A special post for Public Address, a look at the rat-race from an unimpressed frequenter of the Wellington Beltway, "Michelle", who would rather not be identified for very good reasons. Enjoy - Keith.
When the abyss stares back you only have a split second to react, react or go mad, or bad, or both, because a wrong choice can never be put right. For Bill Clinton his moment of ultimate peril was leering at Monica’s thong. He chose poorly and Dante’s ‘Inferno’ placed Bubba in its dark stormy wind:
“Love, which in gentlest hearts will soonest bloom, seized my lover -
and with passion for that sweet body I was torn unshriven to my doom.”
And so he was, impeached by Cotton Mather’s progeny – crazed Republicans like De Lay and Livingstone, who were twisted around the delusional notion of self-righteous black bile and an even darker puritan spirit – and Bubba was saved only because there were fewer hypocrites living outside the Beltway than within it (some of the South was still Democratic then, and an old Southern defence - ‘eaten ain’t cheating’ - held some force).
For Kurtz the abyss was the shocking epiphany that there was no purpose, anything was permissible: ‘The horror, the horror,’ bemoaned Brando in Apocalypse Now. Which might have also been what David Lange muttered, during that fateful moment back in late ’87, when his calculator stared back at him and told Lange that the inevitable consequence of Douglas’s flat-tax proposals was fiscal Armageddon: The poor bastards his government had already shafted would have to stand in line for another flogging. Lange recoiled from the abyss. No Coppola moment for Mangere’s man. He did the right thing. He recoiled from his colleagues and derailed a juggernaut that was about to begin its insane death spiral, one that combined a black hole of contempt, about the ‘will to change’ of ordinary Kiwis, with a junkie’s obsession for the next fix.
Zip to 2005, and the forces Lange defeated have regathered around an unlikely new champion. Don Brash, the son of the manse, who ‘chid his truant youth,’ and knelt before the altar of neo-liberal purity – which, one suspects, makes his burden easier. Driven by an unsated ambition, a little engine that knows no rest, if you will, sixty-four year old Brash’s sense of duty propelled him forward, to Orewa... twice. Brash’s backers – those who across the spectrum never accepted Lange’s judgement back in January 1988 – were all for it, even if they were much older, far richer, and uncommonly grumpy.
Forget the slick marketing, for oil slick is its essential quality (Iwi-Kiwi et al), this election for Brash and the good old boys is about one last attempt to finish the job (see Goldsmith’s biography, pages 110-111. It covers a speech made by Brash “as Prime Minister”). But before I delve too far into that particular viper’s nest, close Brash watchers have seen his template, and told this girl. It is, after all, explicitly revealed in his biography:
“attract the audiences interests, show them the depths of hell, give them hope, then make the call to action.”
Now think about Orewa on race: Brash’s handlers, in the lead up to the speech, convinced the chattering classes that the speech was going to be something special, their first sign of competence for months. It then paints a picture of the Dis, or lower reaches of Hell, of Dante’s imagination; Maori costing us jobs with their bloody Taniwha, bleeding us dry, being lazy, being uppity, and forcing us down a dangerous path to racial separatism.
The speech delivered hope – National, after all, would deal to Maori, strip them of their seats (with white votes, as one political scientist put it), remove all Treaty references (errr… when will someone ask Dr Brash if this mightn’t merely shift the location of the Treaty ‘grievance industry’ to a new location, rather than solve it) and make the still too large Maori underclass work for the dole (which brings with it the vivid imagery of our own domestic version of chain gangs). Plenty of people were thinking what Brash said at Orewa. “Didn’t you know, once they got muskets they slaughtered each other in a wild frenzy, bloody ‘primitives.’” Oh yeah, Brash called Maori that twice too (Lange would, I’m sure, have enjoyed the irony that it was our much cherished Western civilization that invented the means for our very sophisticated selves to destroy in a nuclear furnace every living thing on the planet bar cockroaches). Well, never mind. The main gig was that Kiwis were set free to say to each other all that suppressed stuff they felt too guilty to say before the cork popped out.
Finally, to check off the Brash-template, and so the cry goes, vote for National to end this madness. It may have cost the Nats Georgina te Heu Heu and her tribe’s respect, but so what, the blue collar and elderly shift was reward enough.
The template was also there at Orewa II, if you read the speech, except a stand by Katherine Rich, on liberal principle, errr… not to mention compassion, messed with the first and last bits of Brash’s model and cost her her job (and with Katherine went many other women – of which I would have been one if I hadn’t have already decamped after the first Orewa speech).
And the usual modus is coming with the tax policy. All this flirting round the date of release fuels the pack’s interest. The depths of hell will then be laid bare: Government waste (like previous set-piece speeches, the anecdotal will reign. You know… hip-hop tours and other egregious degradations will swamp all the civilised things that are achieved every day); over-taxing ‘hard working’ New Zealanders who deserve ‘their own money back’ is in for a flogging (cos they’re the buzzwords the focus groups are spewing out); not to mention the lemming-like futility of those of us who actually chose to stay in this country), and, of course, a further retelling of the reasons why Dr Brash came into politics (presumably not including either climbing into stockcars, nor the promise of more cash for the campaign than National would EVER get under some lame centrist like Bill English).
"Hope" is the extra bucks we’ll all get if we buy into this. Yehaa, I’m gonna blow mine on lotto. If the state trusts me so much I’m gonna deliver, maximize my investment, win the big one, then plan for my retirement… in Monte Carlo. The call to action is to give you ‘party vote’ to National in this ‘two-horse’ race (wasn’t the prime reason for voting in MMP to make sure we never had to suffer another ‘two-horse’ race?).
But all this raving brings me to the other horse…and what’s a girl to do?
Helen Clark is competent, we all know this, and she never embarrasses us overseas (the odd speculative ‘what if’ notwithstanding). BUT… where was her emotional connection to David Lange when he died? I was waiting to see it, dying to see it, but instead we got the political point being made about Lange’s anti-nuclear bust-out. Poor form, methinks.
After Orewa-on-race I expected something far better too – and the five year anniversary of the Hikoi for Hope speech wasn’t bad for Clarkie – but she led Labour, in full retreat most of the time, during the blue collar and elderly backlash against her government’s not unreasonable attempts to reduce Maori unemployment, their poor health comparison with the rest of us, their disparate outcomes across the whole range of stuff that makes life more fun.
Now Labour are using the same language as their opponents on all matters to do with the Treaty. Where has its principle gone?
Having sat on squillions – or having prudently managed the economy, as Michael Cullen would prefer – Labour now finds itself vulnerable to National’s tax bribe. So its resorted to bribes itself. When in Rome, I guess, but where has principle gone? Principles of fraternity and compassion like Lange could confidently assert in his maiden speech:
‘I believe that our challenge is to create a society where people feel committed to each other, where they have an interdependence which no adversity can force apart, where they realize they have a duty to their brothers, and where the fruits of such a society are seen in the love, the charity, and compassion of people…’
A girlfriend, one more steeped in all this muck than I, put to me that sometimes one has to take the low road to prevent something worse from happening. Maybe that’s Labour’s shtick on race… but I’m not so convinced. There have been too many opportunities passed over or missed altogether… and there is the little matter of self-interest to think about as well.
And the desperation! This is a desperate campaign for Labour and the Prime Minister, and it shows.
So what’s to do? I was part of National’s 20.93% in 2002. They were my home cos I’d never contemplated Labour before. I went down with the ship, grim night that it was. I valued freedom most of all. But any liberal – at least one in the tradition of a Jack Marshall, he who once said with pride that being a liberal was not to succumb to holding “a fixed and definite creed” or a Jim McLay or a Doug Graham, whose instincts for decency will hopefully be revisited after the storm has passed – is no longer welcome in the National Party.
Which leaves me an odd choice, but one forged by staring down at the abyss. David Lange’s last sentences, in My Life, hinted at his desire to force the spring, for he sensed, I guess, that time was against him. Yet we seem strangely stuck in a winter of discontent. Spring may be delayed a while longer but I reckon it’ll be worth the wait. In the meantime, I shall lament the yawning gap between David Lange and his successors, and the pretenders. Then I’ll vote to end this era in a benign fashion.
And somewhere out there, I hope there is a fat kid or a shy kid or a smart kid who thinks they can go all the way. I’ll be looking out for them.