It is most disturbing when a government gets a mental block on an issue that has significant voter interest and concern - government ministers just won't listen or respond, even as public need and interest reaches a crescendo.
For example, in the end, it was Howard's personal intransigence on issues such as ratifying Kyoto and saying sorry to the Stolen Generation that defined him, costing him both his seat and government.
Scott Morrison has been leading his government down a similar slippery slope on issues such as climate, aged care and, most recently, childcare and early education.
I was staggered by the negativity of Morrison's response to Albanese's proposal on universal childcare in his recent budget reply, dismissing it as "fiction" and "unfunded".
This is against his background of having offered free childcare for a limited period as part of his cushioning of the economic and social impact of COVID-19, then suddenly ditching it and scrapping JobKeeper support for childcare workers - 97 per cent of which are women.
It was also in the context of his budget being justifiably criticised for being anti-women - particularly ignoring the reform opportunity to significantly boost female participation in the workforce, as well as to address an important element of cost of living pressures (especially on young families) and to improve the focus on the importance of early childhood education.
Moreover, Morrison's jettisoning of the proposal on cost grounds - which Albanese had put at $6 billion, promising a lift of about $11 billion in annual GDP - sat conspicuously at odds with his cash splash in so many other areas unlikely to deliver anywhere near comparable growth and social benefits.
This, at a time where the government is literally scrounging around for real contributions to recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, the more the issue is raised, the harder get Morrison's arteries.
To the point where he simply won't change his mind, fearing accusations of "weakness" or whatever.
Again, echoes of Howard. A member of the Howard cabinet used to tell me of Howard's intensifying pig-headedness on those issues.
The October Surprise in the present government's recent budget was the absence of any attempts at genuine reform, now almost an imperative in most areas of public policy.
While the focus on jobs, jobs, jobs is clearly an understandable, near-term imperative, these jobs need to be full-time and sustainable, ensuring a longer-term recovery that will be essential to the challenging task of future debt management and repayment.
Childcare offers a significant opportunity for lasting reform in an area that has been something of a political football over decades. Morrison would be smart to recognise the inevitability of the political momentum mounting on this issue.
Similarly, education - from early childhood through to universities, including vocational training - is also a neglected area in need of reform, and for which there is also mounting electoral concern. But, where again, Morrison is handicapped by his prejudices.
The Gonski school reforms need to be properly completed and more forward-looking. Morrison's prejudices against universities are seeing that sector, and related research, deliberately neglected, even though it is a very significant employer and an export industry.
Hard to understand how universities (and other key sectors such as the arts) haven't been allowed to access JobKeeper, especially when say the Catholic Church has - also why the opportunity has been ignored to offer say an income-dependent loan to universities to force restructuring of that sector.
Reform of early childhood education, in the context of the provision of universal childcare, should be seized on as the basis for a genuine education revolution.
There is an important opportunity to define our nation by the development of a world-class education and training system, that in turn is so fundamental to essential restructuring and reform of so much of our industrial base, our longer-term sustainable economic recovery and our standing in the world.
The Morrison government is challenged to seize the moment, rather than sink in the mire of short-term political point scoring on such important issues such a childcare and education.
In the end, a la Howard, the Morrison government will pay the ultimate electoral price for such a lack of leadership.
John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.