Swigging Socialist Chardonnay in the Back of a Liberal Limousine

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Simon BridgesSIMON BRIDGES in full rhetorical flight is something to behold. Speaking to the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill and his controversial Supplementary Order Paper containing a number of draconian anti-protest clauses, the National Government’s fiesty young Minister of Energy had this to say:

“What is quite clear over that side of the House is a view that says the ends justify the means, right? The ends justify the means. They are so clear in their smarmy little chardonnay socialist world that they are right that they do not care about other people’s rights. “Rights for our side; no rights for anyone else!” Well, I will tell you … that business people in this country have rights too, actually, and talking about business and development is not a shameful thing. Actually, it is what makes the world go round and it is what pays for all your socialist ideas, frankly.”

“Smarmy little chardonnay socialists”: I wonder if Mr Bridges could identify the political tradition to which he is indebted when he uses such evocative descriptions? Would he be proud or ashamed to learn that “chardonnay socialist” places him in the same right-wing populist political tradition as the politician whose name was once synonymous with the seat of Tauranga, Winston Peters? And, before him, Sir Robert Muldoon?

Probably not.

Mr Bridges has always struck me as a thoroughly instinctive National Party politician. One who has absorbed his political beliefs more by social osmosis than out of the academic textbooks he was required to master as part of his legal training.

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The son of a Baptist pastor and a primary schoolteacher, Mr Bridges’ personal and political values are a reasonably faithful reflection of the conservative beliefs characteristic of both his church and the primly suburban Te Atatu community in which he was raised.

Tauranga is not too different from Te Atatu. Comfortable, striving, sports-mad – and deeply mistrustful of anything requiring strenuous intellectual or moral effort. The voters living in these communities like to acquire their opinions in much the same way they acquire their wardrobes – off the rack. Bespoke opinions, and those that come with fancy designer labels, betray their supporters’unhealthy disdain for everything that is normal, customary, common and conventional.

Opinions like that lead to protests at sea, Green politics and (heaven forbid!) socialism!

In this Mr Bridges reminds me a lot of that original cheer-leader for “the great silent majority” – Richard Milhous Nixon.

No one “got” suburbia (and the values, ideas and aspirations of the people who lived there) better than Nixon. No one understood more intuitively the petty resentments and the envious striving; the deep hunger for novelty and escape; and the even deeper fears of difference and failure that lurked behind the happy façade of neatly-trimmed lawns, well-tended flower-beds and late-model cars.

Nixon narrowly won the presidential election of 1968 – that annus horribilis which witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy; the riotous melee calling itself the Democratic Party convention in Chicago; something close to revolution in Paris; and for one brief spring in Prague, “socialism with a human face”.

The children of the suburbs were, by turns, stricken, enchanted and aroused. Their parents were frightened and appalled.

Nixon calmed suburban America’s fears and reassured its inhabitants that, despite all appearances to the contrary, their world was not falling apart. The younger generation’s fierce assault on the values of the “system” their parents had constructed was as misguided as it was offensive. They had been misled by irresponsible teachers, liberal journalists and communist agitators.

In his famous speech of 1969, in which he asked the American people to stay the course in Vietnam, Nixon appealed over the heads of America’s disaffected, anti-war, youth – the vocal minority – to the millions still willing to rally ‘round the flag:

“Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.

Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.

And so tonight – to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans – I ask for your support.”

That same year, in New York City, Mario Procaccino, a classic product of the Democratic Party’s “Tammany Hall” politics, ran against the incumbent, John Lindsay, in the Big Apple’s mayoral election. An Italian-American, Procaccino’s constituency was the city’s white, working-class, ethnic communities.

Lindsay ran on the progressive Liberal Party ticket and drew his support in almost equal measure from the city’s poverty-stricken blacks and its educated middle-class professionals. Procaccino’s was contemptuous of Lindsay’s willingness to implement the social reforms demanded by New York’s middle-class liberal’s, while supporting the city’s black communities out of the taxes of the city’s socially conservative white working-class.

In a campaign memo he poured out his resentments. Lindsay’s backers, he wrote, were:

“[R]ich super-assimilated people who live on Fifth Avenue and maintain some choice mansions outside the city and have no feeling for the small middle class shopkeeper, home owner, etc. They preach the politics of confrontation and condone violent upheaval in society because they are not touched by it and are protected by their courtiers.”

Lindsay, too, was a “Limousine Liberal”.

Mr Bridges did not call his Labour Party critics “Limousine Liberals”, but he did employ the expression’s Kiwi equivalent. His “smarmy, little chardonnay socialist” conveys exactly the same picture as Procaccino’s alliterative insult: of a political activism socially and culturally disconnected from the people it purports to represent.

Back in the 1980s, Mr Bridges’s predecessor as MP for Tauranga, Winston Peters, was gifted a similar (if somewhat cruder) descriptive phrase by his then speech-writer, Michael Laws. He called the Pakeha fellow-travellers of Maori nationalism “Sickly White Liberals”.

This, then, is the provenance of Mr Bridges’s stirring rhetorical imagery. A rough-and-ready, Italian-American, Democratic Party, ward-heeler, channelling a small-town, ill-at-ease, Republican President, in a concerted effort to politically delegitimise an ideologically progressive, but demographically displaced, left-wing minority.

Like Paula Bennett, his National Party colleague from the West Auckland seat of Waitakere, Mr Bridges’s instinctive populism leaves one with the impression that, had his life taken only a slightly different course, he might now be sitting alongside Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove – on the right of Labour’s caucus.

37 COMMENTS

  1. This is an excellent character study. This is a man who will say the opposition live in a “smarmy little chardonnay socialist world”, all the while sipping chardonnay in his own smarmy little neo-liberal world, and seriously thinks his solutions are any better (which, incidentally, they provably are not). This is where I differ from most, or so it appears: I firmly hold that BOTH sides of the House are seriously deluded with “solutions” to this society’s problems. I only hope that some future leader appears that addresses the FUNDAMENTAL problems, as opposed to skirting around the periphery with meaningless deliberately distracting political jabber combined with pointless punitive policy.

    • “…which, incidentally, they provably are not”

      Go on then. Prove it.

      I’d be interested in seeing how you would do this.

      Perhaps you could compare a country following standard left wing approaches to the economy, (say France), with another country following a more right wing approach, (say the UK).

      • Ah, but economic and political success has no fixed point Gosman.

        The UK, with no manufacturing base, the City of London a Ponzi scheme reliant on rehypothication and Libor rigging and a country with the highest aggregate debt on the planet. We’re yet to see the full and dramatic effects of that experiment. Let’s have a comparison then please.

      • You really need to read more. Seriously. There are insane volumes of material that clearly show how BOTH the tech collapse of 2000 AND the latest financial bank crisis of 2007 are a DIRECT result of neo-liberal deregulation combined with neo-liberal Government championed speculation (because it SEEMED to lead to so much (fake as it turns out) economic growth).

        • Show me the real world evidence by comparing left wing economic policies against right wing ones then.

          • Do you have reading comprehension issues? Read my original post again. Where does it say that left wing is better than right wing? I don’t even use the terms “left” and “right” for fucks sake. NEITHER has anything resembling a solution on the table at this point, as I thought I clearly stated.

          • Ah the old ‘We’re all doomed!’ approach to politics.

            It has a long and distinguished history of disapointment for people who follow it.

  2. Peak Oil = End of Suburbia. Coming soon to a suburb like yours.

    No wonder National are so desperate to loot everything they can before it all implodes. And by doing so they guarantee environmental collapse. But I’m sure Nats don’t need air, water or soil to live, being some kind of alien species that lives purely on ego and ignorance.

    By the way, Aldous Huxley: “It is the nature of the universe that the ends never justify the means. However, the means often become the ends.” (That’s from memory, so may not be word perfect, but the gist is there.)

  3. You might find this interesting, Chris. In 2009 Bridges delivered a conference paper: Maori and Parliament – diversity enriches the view. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

    Naku Joseph remained in an unhappy relationship with her hard-living husband, but did so because in those days, early last century, she thought marriage to a Pakeha man was bettering herself and her children’s prospects. She continually told my father that she wanted her children and grandchildren to have letters behind their names, without really understanding what that meant. I think her move from Oparure to Hamilton, where my father grew up, severed the link in my family to matters Maori until reasonably recent times

    I think that illustrates (to a certain extent at least) that the strivers idea is embedded in Bridge’s whakapapa.

      • My point was that rather than being a politician that has absorbed his beliefs through (as Chris terms) “social osmosis”, Bridges’ family history indicates that he is more suitably described as a “striver” (i.e. the attribute Chris applies to Bridges’ constituents).

        • To be honest only one part of his family, (His Grandmother presumably).

          A lot of people could claim someone in their recent ancestry doing something similar. That doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on who they are directly. It would be like arguing that someone who had a grandparent in Prison is naturally inclined to crime.

          • That’s right, it’s his grandmother.

            Now, putting your false analogy to one side I think that her philosophy has had some influence. It is the only part of his family history that he appears to expand on (he mentioned her in his maiden speech too). Admittedly, he could be crafting a narrative out of it, but I tend to think that it’s part of his family history that has most affected his values. It is hard to say without him explicitly saying so, but the idea that her values have influences his values is implicit.

  4. So the people of Te Atatu and Tauranga can be written off as “mistrustful of anything requiring strenuous intellectual or moral effort”, can they?

    Whatever the reasons are for Simon Bridges’ intellectual and moral vacuity, as well as his pathologically smarmy manner, I doubt they are “the people of Te Atatu and Tauranga”.

    Can the psycho-geo-political environment of the East Coast explain the horror of Hekia Parata? Do we blame Avondale for giving us John Banks? And from what corner of Hell sprang Tony Ryall?

  5. If Kiwis were still “true Kiwis”, this kind of “political adventure” a Simon Bridgeass dares to take on, would have been stopped right there and then, it would never pass even the door-step of the debating chamber.

    But as “Kiwis” are today a non-descript, vague and muddled description of habitants of a lot of larger and less larger isles down this (back)side of the Pacific, nobody bothers to take a bloody stand anymore. That is where Bridgeass and Nats get away with what they are doing.

    We live in a “near dictatorship”, also when wannabe “Kiwis” like Melissa Lee(way) stand up in the debating chamber and rant on about Greens promoting “drug growing and dealing”, while the truth was, that Green MP Metiria Turei suggested decriminalisation AND a smart approach, suggested on Maori TV’s Native Affairs, to allow Maori in depressed regions to apply certain “growing skills” in growing industrial hemp for all sorts of purposes, anything BUT drug use, as there is zilch or near there in that crop.

    The dumb NZ msm gobbled that shit up too, not knowing much else of sense to write and report on, having too many idle, overpaid graduate journos looking for some “infotainment” crap “news”.

    So when is NZ waking up, that is those wandering zombie corpses I see every day in Queen St and elsewhere, who appear to have handed over parts of their brain function to nothing else but commercial and entertainment brainwashing.

    If a wake up may happen, we may have some “democratic awareness” resurrected, but I cannot see it so foar.

    Shock horror and dismay, I live in Aotearoa, what the hell is this kind of planet like???

    NO to MINING and DRILLING in DEEP SEA, that is the base and bottom line, all you Nat jerks!

    • Why is Melissa Lee a wannabe “Kiwi”?

      Is it because she was born in another country?

      If so, does that mean Russell Norman is also a wannabe “Kiwi”?

      • Gooseman – I met her years ago, when she was a newbie and desperate to fit in and meet the commercial crowd, starting as a Central Leader journo then, repeating crap that they wanted to be written about.

        NZers are largely so ill informed, brainwashed and dumbed down, your comment proves it . If there was real information and perhaps even education offered by the media we have, things would be differnt. But they perpetuate ignorance, division and hatred, to which you appear to subscribe.

        I feel sorry for you, but you are one of many ignorant in this place here.

  6. From this, Bridges appears not to understand basic economics. Business does not pay for all “socialist” ideas. The government is not just a consumer. Where do they find these people?

      • Gooseman – You are vocal on this, but never studied politics, economics and more, you are trying to ride and bring in Farrar’s fartass brigade thinking here, learn!!!

        • Sorry but you are quite wrong. I studied Commerce (Economics) and Politics at University. It is the height of intellectual arrogance to suggest there is only one ‘correct’ way to see things.

          On another note, you never did reply to my question about what makes Melissa Lee a wannabe Kiwi. Would you please expand on what you mean by that?

          • Then you would know we are not a mixed economy in a classical sense. We have state involvement in the economy primarily because of our size and location. Since 1984 our economy has moved away from a mixed model. Comparing New Zealand to North Korea is bloody stupid statement, the only truly ideological tossers in this country are on the right. And the Cuban economy in a mystical beast that gives me hope -considering that the U.S spend at least $2 million a day (I think this figure has gone up) to embargo the place. Cuba still has an economy, that is bloody awesome.

          • Your ignorance about the US embargo on Cuba is astounding. The impact on the embargo is that the US does not trade with Cuba. They do not stop Cuba from trading with others (as they did on very favourable terms with the former Soviet Union).

            I find it ironic that left wing people blame the economic problems of Cuba on an inability to trade with the US when they seem to be anti free trade in other aspects of their beliefs.

          • Commerce and politics, ahem, so you seem to think that mixes. Then accept that persons like David Cunliffe and others can and should also be given credit.

            As for Melissa Lee, she is like many a “wannabe”, “Kiwi” or not, that is only of secondary importance. But there are a heck of a lot of wannabes in NZ, I can assure you that, no matter whether born here or overseas.

            Melissa Lee has in Parliament and outside been “hailing” her Korean heritage and remembers their national day and so, and having heard her rubbish beneficiaries and opposition MPs opposing the recently passed welfare “reforms”, she has a toffey nosed attitude, like as if she is someone more virtuous and deserving than many others. Perhaps that has also a bit do do with her upbringing?

          • I said embargo, not free trade, and I don’t think Cuba has a economic problems except when the U.S. military interferes with it’s trade. I love free trade – I just don’t like a neo-liberal corporate welfare trade system you seem to confuse as free trade. Trade between economic equals seems reasonable and a desirable outcome for all. Free trade outside the scope ideology can and does work. We however live in a time were ideology runs our economy, the neo-liberals are all ideologues – which makes them the most vulgar of communists.

  7. I’ve found a tried and true measure of a good wine . It’s alcohol content .

    Enlightenment is empowering , comforting and gives focus .
    Thanks Chris Trotter .

    I can see the choking patchwork of lies that have suffocated New Zealand politics and it’s economics for generations is finally coming apart , stitch by stitch .

  8. What Countryboy says. A new voice is clearing it’s throat.

    And I don’t drink alcohol at all. 🙂

  9. Just returned from a visit to Oz and I must say their non commercial ABC television and radio chanels are far more informed and intelligent than our own heap of crap, TVNZ. The difference is startling and saddening, they are smarter and better informed about national and international affairs. This government must be held accountable for this shocking threat to our Demockary. Appalling.

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