Monday 4 July 2022

Forwards And Backwards.

The Right In Action: Nothing in politics is ever settled. The hands of History’s clock can go backwards, as well as forwards.

IT REALLY WAS THE BEST OF TIMES. The brief recession of the late-1950s was over. The United States was led by a young, Harvard-educated war hero, with the dashing style and good-looks of a Hollywood movie star.

The Kennedy Administration had made idealism sexy, and politics heroic. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” John F. Kennedy had declared in his Inaugural Address of 20 January 1961, “ask what you can do for your country.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and its peaceful resolution, offered proof positive that “the best and the brightest” of the “Free World” were more than a match for the hard men of Soviet Communism. There was a confidence and purposefulness about the United States that not only lifted the spirits of Americans, but fuelled the hopes of people all over the world.

Even the great American scars of racism and poverty no longer seemed beyond remedy. Dr Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil rights movement was galvanising young Americans of all colours in ways not seen since the Civil War of the 1860s. It recalled the high idealism of the Abolitionists: that extraordinary fervour for racial justice reflected in the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to set men free.”

Kennedy had also invited Michael Harrington, democratic socialist and author of the 1962 best-seller, The Other America, to the White House for a briefing on those pockets of poverty Roosevelt’s “New Deal” had left in place, and how, finally, they might be eradicated.

Underlying all this optimism and idealism was a rising tide of Keynesian-inspired economic prosperity that had lifted all boats high enough for the usual hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth priorities of ordinary Americans to be temporarily set aside. If the United States was rich enough to contemplate putting a man on the moon by 1970, then perhaps the elimination of racial inequality and poverty could be overcome.

Paradoxically, Kennedy’s assassination only hardened the resolve of Americans to meet the challenges their fallen leader had set before them.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson pledged unreservedly to make good his predecessor’s promises. In January 1964, just weeks after the tragedy in Dallas, “LBJ” used his first State of the Union Address to declare an unconditional “war on poverty”. In November of that same year, Johnson handed Barry Goldwater, the presidential candidate of a Republican Party hi-jacked by its far-right lunatic fringe, a stunning and humiliating defeat.

In his most effective campaign ad’, Johnson said, simply: “Either we must love each other, or we must die.” Less than sixty years ago, an American President had secured a landslide victory on a platform of delivering racial justice, ending poverty, and keeping America at peace.

In the bitter aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s revocation of Roe v. Wade, the above history lesson should serve as a sharp reminder of just how tenuous, and temporary, political progress can be. In the space of just four tumultuous years, the United States had retreated so far from its progressive high-water mark, that Richard Nixon was able to re-take the White House for the Republican Party. Nothing in politics is ever “settled”. The hands of History’s clock can go backwards, as well as forwards.

Nor are such dramatic political reversals peculiar to the United States. In 1972, the New Zealand electorate swung sharply left, propelling the Labour Party into power with 48.4 percent of the popular vote and a whopping 23-seat majority. The professors and the pundits of the time were unanimous in their opinion that a majority of 23 could not be overturned in the space of a single term. Labour, they insisted, was good for at least six years.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. Between 1972 and 1975, the mood of the New Zealand electorate soured to the point where National’s right-wing populist leader, Rob Muldoon, was able to exactly reverse the 1972 election result. Politically and socially, New Zealand voters had swung as sharply to the right as, only 36 months before, they had swung to the left.

Fear was the key: fear and its associated need for reassurance and protection. Muldoon’s success was built on the sudden failure of the New Zealand economy. Rampant inflation, rocketing petrol prices, and the widespread conviction that something very serious had gone wrong with the stable (some might say smug) New Zealand so gently mocked in Austin Mitchell’s in/famous bestseller The Half-Gallon, Quarter-Acre, Pavlova Paradise.

Which is why, when professors and pundits glibly reassure us that there is no way New Zealanders could turn against a woman’s right to choose an abortion, we are entitled to a small snort of derision.

Four years ago, approximately 65-70 percent of New Zealanders were in favour of legalising cannabis. That’s roughly the same percentage of the population that supports the current abortion law. After 18-months-to-a-year of extremely sophisticated campaigning by the anti-cannabis lobby, however, the percentage of voters supporting marijuana law reform had plummeted to just under 50 percent – a fall sufficient to cost the reformers the 2020 referendum. Public opinion doesn’t just change, it can be made to change.

With most economists predicting an imminent recession, many New Zealanders will enter 2023 in fear of what lies in store for them, and resentful of a Labour Government they believe has let them down. If extra-parliamentary forces like the Family First organisation are able to associate Labour’s political leadership with an ideology that despises and derides the beliefs and values of ordinary people, linking their lack of empathy with New Zealanders’ declining economic fortunes, then the chances of them producing a dramatic shift in the electorate’s thinking are relatively high.

In a commentary-piece written for The Conversation, the Auckland academic Suze Wilson warns New Zealanders against placing too much stock in Opposition Leader, Christopher Luxon’s, reassurances that National would not pursue a change to this country’s abortion laws should it win government.

“Even if Luxon’s current assurance is sincerely intended,” writes Wilson, “it may not sustain should the broader political acceptability of his personal beliefs change. And on that front, there are grounds for concern.”

Wilson draws particular attention to the sharp rightward drift set in motion by the Covid-19 Pandemic and the measures adopted by Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led Government to protect New Zealanders from its worst effects. The early success of those measures, sufficient to secure Labour’s landslide victory in 2020, has not been maintained. Voters who, just 18 months ago looked upon “Jacinda” as a national hero, are daily falling prey to extreme right-wing conspiracy theories depicting her as a power-crazed tyrant.

“If these kinds of shifts in public opinion continue to gather steam, it may become more politically tenable for Luxon to shift gear regarding New Zealand’s abortion laws”, Wilson warns.

The same America that gave us JFK, also gave us Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The same New Zealand that gave us Norman Kirk, also gave us Rob Muldoon. Except they weren’t really the same countries, were they? Because, when Prosperity leaves the building, Empathy is seldom very far behind.

Nothing in politics is ever settled.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 4 July 2022.


Anonymous said...

Not settled due to Dialectical and Historical materialism as marxists ascribe to–ebb and flow of power relationships in class society, technological developments, increased population in some areas, but not in others. NZ has now joined Japan and other “developed” countries with declining fertility rates, we are now below replacement level at 1.6. “One and done, or none” is how child birth is approached these days by new gens, where just two generations ago 6 strong or more families were common.

The next 50 years is make it or break it time for the human species basically. Climate Disaster demands a change in class power, but Capitalist hegemony & ideological penetration via internet, and military force prevails over the masses at this point. The huge private space exploration sector shows the 1%ers are bricking themselves and looking for escape routes.

But I digress, even in analogue times the recent legacy of a Norman Kirk could be rolled to the kerb by a populist thug like Muldoon, who enlisted the state security forces to help his cause as did John Key.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“It is important precedent of the Supreme Court that has been reaffirmed many times... “It is not as if it is just a run of the mill case that was decided and never been reconsidered, but Casey specifically reconsidered it, applied the stare decisis factors, and decided to reaffirm it. That makes Casey a precedent on precedent.”
Brett Kavanaugh

"So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the US Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other,"
Neil Gorsuch

"What I will commit is that I will obey all the rules of stare decisis, that if a question comes up before me about whether Casey or any other case should be overruled, that I will follow the law of stare decisis, applying it as the court is articulating it, applying all the factors, reliance, workability, being undermined by later facts in law, just all the standard factors,"
Amy Coney Barrett
(She also said if I remember correctly that she had no agenda – that was an outright lie.)

"I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and even-handedness,"
John Roberts

He (Luxon) was happy to rule out legislative changes around abortion should National form Government with him as Prime Minister.

"Absolutely. That was settled in the last Parliament, and that's settled."

And all over the blogosphere his fan boys are saying that he said he won't do anything about it. Well, the American judges of the religious right were cleverly disingenuous in their comments and he's been a little more forthcoming – but even so I wouldn't trust Luxon as far as I could throw him on this.

Wayne Mapp said...


In itself this is little more than a "fear" article. After the interesting histrograph of the optimism of the Kennedy era, you get to your real point. That Luxon can't be trusted on the abortion issue. Martyn Bradbury would be proud.

It simply won't happen for reasons you know well. Firstly, when a senior politician makes a commitment as specific as Luxon has done, they can't go back on it. Not without serious and long term damage, the sort that resulted in the public voting for MMP. Second, given Luxon's commitment, no National MP can introduce a Members Bill to change the law on abortion. As you know National caucuses are always a blend of conservative and liberal. That won't change in 2023. That will also prevent a Members Bill on abortion. The National caucus of 2023 would have to be radically different to National caucuses of the last 50 years for that to happen, also overriding Luxon's specific promise.

However, I accept that there may be someone from another party (NZF or a Christian Party should they get in) who could introduce such a Members Bill through the ballot for Members Bills. It would then be a conscience issue for National MP's, though I presume not for Labour and the Greens.

What is the chance of such a bill passing?

I would say almost zero in any likely parliament. There will be liberal National MP's who would not vote for it. Can you really imagine Nicola Willis voting for such a Bill?

I suppose you could construct a scenario where there would be a majority in the house for such a Bill. Labour and the Greens together would need to be less than 35% of Parliament. Act, at say 10%, would all have to vote for it, notwithstanding their libertarian past. A National caucus, with about 50% of the Parliament, would need to be at least 80% conservative and 20% liberal. All of the new third party (NZF or the Christians) would also have to vote for it. You then get the necessary 50% of MP's voting to restrict abortion.

But how likely is the above scenario?

swordfish said...

Politically and socially, New Zealand voters had swung as sharply to the right as, only 36 months before, they had swung to the left

Nyet, Christopher, Nyet. Call me a smug old know-it-all with the personal charm & table manners of an amoeba, but the two-party swing to Muldoon's National in 75 was much greater (8.4%) than the 72 swing to Kirk's Labour (4.4%).

On the Abortion question, National voters do tend toward the liberal:

The last polling on the issue I've seen with Party Support breakdowns was Curia's 2017 poll ... here's the question and relevant cross-tabs:

Q Would you describe yourself generally as someone who supports abortion or someone who opposes abortion ?

Support … Green 88% … Labour 59% … National 55% … NZF 43%

Oppose … Green 12% … Labour 26% … National 33% … NZF 37%

(remainder were Don't Knows & Refuseniks)

I wouldn't think National's current mix of support would greatly differ ideologically from 2017.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Sometimes things are settled for a long time. If Labour's 23 seat majoprity could have been overturned in a single term, so ought National's. But a gerrymander saw to it that TWO successive majorities in the popular vote were insufficient to enable Labour even to get a sniff of office in 1978 and 1981.

And what happened when Labour DID get into office? Aye. Well. And the Milton Friedmanite economic folly is with us still, after nigh on 4 decades.

It is interesting too that we still remember the close shave with nuclear war the world skated by in October 1962. For the Soviets it wasn't the Cuban Missile crisis; it was the Turkish Missile crisis. The US had been planting nukes in Turkey for months, over Soviet protests. So it was that far from the US facing down the Soviet Union, it was the Soviet Union that faced down the United States. In the post crisis settlement, removal of the missiles from Turkey was the sine qua non for the removal of the missiles from Cuba. The SU didn't mind American brag: they got their own way.

Mind you, forever after Fidel Castro rather regretted his country's role in that affair. It may well have contributed to the continuation of America's economic siege against Cuba that has continued with hardly an abatement for over sixty solid years.

Yep. Some things in politics do get settled for a very long time...

Barry said...

Theres nothing so easy as to concoct a fear story Chris.
Abortion in NZ is a conscious issue - its not a political vote.

Re "War on poverty" - thats been as a disasterous failure as the "War on drugs".
There are some things governments should keep well away from. These two 'Wars' have had major negative effects on society, especially the lower economic section of society and one of them is unwanted pregnancies and the demand for abortions. In the US of course abortions cost - up $3000 US so many of those unwanted pregnacies become unwanted children and they go on to become a drain on society. So abortions in the US are for only the section of society that can sfford it.

DS said...

>>Nyet, Christopher, Nyet. Call me a smug old know-it-all with the personal charm & table manners of an amoeba, but the two-party swing to Muldoon's National in 75 was much greater (8.4%) than the 72 swing to Kirk's Labour (4.4%).<<

Mr Trotter was comparing the margins and majorities of 1972 and 1975. In terms of result, National's victory was basically the mirror image of Labour's earlier one.

Of course National's two-party swing was higher. It was coming off a much lower base than Labour had from 1969, which meant that in order to achieve a comparable landslide, it needed a higher swing.

Trev1 said...

Abortion is irrelevant for most people. Racial division and privilege is not. Labour is inflicting great harm on this country under He Puapua. Their demise will be totally self inflicted.