In an interview on national television shortly before his election as prime minister for the first time, Howard described himself as “an average Australian bloke”.
“I can’t think of a nobler description of anybody than to be called an average Australian bloke,” he added.
That line is crucial to understanding the success of the less than charismatic former suburban solicitor ridiculed by cartoonists for his small stature, bushy eyebrows and imperfect teeth, analysts say.
“The key to Howard’s appeal lies in his very lack of charisma,” political commentator Hugh Mackay wrote on the 10th anniversary of his election as prime minister.
“His appearance of ordinariness is perhaps his greatest political asset: he looks and sounds like ‘an ordinary bloke’ and that triggers the almost instinctive feeling that he must be ‘a decent bloke’ as well.
“Even his harshest critics, people who believe he has actually lied to them, remark that he does it so convincingly and appears so sincere, it’s hard not to be seduced.”
Howard’s detractors say he has damaged his credibility by bending the truth to ensure political success or reneging on promises, giving rise to the mocking use of yet another nickname—‘Honest John’.
‘An “average, cunning, man of steel’”, Associated Foreign Press, 14 October 2007.
Image: John Howard