Out of the Abundance of the Heart, the Mouth Speaks
One of the reasons we have such little respect for politicians is their lack of integrity. It’s an easy indictment to make and no doubt there are politicians who maintain high personal and professional ethical standards as they go about their tasks and duties. But far too many slide into misleading and deceptive behaviour if they think it will be to their advantage in the polls.
One manifestation is the practice of “gotcha politics”. Commentator John Armstrong explains:
“Gotcha politics” is all about focusing voters’ attention on the gaffes and mistakes of opponents rather than trying to win the election by winning the battle of ideas. It is personality-based politics, not issue-driven politics. It is all about wrecking your opponents’ campaign by landing major hits on their credibility. At its worst, gotcha politics can be an old-fashioned witch-hunt dressed up in modern-day notions of accountability. None of this new, [sic] of course. What has changed is the extent and intensity of gotcha politics.
A basic rule of thumb is whenever a politician sanctimoniously promises to focus upon the “issues” and to run a principled campaign one can be sure that they will do the exact opposite. Thus it has proved to be the case with the Greens, whose sanctimony has become noisome and their integrity now at an invisible vanishing point.
Even the Greens are not immune. Last Friday, that party joined others in stressing its campaign would focus on the issues, rather than the sideshows. Was this the same Green Party whose co-leader Metiria Turei had spent much of the week demanding a prime ministerial apology for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blunder regarding the granting of diplomatic immunity to a defence attache at the Malaysian High Commission charged with sexual assault?
No matter that various apologies had already been forthcoming. No matter that the State Sector Act and the Cabinet Manual set clear boundaries to prevent ministers interfering in operational matters – thereby begging the question of exactly what John Key was supposed to be apologising for. No matter that the Greens had politicised the whole affair to the point of jeopardising the prosecution of the Malaysian official.
But Armstrong goes on to point out that “gotcha politics” only work when the media also play the game.
The other major factor is conflict-driven news media. The seemingly insatiable 24-hours-a-day appetite of internet news sites means quality has to be sacrificed for quantity when it comes to investigations and analysis. In these circumstances, it is temptingly easier to manufacture the news through the media playing their own version of gotcha politics by trying to catch politicians out.
“Mr Politician, can you tell the people of New Zealand exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
“No, I am afraid I cannot.”
“So, then Mr Politician, you admit you are ignorant.”
One of the most egregious and deceitful examples of “gotcha politics” we have ever seen occurred in the United States when comedienne, Tina Fey satirised Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Imitating Palin she drawled that she could see Russia from her front porch in Alaska. The media and Palin’s political opponents seized upon this as an actual example of Palin’s ignorance of international affairs, mocking Palin for being so fundamentally ignorant that she thought she could actually see Russia from her home in Alaska. It was gotcha politics at its worst–in this case, the “mistake” was never actually made, but the Chattering Classes imputed it to Palin forever after.
The Scriptures tell us that a man speaks out of the abundance of his heart. What is inside comes out. When politicians play the “gotcha politics” game they demonstrate the larcency and deceit that lies within. It’s why we have little respect for politicians.