I don’t often agree with observa, a frequent commenter on this and other blogs. However, I was struck with this comment on the Latho thread:
one of the great attributes that Howard has, is a management style that allows the various personalities to make the running from time to time, even to provoke and test the mood of the electorate on various issues. Take Abbott with the abortion debate or Costello with the aging popn issue. It is hard to imagine Latham giving senior ministers their head in this fashion. He’s too much of a control freak(a la the Conroy ticking off) It is this management style that has seen unbridled party loyalty to Howard and makes him one of our greatest PMs.
I’d cavil with the description of Howard as a great PM, and I’m usually suspicious of the media’s tag of him as a political wizard (though I guess results speak for themselves), but this is interesting. In some ways, this approach by Howard is reminiscent of FDR. FDR would often allow members of his administration to run with their own line on an issue (for instance Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jnr’s post-war deconstruction plans for Germany), permit public dissent and debate, and intervene from his lofty perch to either close down debate or endorse a position. This political tactic allows Ministers to feel they are making a contribution, and is an effective way of floating a trial balloon (much as I’d like to puncture most of Howard’s). FDR also was quite well known for not knowing things.
Where Howard differs, I suspect, is that I imagine he does not adopt FDR’s practice of setting up agencies with overlapping functions and confused chains of command – extremely frustrating to those who worked with him, but a very clever way of maximising his power. Eisenhower, by contrast (and in this he is similar to Bush though they are policy opposites – Ike being a fiscal conservative and cautious about military adventurism), preferred a corporate/military chain of command and a formalised policy making process. Bush is said to welcome conflicting views and dissent, though it was hardly evident in the first term except in the case of Colin Powell.
This political characteristic of Howard’s is far more presidential than prime ministerial.
FDR of course used his powers for good not evil.