Why Throw in the Towel?

datePosted on 16:23, August 20th, 2014 by Pablo

In the wake of Nicky Hager’s latest revelations, Chris Trotter has penned a cynical defense of dirty politics as being the norm. For Chris, when it comes to politics “(t)he options are not fair means or foul: they are foul means or fouler.”

Idiot Savant at No Right Turn categorically rejects this view. I agree with him and can only add that either Chris has lost his ideological bearings or has consciously decided to join the Dark Side.

The Standard reprinted the NRT post and I commented on it there. Here is what I wrote:

The stability of democracy is based on mutual contingent consent, not only between capitalists and workers but between opposing political factions. Mutual contingent consent requires that all actors accept mutual second best outcomes (that is, no one gets their preferred outcome all of the time), something that is evident, for example, in compromises over wages and employment conditions at the bargaining table or in the lobbying of political parties over legislation. “Winning” is therefore temporary and tempered by the pursuit of self-limiting strategies in pursuit of the mutual second best. Otherwise the political game descends into zero-sum self-interested maximisation of collective opportunities. That is not democracy, even if there are those within the democratic system who adhere to such views.

This is why Chris is wrong. He mistakes the venal pursuits of a political few for the general substance of democracy as a political form. The pursuit of dirty politics represents a fundamental corrosion of democratic principle and practice. It reflects a fundamental contempt for the foundational tenets of this type of governance. That this contempt is channeled into underhanded tactics by some does not undermine the core values upon which democracy rests and in fact serves to underscore what democracy is not. That the resort to dirty politics in NZ has at its core a group of people with pathological tendencies and profoundly disagreeable personalities is further proof that their style of play is not politics as usual.

Chris may be a bit jaded by years of fighting the good fight in losing wars. He seems to given up all hope that politics can be played cleanly. But he and many others (including some on the Right) would not have fought, and continue to fight, if they did not think that there was a better way to do things in pursuit of a just society. Mr. Slater, Mr. Ede, Mr. Bhatnagar, Ms. Odgers, Judith Collins and John Key clearly do not, but that does not mean that democracy as a whole is reducible to their contemptible view of politics.”

Let us be crystal clear. There is no moral equivalence between what the Left does or may wish to do versus what the organised dirty tricks cell centred around Cameron Slater does. Moreover, what Slater and company do centrally underpins not just how National engages politics, but how ACT has done as well. In contrast, Left activist groups may sputter about “direct action,” hold demonstrations and on occasion undertake animal liberations or environmental defense by climbing into trees or blocking trains, but they do not systematically attempt to uncover dirty laundry in order to smear, blackmail or undermine opponents within and outside their partisan ranks. They do not take covert money in order to cut and paste ghost written attack columns supplied by others. They do not get favoured backdoor access to sensitive government documents based upon their partisan, when not ministerial, connections. Perhaps that is why they are less effectual than those on the Dark Side.

The institutional Left centred in the Labour Party may gossip about their rivals across the aisle and backstab each other in factional disputes, but even then there are limits to where they will go in the pursuit of “winning.” The Slater-led dirty tricksters have no such limits.

Whatever his motivations, Chris needs to reconsider his position. There still is room for the good fight to be fought fairly even if the opponent does not. Contrary to what John Key believes, that applies as much to politics as it does to sports.

7 Responses to “Why Throw in the Towel?”

  1. Lew on August 20th, 2014 at 20:30

    True and important.

    One of the things that has annoyed me over the years is when calls for the left to better apply what we know about framing and messaging and voter behaviour and media management and symbolism and such like have been interpreted as the sort of professionalisation Simon Lusk advocates. The right do most of those things better than the left, it’s true, but that’s not a problem. What Lusk seems to mean by “professionalisation” is the application of huge amounts of money to every link in the chain, and the ruthless use of that money to work “below the line” of our democratic norms.

    These things could not be more different, and I hope, though I don’t remain terribly confident, that this episode will emphasise the distinction.


  2. CnrJoe on August 20th, 2014 at 20:46

    Thanks for this

  3. Vaughan Little on August 21st, 2014 at 16:00

    something similar could happen in the Labour party tho. we urgently need to make financing way more transparent. also it’d be great if Labour could develop explicit protocols around its attack politics. or at least commit to no go zones, i.e., never traffic info related to politicians’ sex lives.

  4. deepred on August 21st, 2014 at 17:58

    Trotter is being his usual pessimistic self.

  5. […] Why Throw In The Towel? – A Brief Response To Trotter’s Cynicism  I am thus dismissed by Dr Buchanan as either bewildered or a blackguard, and my offending essay […]

  6. […] Why Throw In The Towel? – A Brief Response To Trotter’s Cynicism I am thus dismissed by Dr Buchanan as either bewildered or a blackguard, and my offending essay […]

  7. sam v on August 22nd, 2014 at 21:24

    I agree that dirty politics and the manufacture of consent is terrible but it is hopelessly naive to consider it anything but the norm.

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