Why Key is so popular - something every left wing political strategist should read
Why is John Key so popular? It is a question many on the left are grappling with as the RWC blocks out the election. Put aside the massive bias of the listed landline telephone polls that merely manipulate public opinion rather than reflect it which claimed Hone was only ahead by 1% (he won by over 9%) or the Herald Digi Poll that claimed Len Brown and John Banks were neck and neck (Len of course won by a lenslide). Put aside the jaw dropping bias of the mainstream media in their never ending honey moon with the Prime Minister in what is our first cult of no personality, forget the utter lack of critical questioning of National Party policy that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor, what is it about Key that appeals to so many NZers?
Partly it is his rags to riches state home mythology, I say mythology because Key had 1960s gold plated welfare, these days welfare is shit encrusted, but it is mostly because Key appeals to low information voters in a way that the Left have not been able to click with.
In a consumer culture with social policy bordering on little more ethically defined than 'me first and the gimmie, gimmies' , the working poor hate the none working poor with as much venom as anyone with an education loathes Michael Laws. Everyone in a consumer culture believes they are a future millionaire and so view the interests of the elites as their interests. Bennie bashing smokescreens the real theft of tax payers money by those already wealthy.
Even though all Key has done is rule in the interests of his wealth class with policy that is undemocratic and counter productive for the majority, the majority love him anyway because they see no connect between his interests, the interests of the elites and how neither of those interests are interested in them beyond exploitation of their low information votes.
The most important thing any left wing political strategist should read when contemplating strategy to attack the National Party with is this incredible insight into the utter dysfunction of American Politics.
Bernard Hickey suggested it on Citizen A last week as a must read and it is, Mike Lofgren's devastating critique of corporate influence in the Republican Party has real cultural nuances that help explain Key's popularity.
While religion doesn't have the same cultural power as it does in America, the free market individual as consumer dogma has laid many of the same insidious eggs into the minds of low information voters and it is to these lesser angels that Crosby/Textor have played to using Key's tax-cuts-for-the-rich-smile-and-wave camouflage.
As Lofgren puts it...
By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable "hard news" segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the "respectable" media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the "centrist cop-out." "I joked long ago," he says, "that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read 'Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'"
By pursueing policy that only enriches his wealth class, Key's smile and wave charm offensive needs little detail and lots of casual assurances, his vacant optimism only works if low information voters don't challenge the assumptions, thankfully for the Government, the mainstream media are too focused on Happy Feet than Welfare reform.
When Key said Kiwi's had a socialist streak in them to America from the leaked wikileaks, it was to explain why the privatization agenda hadn't been radically adopted, Key has to sneak it past. The privatization mafia have waited 3 long years and want their corporate pound of flesh, so watch as they start to maneuver their mouthpieces towards the next threat of total victory, the TV debates.
When David Farrar finishes writing apologist pieces for the booze industry (seriously Stuff, don't tell me you are paying for this tripe), he will be writing soft sell massage points masquerading as opinion pieces talking Goff up in the TV debates. What National strategists will be fearing now is Goff over shadowing Key in the TV debates, their mouthpieces have to quickly build Goff up so as not to underwhelm Key supporters when his privatization agenda starts looking as counter productive as it really is.
The challenge for the left is to show Key's policies are counter productive to the majority of those voting for them, how does the Left do that? Again Lofgren has some ideas on Republican tactics...
How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?
You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.
It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors' looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade's corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.
The egalitarianism that NZers love to proclaim should be disgusted with the fact that 210 000 NZ children are in poverty while 150 of the richest families gained $7 billion. The perversion that the weakest members of society should do with less because of an economic collapse they had no hand in should be articulated with genuine anger.
The Left need to stand for something beyond consumer capitalism and the vacant optimism of multi-millionaires. They must touch on the parts of our character that stand for social justice and the rich history we have that has stood for social justice.
The left have to remind NZ what it means to be a New Zealander.