighting: the business class, the representative of the Chamber of Commerce, a sycophant by nature, who substituted the Crown and cricket for a belief of any depth. Whatever Santa's sins, if he was right about a beneficent God, he had surely slipped into unconsciousness before the Rodent hovered over him.