Not a vintage year for elections

Hey, I find I have a blog page all of my own. Although the “market” is way overcrowded, I’m tired of not being able to start the thread, so here goes.

Below I have extracted a response on kiwiblog by me to a question from one of the more thoughtful — there are a few — of the residents. He asked:

“The left seem so hate filled and desperate, Cullen’s recent comments and the uncalled for personal attacks (slippery John etc) are so unnecessary, why is it that the left are acting this way?”

This year’s shaping up as an unsavoury campaign, and it saddens me. Some thoughts…

It won’t be anywhere as near as hate-filled and vicious as 1975, when the full arsenal of rascist and anti-communist fear-mongering was deployed against a decent, unsuspecting crowd of old school politicians — Bill Rowling had great personal integrity — by a real swine. But it’s little solace to know that things have been worse.

I’m not about to try and defend the EFA (you may have noticed), which I have some doubts about as a practical measure. But I can certainly understand the concerns that underlie it. I’m sorry, you can dismiss “the Hollow Men” all you like, but I haven’t seen anybody being sued for defamation. Plenty of threats, I understand, from attack lawyers. If you want to see a real example of a government trying to con its way into power with lies and secret money with lots of strings attached, you only have to look as far back as 2005.

Finally, I would note that, while the Democrats’ hands are far from clean, it is the Republican Party in the US that [edit: since Nixon] has been pioneering the dirtiest, most unscrupulous campaigning techniques seen since, er, the McCarthy era. That evil genius Karl Rove has a lot to answer for. Now, which party in NZ has the links with the Republicans?

You have to understand that if there is fear on my side of the fence, it is fear that people on your side will stoop to use Rovian tactics to which they will not be able to respond. Just like 1975 in NZ, recent Australian elections (babies overboard?), and recent US elections, to list just a few of the more salient examples.

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2 Responses to “Not a vintage year for elections”

  1. Neil Stockley Says:

    I think it’s pretty well documented that the centre-right is more likely to use campaigns based on fear and negative emotions. They are better at deploying wedge issues.

    That raises two related questions: (a) why are they better at it and (b) why is the liberal-left (in its broadest sense) usually so poor at anticipating and responding? Yes, the NZ Labour government in 1975 can be forgiven for being “old school” but Michael Dukakis and John Kerry misread and mishandled the onslaughts against them. I was in NZ when Don Brash made his “Orewa I” speech and it seemed to take the government by surprise. From a distance, the Labour party seemed taken aback by the National Party’s 2005 general election campaign.

    I think that part of the answer may lies in the nature of conservatism: it is essentially based on a pessimistic view of humankind and its politicians behave accordingly; also, centre-right parties are less programmatic and more geared up to winning and holding power.

    It is also possible that over the last 30 or so years many liberal and centre-left politicians have become disengaged from the intense emotions that “value” issues can ignite, even in their own constituencies — immigration and multiculturalism in the UK, security and patriotism in the US — and the need to project some kind of empathy or connectedness (I’m thinking of Dukakis, Gore and Kerry here). As a result, they under-estimate the political impact that such issues can have.

  2. jafapete Says:

    Hi Neil, Great insights, as always.

    I have often felt that the modern left is handicapped by its greater idealism when it comes to close combat. Clark’s advantage, after all, has been her almost superhuman grasp of detail and her formidable capacity to construct or dissect an argument (a.k.a. intellect). (Not her ruthlessness or propensity to lie, as the current attempt by the right here to create a new narrative would have you believe.) Since the battle-hardened unionists who set up the NZLP departed in the 1950s and 1960s, though, it has become more vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, I believe.

    There were once reasonable and honourable people on the other side. The names Shand, Hannan and even Marshall spring to mind. But that’s going back a long way. Maybe Doug Graham in recent times. What happened?

    Muldoon might seem the obvious reason, but I’m not sure the rise of his mix of Poujadism and McCarthyism had such a great long-term effect, and mostly lingers on today in NZ First. No, I think it is the nature of neoliberalism that is the key. If at your core is the belief that all humans are acting in their own selfish interests, then it must be easier to justify whatever means are necessary to secure your ends.

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