Resuming Normal Service: The Republican Party's nominee for President in 1920, Warren Harding, promised the American people: “not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration”. If she wishes to remain our prime minister, then Jacinda Ardern will offer New Zealanders the same.
HOW EDUCATED AMERICA snickered when the Republican Party’s nominee for President campaigned for a “return to normalcy”. Clearly, the poor rube was unfamiliar with the correct noun – “normality”. What more could be expected, they sniffed derisively, from this undistinguished Senator from Ohio?
But Warren Gamaliel Harding had got it right. In the aftermath of one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, yesterday’s nouns were no longer fit for linguistic duty. In 1920 “normality” just didn’t cut it. “Normalcy”, however, struck just the right note with an American electorate bone weary of war, influenza, strikes, Justice Department raids, race riots and entangling foreign treaties. Harding became the twenty-ninth President of the United States, with 60 percent of the popular vote.
It was “normalcy” wot won it.
It is ever thus. After an extended period of heightened emotions and devastating experiences, the one overwhelming desire of the overwhelming majority of human-being is for everything to go back to the way it used to be – before everything got upended. Yes, there are lessons to be drawn from these traumatic events. But not now. And, yes, if we are to avoid something similar happening to us in the future, then, of course, things will have to change. But not now. Right now, all we want is some peace and quiet – and for our lives to return to normal.
It a facet of human nature to which all those leftists currently urging Labour, NZ First and the Greens not to “waste” the Covid-19 crisis should pay close attention. New Zealanders old enough to have participated in the massive protests that accompanied the 1981 Springbok Tour might like to cast their minds back to how quickly all that activist fervour and commitment evaporated. It seemed preposterous that after such a pivotal political event the people who’d made it happen could simply pick up from where they’d left off prior to the Springbok’s arrival – but they did.
If the Left does not formulate its strategies with the political potency of the “return to normalcy” slogan uppermost in its mind, then its representatives are certain to pay a very high price. Whenever the next general election is held: 19 September, 28 November, or sometime in 2021; any party not promising the voters a well-earned holiday from fear, sorrow, frustration and anger will crash and burn.
After weeks in lockdown and months of economic anxiety, the voters will be in no mood for grand schemes and novel experiments. They will vote for the parties that ask the least of them. The politicians who make it clear that the New Zealand people, having done all that was asked of them – and more – have every right to expect their Government to say: “We’ve got this.” Essentially, the winning message will be: ‘You’ve done enough. Now, leave it to us.’ Grand schemes and novel experiments will not win votes, but a promise to “return to normalcy” will.
Left-wing radicals will howl with frustration if the Labour-NZ First-Green Government allows itself to be guided by Harding’s example. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is, however, well enough attuned to the needs of New Zealanders to let these grey-muzzled old dogs of the Left go on howling. She, too, must feel the need to call ‘time-out’ on unrelenting crisis management and endless decisions – each one more important than the last. She, too, must long for an evening-in with her baby and her man. More than anyone, she must feel the planetary attraction of “normalcy”
She and her colleagues must also understand that if they don’t offer a “return to normalcy” then Simon Bridges and his National Party most certainly will. They must understand that “normalcy” is the meat and drink of all conservative parties: that what people crave most in life is predictability; a world they can wake up to with confidence and enthusiasm. Nothing frightens people more than a world out of joint: a world that no longer works. Mr Bridges need convince Kiwi voters of only one thing: that he has the ability and the determination to restore predictability to New Zealanders’ lives; to make their world work again.
Warren Harding promised the American people “not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration”. If Jacinda is wise (and she is) she will promise New Zealanders the same.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 April 2020.