One of the purposes of this blog aims to analyse discourse. It is not a partisan site in the sense that David Farrar’s Kiwiblog or The Standard are. We figure that the space for reactionary political rage is already crowded enough.
(By the way, if you ever want to be frightened, take a look at some of New Zealand’s extreme right blogs. ‘Redbaiter’ is a guy known to hang around on blogs across the political spectrum accusing everyone of being socialists, including the National Party, and–for some reason–asserting, no matter the conversation, that Obama is a Muslim. Take a look, too, at the blogs listed in David Farrar’s blogroll, especially Muriel Newman’s euphemistically named Centre for Political Research, an outlet for the Coastal Coalition).
At the moment, every blog under the sun has an angry indictment of the other side of the partisan divide for ‘politicizing’ the earthquake. Marty G at The Standard on March 1 was ‘really pissed off that politics has come into the Christchurch earthquake so quickly’, but then detailed what he considered to be National’s cynical use of the earthquake to push through a poorly hidden far-right agenda. David Farrar on March 2 was incensed at the media for asking inopportune questions of the National Government and disgusted at Greens co-leader Russel Norman for blogging so soon after the event about the best ways to raise revenues to pay for reconstruction.
Probably the funniest response I’ve read is Muriel Newman’s article, ‘Readjusting Welfare‘, on 27 February. You may not recognize this as an earthquake related post. That’s because it isn’t. She mentions the earthquake only to demonstrate that we need a strong economy, which to her mind necessitates cutting benefits. It’s a special type of madness required to believe that the biggest news story of 22 February was the final report of Paula Rebstock’s Welfare Working Group, to which the earthquake is ancillary. Perhaps she thinks that taxes and welfare are killing us all.
What should come as no surprise is that political parties and ‘commentators’ see the reconstruction of Christchurch through the lens of their entrenched ideological positions. David Farrar rejects raising a levy out of hand–despite the example of the recent Flood Levy in Australia. Marty G is in favour of such a levy, rejecting the idea of cutting spending. Muriel Newman is in favour of cutting benefits and lowering taxes, no matter what the question. Yet if there’s one thing they do all agree upon then it is that we shouldn’t be ‘playing politics’ this soon after an horrific event.
There’s something empty in all of this. The politics of these commentators are based more on a generalized left or right feeling than anything else. For them, political affiliation comes prior to anything else, including the bodies lying under the rubble. It’s like a stuck record: The Standard will tell you that John Key and his mates are trying to trick us, while Kiwiblog will tell you that taxes are too high, unions are terrible and benefits should be cut. The comments left on his posts are about as worthwhile as those left on Youtube. Discourse, reproduced over and over again, eventually becomes entropic. Perhaps the worst and most common discourse of all is ‘I don’t want to play politics at a time like this’.
Yet it is here where things get sticky. Politics immediately arise in events like this, no matter how much we try and avoid it. People need water, power, houses, jobs and safety–all of which are heated political issues that we should be discussing. Brownlee’s desire to see ‘most of Christchurch’s heritage bowled tomorrow’ is a political issue. So too is the apparent West-East, rich-poor divide in the earthquake response (is there one? If yes, why and how?).
I just wish the commentators would briefly suspend the belief that their political orientation is what the people need at a time like this. They should admit that in the end it is their political agenda that drives their interest in earthquake cleanup and takes precedence over doing anything immediate to support the families of those who have died, or, like one of the Kea and Cattle contributors, getting into the city every day to help out with food, water or shelter. It’s not a shameful admission to make–it’s just the truth. We can’t all be heroes. But having read partisan commentaries I feel like nothing has changed. For so many, everything has changed.