We’ve previously heard from the Right about John “Obama” Key, whose swings towards the centre are supposed to comfort us that he’s a more moderate man, much more attuned to the climate of political change that’s sweeping the world than Helen Clark. Before I could even finish drafting a post on it after Key finally tried on the line that he was a “bit like” Obama, even the media had joined in laughing at how ridiculous the comparison was. John Key doesn’t bring change we can believe in, (he has a hard enough time getting the b into “(b)righter future”) and he’s far from a historic, inspiring, and non-partisan candidate. That’s even leaving aside the fact that John Key proposes nothing worthwhile to address the problems the Labour Party has left us with- of which cut welfare intact from the last National government, unambitious action on climate change that puts cushioning businesses ahead of the planet and potential flooding of reclaimed land like Wellington Harbour, National-Labour partisan battles erupting over the house, pork-loading in overly generous concessions to the elderly for New Zealand First, the new Daylight Savings courtesy of United Future that drove me bats whenever I woke up at seven in the morning thinking it was the middle of the night, and free trade deals that just aren’t fair trade for our manufacturers are all just casual examples, and all of which are reasons to Vote For Us. (that being either “the kids” or “the planet”, depending on your choice of billboard)
But in reality, I’m seeing a lot more of John “Palin” Key, repackaging the old as new, and stumbling to reassure the public that he’s really one of them, and really capable of giving them the change they want after years of uncaring, free-market ideology, ignoring that his idea of change is one where problems are magically solved by giving us two blocks of cheese in our tax cut stockings instead of one. After watching Sarah Palin trip through a couple of her questions while watching the Vice-Presidential debate after I got up early this morning, and being quite reminded of Mr. Key’s own gaffes1, I’m more convinced than ever of the similarity between the two candidates. Palin thought that a question about whether the vice-president was part of the legislative branch or the executive branch was the moderator questioning her experience as an executive of the state of Alaska! How is a person who doesn’t even know what the three branches of Government are going to lead a whole country if her rather senior running mate who has previously been treated for cancer tragically dies? And I say tragically because even someone as tragically wrong as John “McSame” McCain may manage to be a better President than a VP-candidate who doesn’t even know that the “Bush Doctrine” referred to the foreign policy ideology of the soon-to-be-former President.
It’s clear to me that neither country- New Zealand or the United States- can afford leaders whose only qualifications for office are looking good, appealing to middle New Zealand/America, and being very good at avoiding making any answer to important questions that might make them look bad. (Palin likes to turn them around to an experience with her family, Key simply parrots repeatedly that the question “isn’t relevant” until the journalist realises they’re not paid enough to listen to him and goes back to their office to write a novel about the small-country journalist who has the guts to stand up to their big-corporation boss who wants sensationalist coverage and hammer the evasive politician by holding them accountable in a way that doesn’t sell newspaper/increase TV news ratings- you know, fiction)
Neither Palin nor Key are bad people. They both genuinely believe, as far as I can tell2, that the government that governs least is the government that governs best. They’re both very socially apt people, who are smart and have been relatively successful in their professional lives, and they both deserve a level of personal respect from that. Palin is even a woman who has the courage to be strong in an age where that tends to get you called names and dismissed with terms like “honey” or “dear”. And Key may have come from a family that’s been and now is wealthy, but he experienced hardship and knows it’s possible for white-upperclass men to dig their way out of it, so we can forgive him for thinking that everyone had the same privileges and opportunities he had.
So let’s be clear: it’s nothing personal when I say that John Key is a centrist front for his party when they’re reluctant to admit they don’t even want to take the reasonable step of raising the minimum wage with inflation. (Somehow tax cuts will take care of that, even though those on or near enough to minimum wage to be effected by its rise don’t pay much in tax at all, especially when you consider Working For Families) It’s nothing personal when I say we can’t afford a government fronted by a nice man who’s willing to put in his cabinet environment spokespeople who don’t even believe that humans are responsible for climate change, not even after all those warming greenhouse gases we’re digging out of our coal mines and burning up into the atmosphere. I don’t even support Helen Clark’s Party, so I can’t be part of the labour smears on him, even if you did believe Key’s lines that Labour’s challenges to his judgement are always personal attacks and dirty politics.
And it’s nothing personal when I say that I can’t afford to stand by while a considerable amount of my fellow New Zealanders prepare to elect a man who doesn’t even believe he needs to announce his principles to the New Zealand public after radically changing the direction of his party, who would conspire to keep his potential coalition partners outside of the media during the political debate, and who thinks the law that finally adds some transparency to political donations is “anti-democratic” because it puts a reasonable cap on how much people are allowed to spend on ridiculous advertising that says “Party Vote Act/Green/Labour/Progressive/Maori Party/National/New Zealand First/United Future”, or features ridiculous passport photos of candidates.
You need to engage in debate. You need to show us that you can do more than cave in to your opposition’s policies that are popular. You need to show us you care about civil rights, and about the unfair state of an economy that doesn’t value people who put in long hours and hard work driving buses, and thinks mothers and fathers come free when we dictate a minimum wage for nannies and babysitters. You need to show us that the planet is important enough to put ahead of windfall profits on dairy products, and that 90% renewable energy may be hard to achieve if we’re going to do it quickly, but it’s still definitely achievable. Principle, preparedness, and spine- that’s what both you and Palin are showing you lack, let alone the policies that are going to lift us out of the hard times caused by our blindness to the ills of unrestrained market forces, and the maxim of unlimited growth that’s driving our carbon emissions and the change to our climate that threatens our polar ice caps.
The scariest part of it, is that like Palin- John Key may really just be the kinder, more likable face behind the repackaged policies of Bill English. We’ve heard Bill talk a lot about John Key as if his views could be swept aside. I sincerely hope that if we do have a National government, it doesn’t end up being a Bill English government after some conveniently concocted scandal forcing Key to step aside- but we should remember that National has switched leaders a lot recently, and it’s not out of the question. A vote for a National coalition, sadly, may not even be a vote for “that nice man” John Key, “who will get us a bit more”, as Bill says.
1Remember, he’s looking forward to leading the Labour Party and his party had to bully a small newspaper into “correcting” that he would love to see wages drop- and that’s just off the top of my head.
2While I’m aware that politicians can be some of the trickiest sharks this side of the Tasman, I’m also aware that even a shark has good reasons to eat other fish. Sharks have kids to feed, too, you know, and it’s not the motive there that’s wrong- it’s the lack of being open to a better solution. Although I hope you’ll excuse me if the idea of vegetarian sharks belabours the metaphor for you, but that’s exactly what bringing parliament around to green ideas is like, and what makes our punching above our weight as a small party all the more inspiring to me.
Note: Hover over the underlines for explanations if you’re not familiar with the terms- unfortunately I don’t have access to the CSS on G.Blog, so I can’t change the display of abbreviations from WordPress’ default for this theme of not decorating them, and sadly, the standard dotted line isn’t possible to achieve without accessing the CSS. Anyway, don’t worry- I don’t expect every single voter to be familiar with every part of government, even if I do expect that of the candidates.