I’ve come to realise over the last few months that my appetite to call out the most obvious grotesque political leaders has decreased quite a bit. There are enough people writing about Trump. There is enough outrage to go around. Perhaps there is something just so disgraceful and absurd about these characters that to engage in attacking them feels like fighting the battle on their terms. Take Milo Yiannopoulis – the surplus of newspaper and internet columns dedicated to calling out his disgusting behaviour doesn’t need an additional boost from me. I also don’t see the point in engaging with people whose entire purpose is just to shock and provoke. Provocation for it’s own sake betrays a real emptiness of character and intellect. It’s what boring and unintelligent people do to make friends and get attention.
But there are people and commentaries that I do feel like I need to comment on – and almost all of them are to do with the sorry state of the ‘liberal’ opposition. And my reason is pretty simple – we’re never going to see a progressive future by just defining what we are not. And we’re never going to win again if we don’t stop and realise our own failings. It’s easy to have a go at Trump, or point a finger and have a laugh at stupid or malevolent conservatives in general, but it’s a lot harder to try to analyse some of the rot in our own liberal institutions. It’s doubly difficult as these institutions rely on a lot of soft techniques that are very effective at anaesthetising or misdirecting the youth, and they are able to do this so well because the youth has an inculcated and irrationally blind allegiance to these institutions. Also, the methods are much subtler than the brash and openly ridiculous conservative or right-wing propaganda strategies. The zealots on the right are experts in inflaming and marshaling latent rage and prejudice and directing it at weak and dispossessed targets, in particular minorities. But the high-priests on the left do it quite differently. They don’t want us to get all enraged and aggressive, far from it. They just want us to fall asleep.
And so we come to the recent column by Guy Williams in the Herald gleefully entitled “What the heck is Gareth Morgan doing?”. What does Guy Williams have to do with this you ask? Surprisingly enough, everything. I’m not interested in any criticism of Guy as a person, I’m more interested in how he operates in this column as a tool for a useful but dangerous cultural narrative.
To be fair to Guy, he has spoken in the past of what sounds like his commitment to improving political discourse in the country:
“In New Zealand we weirdly treat politics like it’s some sort of taboo subject that only comes up for an awkward family dinner before an election, when really we should talk about it all the time and everyone should be engaged and interested.”
This was part of an article detailing how his role as master of ceremonies for the Labour/Green launch was a personal highlight of his career, indeed illustrating how he has been a member of both parties and is ideologically now more aligned with the Greens. The Stuff article continues to explain how:
‘After witnessing the poor youth turnout at the local government elections he said he was on a mission to get more people engaged in New Zealand politics.’
Sounds good Guy, count me in. A young person interested in politics, with a bit of a platform himself, keen to get more people involved and mindful of the voter apathy that plagues the youth in this country? Sounds like someone that could be very helpful in promoting and developing a more progressive New Zealand.
Except something seems to have happened to Guy along the way. Or at least his desire for the youth to engage in politics is all very well, as long as that engagement is just with Labour and the Greens.
His recent article begins by making some pretty spurious comments:
“…only months of being a new party, Gareth has already managed to somehow p… off red peak flag supporters (not that hard) and lose a debate with Paul Henry (pretty hard). Any good policy ideas he has had have been drowned out by the sound of people immaturely making cat noises.”
First of all – I encourage you to watch the interview with Paul Henry that I believe Guy is talking about. Personally it was actually the catalyst for getting me to sit up and focus a bit more on The Opportunities Party. I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that Henry, Hosking and their ilk probably churn more stomachs in this country than they satisfy – at least among young people. This interview was the first time I’d seen a political candidate accuse Paul of being an Establishment mouthpiece in such a direct and withering way. I also think it rattled Paul quite a bit, his typical giggly neo-liberal nonsense looked really pathetic. I really can’t see how anyone can watch that interview and not feel similar. I may be wrong, but if I’m right, it either means Guy has a terrible ability to read a debate, or he is being deliberately misleading.
Guy’s also quite content to resurrect the debate about Gareth being on some crusade to eradicate cats, which is just another lazy ad hominen attack and attempt to denigrate Gareth as a person, instead of talking about what people actually care about, which is the policy ideas that can really impact on their lives.
Guy does however decide to put his toe into the waters of policy discussion, although it’s clear he finds the waters a bit too cold.
“He says our natural environment is “our greatest asset”, like the Greens. He says he wants to “restore the Kiwi tradition of being the most fair society on the planet”, like Labour. It seems like he want’s to run his own party so he can call the shots and get on the news like Winston Peters.”
Way to go Guy. The message seems to be if you talk about an issue that someone is already talking about, it’d be better if you just shut your mouth. Like egalitarianism or Environmentalism are specific to a party, and not values or ideals which can be considered and weighed up by people from all areas of the political spectrum. This is tribalist political thinking at it’s worst. He goes on:
“My main complaint is that he’s lighting a fuse under the people who are already trying to light a fuse.”
I’m really at a loss to understand why any effort to get that “fuse” burning faster or better is a bad thing. I think his belief that the Labour Party, the other major establishment party in this country, is really trying to light a fuse is pretty laughable. I’m more sympathetic towards the Greens trying to have genuinely radical and important positions, but it’s hard to light a fuse that starts off damp. I don’t see how adding more flame is a bad thing.
Guy then rounds off his ridiculous column by being the ultimate down-buzz and sounding exactly like the decrepit Establishment talking heads that an entire generation of young voters, at least in the United States, proved to be incredibly ignorant:
“This is an issue because there’s almost no way The Opportunities Party is going to get the 5 per cent of votes necessary to get into parliament. It hasn’t been done before. Instead of hurting the National/Act/Maori Party government, it looks like he’s going to more seriously affect the Labour/Greens challenge by taking away what will most likely be wasted votes and chewing up crucial airtime and policy space. “
Whether he meant to or not, he sounds just like the doomed finger-wagging elitists ensconced in Establishment politics and its associated media. This kind of comment would be insulting, although, predictable if it came from a politician. Coming from a comedian, whose traditional and useful societal role is to call out the bullshitters, it’s just embarrassing. Perhaps MediaWorks is where comedians go to die, and instead become mouthpieces for neo-liberal nonsense.
And the claim that opening up the dialogue or introducing new options threatens the potential success of traditional parties is old, stupid and inaccurate. It’s the same hysteria that told young people in the US not to vote for Bernie. It also is an upending of what democracy is supposed to be about. No one should have an automatic right to my vote, and the more options I have to choose from the better for democracy, not the worse. It is an insult to assume that any young voter is ‘at risk’ of ‘wasting’ their vote when they ‘should’ vote for Labour or the Greens. It’s incumbent on politicians to earn my vote. Otherwise we are just rubber stamping ‘anointed’ leaders. And what then for democracy?
Guy’s piece really is a bottom of the barrel kind of analysis. It’s also misleading and dangerous. It’s comedy that’s a disservice to democracy. We’ve got to understand that for the establishment change itself is the feared commodity, even if it is potentially beneficial change. That is the great betrayal of traditional liberal institutions. Just look at the horrors it can bring – the Democratic Party in the United States refused to change, still refuses to change, and in their blind and outrageous obstinacy they delivered power to an authoritarian imbecile.
If we ignore that we need to change, if we finger-wag and gaslight progressives like Guy is content to do, then we are doomed to continue our losing streak.