FDR Redux

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.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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2024 years ago

Observa’s observation about Latham is hypothetical at this stage.

Any Leader of the Opposition is constrained by the very nature of the role. Allowing individuals to let it all hang out is jumped on by both Governments and the meeja as signs of disunity, headless chookery and cowboyism.

Latham hasn’t had any ministers, senior or otherwise, to whom he can give a long leash. One of the perks of incumbency (and in Howard’s case, years of relaxed and comfortable incumbency) is that you can let the young turks and the men who would be king have their heads every now and then without putting too much at risk.

That stating of the obvious over, observa may well be right in his view of Latham as a control freak, though the Conroy thing isn’t necessarily an indicator of that. A spot of mutual personal animus might be closer to the bone.

Scott Wickstein
2024 years ago

I had to laugh ironically at your depiction of Howard as ‘evil’.

Can we, at least at Troppo, put an end to this pathetic meme where your moral standing is determined by whether or not you are willing to sign up to big govt/social democratic values or not?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2024 years ago

Scott, my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I wrote that. I don’t really think he’s evil, even though obviously I disagree with most of what he stands for. Note, however, the post itself gives him credit where I think it’s due!

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2024 years ago

howard has always been a micro-manager of the nth degree which is why I had to laugh when I read about kiddies overboard.

What has changed is that in Opposition he was impossible whereas in government he has the power thus he is alwayas right.
Also important he is not paranoid about people challenging him these days either!

2024 years ago

… and Jack must have had a chuckle to himself when challenger Peacock, after all these years and despite recent surgery, still finds himself trailing by one bypass.

Nicholas Gruen
2024 years ago

Note, Hawke was similar to Howard in his preparedness to delegate and back his ministers, rather than trying to run everything from the Oval Office. Not so his two less successful predecessors as PM and his even less successful successor.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2024 years ago

Howard may delegate and back his ministers, but what about his attitude to his attack dogs, like Heffernan for instance?

If we are not to use the term “evil”, Scott, how would you characterise his latest action wherein “the Australian government has instructed its delegates at the United Nations to support a US and Costa Rican proposal to ban therapeutic cloning.” (Report at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s1250698.htm) Apparently the instruction came from the PM’s department.

As Professor Weissman said “that ideology and fundamentalism will allow hundreds of thousands of people to die who would have otherwise lived.”

No, I wouldn’t call it “evil” either, but I must say I’m struggling to find an adequate descriptor.