Friday, October 3, 2008

Coincidentally

Every 12 years, as a rule, a New Zealand general election
coincides with an American presidential election. The
last two times it has happened, the latter scarcely
impacted on the former, mainly because the presidential
campaigns were one-horse races. Nixon was a shoo-in in
1972 and Clinton equally so against Bob Dole in 1996
(there was no clash in 1984, because of the snap election
here in July that year). In any case, the electronic media
were far less pervasive then; and besides, the presidential
contest is all over by the first Tuesday in November,
whereas New Zealand’s elections tend not to be held till
later in the month, leaving at least a couple of weeks for
an unovershadowed campaign. Not this time; the two
countries’ elections are only four days apart, and the
shadow of the Obama/McCain contest looms so large that
it’s making the Clark/Key tussle seem even more
insignificant than it actually is (in global terms). The
financial crisis only deepens the shadow; Tom Scott sums
it up well in today’s Dominion Post with a cartoon
showing Clark and Key saying grumpily to Wall St, “Do
you mind—we’re trying to run an election down here.”

Most elections are decided by swing voters, many of whom
make up their minds pretty late, so we can say with some
certainty that America’s choice on November 4 will be a big
influence on New Zealand’s choice on November 8. In that
sense a win for John McCain would, ironically, be good
news for Helen Clark, suggesting that in times of economic
upheaval you should stick with the known and the safe, of
whatever political stripe. Some New Zealand voters may
already have reached that conclusion, especially given the
National Party’s vagueness about its economic policy. For
that reason, clearly, the Nats have indicated that they’ll
announce the details of their proposed tax cuts earlier than
intended, ahead of the official campaign launch on October
12. The Wall St crisis and the “global credit crunch” have
put them in a tricky spot, however: how can they fund their
lavish promises without being improvident at the very time
when governments ought to be being fiscally conservative?

John Key reassures us that the economy is fundamentally in
good enough shape to allow such tax cuts to proceed, but
that argument cuts both ways too: by advancing it, he’s only
validating the Labour Government’s economic
management.

Equally ironically, an Obama win would favour Key. But
either way, as the respective campaigns proceed, New
Zealand interest in the US election is tending to swamp
domestic issues: as I write, the airwaves and the internet
are alive with talk about the Biden/Palin vice-presidential
debate. It’s hard to imagine a Michael Cullen/Bill English
debate arousing such fascination; in fact, such a debate is
not even scheduled to take place. The whole election
campaign is dribbling along in an inconsequential way.
Genuine policy debate is virtually invisible; we get stirred
up only by personalities and peccadilloes. The truth is,
fellow Kiwis, we’re barely interesting to ourselves. Or
maybe we know, deep down, that what happens in
Washington is far more likely to influence our economic
and social well-being than what happens in Wellington.
Therefore, with such tiny power as we have, pen poised
over the ballot paper six Saturdays from now, we might
want to consider the extent to which we wish to encourage
or discourage the kind of mentality that has made Wall St
a byword for greed and hubris. Vote locally, think globally.

1 comment:

Linuxluver said...

The media give us little choice. The NZ Herald, by any objective measure, can only be described as cheerleading for the National Party. Last night "60 Minutes" and "20 / 20" both went to air without a single story about either our election or the global financial meltdown. Instead we got the usual tear-jerkers, freak shows and fluffy-nothing stories about hip-hop farmers....or whatever. I didn't waste my time actually watching any of it, though I did hear some of it while washing the dishes, having forgotten to turn the box off.

Fairfax and APN clearly want a National government. So no alternative gets any significant coverage, though of course we get the small, obligatory stories on minor issues most people don't bother to read.

I'll remember 2008 as the year that foreign corporate media domination of NZ's daily print journalism finally came out of the closet and dropped any pretense of balance or objectivity.

We now have our own propaganda umbrella, like that enjoyed by the US for decades.....and the consequences wrought by creating gaps between belief and reality are now headline news threatening us all.