(Repost) When is a nasty attack not a nasty attack?

Originally posted at On The Left.

John Key was on Breakfast on One this morning talking about the political year past and the challenges facing him in 2015. And it was a fascinating display of how someone can say utterly contradictory things with a straight face.

On the “low point” of the election campaign – after talking dismissively about Nicky Hager – Key says:

“The low point was the campaign … it was a style of campaign that New Zealanders aren’t used to, don’t want … the whole thing was just awful.”

“[Labour] have done every rotten trick in the book.”

But of course:

“It’s the nature of politics and I don’t complain about it.”

Then, after the ad break:

“The one difference with [Andrew Little, compared to previous Labour leaders] is, he’s comfortable in his own skin … he’s got a pretty narrow base … and he’s always been the aggressive hard man, there’ll never be a change of dial or temperature, if a kitten crosses the road … he’ll be screaming like that.”

What was that about nasty attack politics being a turn-off to voters?

This has been the rightwing response to Dirty Politics since the day it dropped, throwing up utterly contradictory defences (“everyone does it so get over it”, “no you’re the dirty ones”, “it turns off voters”, “it’s a beltway issue voters don’t care about”) and assuming

The problem is, it’s worked. So in under 12 minutes on Breakfast, Key can attack the integrity of one of our best investigative journalists, repeat the WhaleOil smear about Andrew Little having no support, and literally accuse him of yelling at kittens.

But apparently it was Labour’s nasty attack politics which resulted in their bad election result.

To add insult to injury, he even kicks off the resurrection of Judith Collins’ career by talking about how good a minister she was! The minister who tried to smear a gallery journo to another in order to distract from her shady dealings with Oravida! (Collins is clearly still holding a grudge on that one, too.)

So when is a nasty attack not a nasty attack? It’s basic emotive conjugation: I am making a neutral observation, you are a nasty attack blogger, he just keeps texting me and I can’t stop him.

It’s frustrating as hell: it seems utterly bizarre that our own Prime Minister can sit in a television studio and act like a victim of attack politics then moments later hurl personal insults at the Leader of the Opposition.

Apparently that’s the nature of politics in New Zealand these days. But unlike our Prime Minister – who will assure you as often as you care to hear that he’s “not complaining about it” – I expect better.

Creepy behaviour from David Farrar

It wasn’t at all surprising to me that David Farrar is scathing of students who have to seek hardship grants to pay their bills, categorising them as bludgers who “say yes to free cash“. Nor that he believes that every journalist who reports on the cost of living should demand “a detailed break down of income and expenditure, so readers can judge for themselves the situation”.

(David Farrar isn’t a journalist, so he’s not bound by such ethical considerations – or he might have considered linking to the actual UCOL policy on hardship grants which makes it clear it is definitely not just “free cash”.)

It’s a typical rightwing attitude which reinforces the idea that lesser people – beneficiaries, students, parents – just aren’t allowed to have nice things. It assumes that survival is good enough – not being able to live a life with some dignity, nor understanding that human beings aren’t just automatons who you input fuel into to extract productivity.

What’s disturbing is this bit, where after completely misrepresenting an interviewees’ statements (she commented that she was speaking generally, not of her own situation; Farrar reforms this into wholesale journalistic inaccuracy):

I’ve had a look through the Facebook pages of Lauren and Karn. They both seem very cool friendly people, and in no way are they political activists for a cause. They seem very typical students. I would note however that contrary to the perception in the article of starving students (and I am not blaming them, but the story) they seem to have pretty good social lives judging by the photos, and references to Big Day Out etc.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with Paula Bennett unashamedly releasing the personal details of beneficiaries who criticised her ill-judged, mean-spirited decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance. And there have been many similar cases of people having sick leave cut because they looked happy in a couple of Facebook photos.

It’s a really nasty intimidation tactic – silencing people by threatening to embarrass them publicly, undermining their experiences by attacking their credibility. If you’re not dressed like a Dickensian urchin covered in chimney-dust, the argument goes, you can’t really be struggling to pay bills week-to-week.

David Farrar is saying no more and no less than this: if you do have political leanings, your argument would be invalid (he pretends to be generous in pointing out that they don’t); if you do have a social life, you must be lying when you say some students are trying to get by with $2 a day to spend on food sometimes. And don’t even think about attending the Big Day Out in February if you might be short of cash in September or you deserve to go hungry, you horrid, reprehensible bludgers.

It’s par for the course for our government and its bloggers, and it needs to be named for what it is: unacceptable bullying.

Edited to add: a few responses on Twitter which highlight that this is repeated behaviour from Farrar, and why it’s irresponsible for him to expose young women to the lecherous creepiness of his commentariat (which he keeps promising to clean up).