Jul 23, 2014

The politics of the level playing field: why Colin Craig is wrong

Pretty much this. Via Te Ururoa Flavell:

“Māori Party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the Conservative Party’s policies to get rid of the Māori seats, shut down the Waitangi Tribunal and implement ‘one law for all’ are ignorant, dangerous, and are not welcome in our political system or our country… 

The old assimilation policy is hidden behind a few new terms and slogans, such as One Law for All, but the intention is the same and we know all about it. In this day and age there is no place for political leaders who know nothing about our history and know nothing about us”.

Craig and his Conservatives aren’t here to restore “unity”. They’re the exhausted rear guard of New Zealand racism. Armed, it seems, with very little but a slogan and a cheque book. 

The intent is clear: Craig is trying – failing - to tap the reservoir of racism. It’s not “one law for all” but “one law to rule us all”. The latter sounds more chauvinist than the former, quite a feat, yet doomed to fail. What Brash had with one law for all and Craig doesn’t with one law to rule us all is institutional acceptance. The veneer of respectability. As Brash was fond of saying, he was for “mainstream New Zealand”. Craig is merely the perfectly pitched 5 percent politician. 

Mihingarangi Forbes revealed as much in her interview with Craig on Native Affairs. Best described as extended torture, Craig can’t muster a coherent explanation for, firstly, his apparent support for Māori Television and, second, his opposition to division “based on race”. The same for te reo Māori. Craig supports government funding, yet can’t reconcile it with his “one law to rule us all” position. He is left to grasp at artificial distinctions. 

But even in the face of such impressive incompetence, it’d be negligent to ignore Craig. His message is still insidious because it’s pitched at the progressive – yes, irony - desire for equality in liberal democracy. 

That is, the idea all people are created equal and any deviation from that principle constitutes the real injustice. It’s the myth of the level playing field. There’s room to recognise the Treaty and historic injustice, yet Craig and his Conservatives seem to be claiming that – at some unspecified point in time - modern democracy created a nation of equals. It didn’t, but that’s a foundational myth in New Zealand. The idea that a neat line separates the bad Old Days and the more enlightened Good Days. 

So if the level playing field is true - it isn't - then you’re poor, dumb and incarcerated because you deserve to be. Where the injustice is not the fact that you are poor, dumb and incarcerated, but that you need and receive targeted rights because of it. The reasoning is absurd: catering for substantive inequality is actually creating legal inequality. On Planet Conservative, the latter is the real crime. 

But it’s a very attractive argument – especially among the selfish. If disadvantage is a matter of personal responsibility then it requires no response from the advantaged. The demand that Māori accept “equal rights” – so no legal distinctions between different people – is really a plea for assimilation. Craig is really asking Maori to accept their disadvantages quietly. Well, no thanks. 

Replace “Māori” with any other category of difference in New Zealand society. Now try to argue that this category of difference must be abandoned for the sake of “unity”. It doesn’t really work unless there is some manifest harm, yeah? Te Ururoa is right. Craig is merely resurrecting “the old assimilation policy”, but “hidden behind a few new terms and slogans”. Now that “is not welcome”.

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