Saturday, May 05, 2007

Public Address: Ape-like Chest-beating 2

1. Consider the following from Russell Brown:
'Perhaps I've missed some comments, but I've been struck by the way that [Simon] Barnett, who rarely misses a chance to remind us of his parenting credentials, has equally rarely granted that the present law needs changing at all, despite it being absolutely evident that a great many kids suffer much more than the "light smacking" that has become the most overused catchphrase of the whole debate.
Yes, Mr Barnett, we understand that you only ever smack your children briefly, lightly and lovingly, but it would be nice to hear you condemn parents who believe they have a legal and moral right to thrash their kids on a regular basis. The fact that you don't - and instead seem to regard society taking an interest in those homes where those thrashings take place as a much greater evil - makes me think ill of you.
Some pretty weird people have been drawn to the flame of this bill. And that was no doubt in John Key's mind when he made his decision. He'd wound up on the same side as the moral conservatives, the angry and resentful, the.....' (my italics)
I haven't kept especially close tabs on Simon Barnett's views but my general sense is that Barnett was happy with anything that didn't criminalize people such as himself, and that he certainly could have lived with something like the Borrows Amendment or NSW's S 61AA. Once that bare criminality issue was off the table I'd further guess that Barnett would be happy to support "positive parenting" or "anti-thrashing" education/promotion or whatever it might be.
The point, however, is that it's not just psychologically understandable for Barnett to focus on his own (sort of) case, it's also logically fair for him to do so.

Bradford, Brown, et al. are trying to ban something and as I've pointed out before, that imposes obligations on them that opponents such as Barnett do not share. If you want to ban almost all abortions, say, then you have to explain (roughly) why (almost) all abortions are bad/banworthy. That means you have to front up to relatively ideal aborters – women who were young, broke, in a horrid relationship, as objectively "barely able to look after themselves", "not close to being ready to be parents" as you want, etc.. You have to explain to them why what they did was bad and shouldn't be allowed. You don't get to focus on what are for you (i.e., the banner) the easy cases: people who have 5 or more abortions, people who have arguably very frivolous abortions (because it would interfere with skiing dah-ling), or whatever it is. And you certainly don't get to have that latter focus if, as the debate develops, you go on to dismiss various pro-choice compromises that are designed, however awkwardly, to address your alleged concerns about super-aborters and frivolous aborters (e.g., lifetime limits on abortions, anti-frivolity counseling, etc.). If you dismiss all such offers/compromises then you've absolutely clarified that you're not opposed to frivolous-abortion or routinized-abortion or whatever it is in particular, rather you think abortion is bad/banworthy in general. OK then, now you have to face up to the relatively ideal cases.... And you absolutely must not make a Brownian move as follows:
'Perhaps I've missed some comments, but I've been struck by the way the ideal aborters rarely grant that the present law needs changing at all, despite it being absolutely evident that there are all these super-aborters and frivolous aborters out there.... Yes Ms Ideal Aborter, we understand that you only abort rarely and seriously, but it would be nice to hear you condemn those who aren't so scrupulous. The fact that you don't - and instead seem to regard society taking an interest in the super-aborters etc. as a much greater evil - makes me think ill of you.'
If you make a move of this kind you reveal yourself to be a contemptible, equivocating demagogue. Or at least a dick.

2. One of the most irritating features of Public Address's coverage of S 59 matters is its insistence that only nutjobs or worse really might have any problems with Bradford's bill. One of Barnett's strongest points is his ability to remind people that this is a distortion both by his example and by his astute quotation of people. Most of what I know about Barnett comes from this story. There Barnett nicely remarks:
"Dr Cullen said, `This bill is opposed by religious fanatics and extremists, as well as other various forms of strange people.' I just think that is extremely arrogant, given that the Colmar Brunton poll had 83% of New Zealanders were against it."
PA's line is the same as Cullen's with the added fillip of arguing that the polls are meaningless didn't ya know? Barnett is absolutely correct to call Cullen on his arrogance and general divorce from reality here. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true of PA.

3. Long-time readers of PA will have some sense of what's going on. It may be useful to review how Brown performed the last time one of these controversial pieces of legislation came down the pike....Cast your mind back to March 2005. The Relationships (Statutory References) Bill (later Act, RSRA) was wending its way through select committee. There are massive problems with how de facto couples and relationships more generally are treated in that Bill and in its predecessor the Property (Relationships) Act, and a spirited and intelligent campaign had forced the Select Committee led by Tim Barnett to concede the point. Go here for the Herald's report on the press conference at the time at which Tim Barnett said that the Bill would be changed in response to some of those concerns and that the Law Commission would be asked to reflect further on the deeper questions that had been raised, and that had proved more than the select committee itself could handle. The trouble is that despite Tim Barnett's statements at that press conference, no changes were made to the Bill/Act after the select committee reported back, and 2 years after the RSRA became law, the Law Commission still hasn't received the terms of reference for their further report. (The Law Commission announced a forthcoming report, pending receipt of terms of reference in March 2005. This report was then dropped from their work schedule in June after no terms were received.)
Here's Russell Brown flakking for Tim Barnett after that press conference:
The select committee recommendations on the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill ought to mollify the concerns of most critics - and if it doesn't, it would be fair to wonder what their motives are in the first place. Clear daylight has been established between the rights and obligations attached on one hand to marriage and civil unions, and on the other to de facto relationships. The language used to refer to civil unions is now to be clearly distinct from that referring to marriage. Also, the gnarlier questions on treatment of de facto relationships will be referred to the Law Commission before the final bill is drafted. (my italics)
But the "clear daylight" (about intestate succession and a few other things) Brown mentions never actually made it into the Act - the Bill passed unchanged - and, as I mentioned, the Law Commission's action on "gnarlier questions" that Brown asserted would happen before the Bill was passed, i.e., before the end of March 2005, hasn't occurred as of May 2007. As far as I know, Brown has never followed up on this. Apparently impugning people's motives (Brown means to insinuate that critics of the RSRA are anti-gay) is more fun.
Tim Barnett lied pretty seriously in my view, and Brown flakked for him most egregiously. Then we were into an election cycle etc., crucial members of select committees changed, game over.

4. Thus, PA and Brown in particular functioned as a propaganda bureau for an unscrupulous Labour Government.
That's what has happened and is happening again over S 59. We've reached the point in this new debate where Brown is again mixing faux magnanimity with (i) weird quasi-papal hectoring ("ill of you"), (ii) lying (conclusions of the American Psychological Association that aren't), and (iii) flippant deceptiveness (Barnett is said to think the "sky is falling", but surely Bradford et al. were the ones saying that that was true insofar as their Bill didn't pass, that it must in fact have already fallen in places such as NSW, etc.). The details of the crime-scene differ, but the same fingerprints, political techniques, and rhetorical strategies are everywhere. Undogmatic PA readers, if any exist, should be aware of this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

helpful post.