Edition 1SUN 30 MAR 1997, Page 123
Howard's image in full retreat
By RICHARD FARMER
Look at a picture of a smiling Mr Howard 20 years ago and compare it with one today.
You'll see a triumph of the dentist's art. Study the before and after eyebrows, and note the difference.
Clearly on display is a politician prepared to allow some minor cosmetic artistry to improve on nature's handiwork.
And quite sensibly, too.
In this television age, the distraction of physical oddity is sufficient to overshadow the power of any words uttered.
Look too unusual, and it doesn't matter how sensible a politician is.
Having decided that he wanted to give becoming Prime Minister a go, it was a natural step for Mr Howard to put himself forward in the most attractive light. Hence the capped teeth and cropped eyebrows.
But until very recently, Mr Howard wasn't prepared to change his fundamental self.
His views, his beliefs, were sacred.
It was this persistence which earned him the title "Honest John". Here was that rare beast, a politician of principle, and Mr Howard gained the admiration -if sometimes a little grudging of the Australian people.
There was admiration, too, for the courage of this man who kept getting up after being knocked down by a party flirting with the more photogenic talents of Andrew Peacock and John Hewson.
Somewhere along the line in his long battle towards the top, it appears Mr Howard made the fundamental decision that to be successful, he needed to change more than his physical appearance.
The first sign was bowing to the unthinking cries of "racist" which greeted his commonsense comments about the majority of Australians'
resistance to too rapid an increase in Asian migration.
"Honest John", the politician prepared to say it how it is, beat a retreat to the wishy-washy orthodoxy of the rest of our elected representatives.
Since that step backwards on immigration, the retreat from principle has become a gallop.
The cruel hoax of the so-called "work for the dole" scheme Mr Howard is now advocating is exactly the kind of populist policy he would have torn to shreds when he made his "Honest John" reputation.
Cynicism and pragmatism have overtaken the belief in principle.