Matthew Hooton’s Selectivity

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A good communicator and propagandist uses the pretence of reasoned argument to obscure their ulterior motives and manipulative persuasion techniques. A critic of propaganda shows how these techniques undermine the very principles of reason itself. The validity of any claim to ‘reasoned argument’ can be legitimately challenged, but only on the grounds of logic, evidence and/or verifiable scientific knowledge. Matthew Hooton is very skilled communicator and propagandist who sometimes over-reaches. When this happens, the absence of reasoned argument can be laid bare. His latest NZ Herald political column is a case in point (8 May 2020). The headline ‘Government Abusing Lockdown Powers’ begs the obvious question – why is the government doing this? Hooton’s answer is unequivocal.

But make no mistake; the government has now crossed the line from using its lockdown powers to maintain public health to cynically promoting its electoral interests.

The keyword here is ‘cynically’. It rules out the possibility that non-cynical electoral interests might be in play, i.e., that the government is very interested in winning the election and that the government is interested in defending the principles of public health. The two options need not be mutually incompatible. On this matter, we are entitled to ask:

  1. a) Are the electoral interests of government always cynically promoted, such that public duty, democratic responsibility and other governing ideals are never relevant? Or 
  2. b) Is cynicism only a shortcoming of this particular government?

If Hooton answers yes to a), then he needs to say so explicitly with arguments to support that position. If the answer is yes to b), then comparison with other governments needs to be made. If, from Hooton’s perspective, other governments also ‘crossed the line’ into cynical machinations for re-election, he needs to cite examples in order to properly evaluate the current New Zealand government’s motives. Not doing so leaves him open to the charge of selective bias. I will return to this point later.

Any democratically elected government with legal obligations confronts a logical paradox during a crisis. It may be necessary to suspend democratic freedoms in order to defend democracy. In this context, executive actions may undermine the rule of law as well as individual rights. During World War II, for example, Japanese military expansion triggered a crisis of national security. Prime Minister, Peter Fraser introduced compulsory conscription and strict censorship rules. These draconian measures were justifiable because democratic freedoms and the rule of law were existentially threatened (by fascism). Of course, such a justification was not so applicable after the Japanese military threat receded. Historians can legitimately criticise Fraser’s abuse of executive power beyond the security crisis period. 

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Similarly, draconian measures during a public health crisis also present a logical paradox. An overwhelming spread of sickness and fatalities nationwide will damage the social cohesion necessary for a functioning political democracy. Avoidance of this scenario requires at least some rules of law to be suspended. Yet to do so might be deemed unlawful. How, then, can draconian measures be justified on legal and constitutional grounds when the long-term health of democracy is the objective? The danger here for defenders of democracy is that suspension of legal and constitutional safeguards may become permanent and normalised even after the crisis has passed. At that point, public vigilance is imperative.

 My point here is that Hooton attacks the government for abusing its powers without ever acknowledging the inescapable logical paradox of crisis governance. The recent legal debates have indicated how the lawfulness or otherwise of executive action is not an easy matter to resolve. This controversial matter must be considered in relation to one brute fact. The Covid-19 public health crisis is still with us, and the government has to deal with it. A resurgent second-wave outbreak would (paradoxically) necessitate the re-enactment of ‘Level 4’ powers to defend the legal basis of our democratic freedoms. 

Now, allow me to identify what a real abuse of lockdown powers looks like. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times article ‘The Other Pandemic: The One Infecting US Democracy’ (NZ Herald, 9 May 2020) details how Hungary’s Victor Oban has used the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to abandon constitutional conventions and rule by decree. Krugman then outlines how Republican legislators in Wisconsin backed by Republican appointees to the Supreme Court insisted on holding a state election during lockdown. 

…the state’s shutdown had a more severe impact in Democratic-leaning urban areas, where a great majority of polling places were closed, than in rural or suburban areas. So the state GOP was nakedly exploiting a pandemic to disenfranchise those likely to vote against it. What we saw in Wisconsin, in short, was a state party doing whatever it takes to cling to power even if a majority wants it out – and a partisan bloc on the US Supreme Court backing its efforts.

Now this, in stark terms, is how a truly cynical promotion of electoral interests operates. New Zealand’s Adern government is not beyond criticism against the criteria of democratic governance. However, Hooton’s claim that the government has ‘crossed the line’ between crisis management and abuse of power for cynical re-election purposes is not supportable, logically or comparatively. In short, this is not reasoned argument, but specious propaganda.

 

33 COMMENTS

  1. Gagging ministers is certainly cynical especially from the “most transparent government ever”, what have they got to hide? Quite a bit by the look of it.
    But you miss the point, Hooton is indeed a very good communicator and propagandist and when doing his job well he plants the hooks without you knowing. In this case, declaring (correctly IMO) this government crisis management as cynical, is creating pressure to move to level 2.

      • LOL
        I think the way it’s meant to work is you SHOW where I’m wrong.
        A little like the article going round in circles because actually yes gagging ministers is cynical however much one tribe wants to pretend otherwise.

    • Mathew Hooten is NZ’s ineffectual version of Hannity of Fox News infamy. No subtlety there. Attempts at shiftiness -yes
      Worth re-reading are Nicky Hager’s comments on Hooten’s association with Cameron Slater in his book’ Dirty Politics’.

  2. Again , as like so many here on the TDB, a sterling article. So many good points.

    Levied against ‘ Hooton’s claim that the government has [ ‘crossed the line’ between crisis management and abuse of power for cynical re-election purposes is not supportable, logically or comparatively. In short, this is not reasoned argument, but specious propaganda’]…Really does drive the point home,…of one of bias and political tribalism,…THAT these far right exponents need to learn to tread carefully nowadays in the minefields that they create lest they expose themselves and become the victims of the very attack with which they seek to launch…

    And so, …after all these years of the so called formidable facade with which Hooten has encapsulated himself with and been credited for,….exposes him as just yet another cheap crystal ball gazer and circumstantial manipulator…

    Nothing to fear there if one really gets past the emotionalism of his words and casts them in the full light of day… just another weak Remora fish sucking on the scales of the predatory shark of capitalism.

    The NZ Initiative sucking on the teats of the Mount Pelerin society.

    And that’s who he serves.

    Like a leech.

    Perhaps imagery is not all that it is cracked up to be in the Farrar / Hooten camp, and perhaps Labour have been scared of shadows after all these years,… I think so. And I think a growing number of others are now thinking so as well.

  3. I am an ex WINZ worker. I started at Social Welfare Dept at the age of 22 after applying for the dole after returning from working overseas. Dept of Social offered me a job instead of the dole. I did quite well became a supervisor and left to have babies after marrying. Went back to Work and Income when my youngest child was 4. Work and Income were changing to a computerised system. While i was working for Work and Imcome my husband and i were attacked in our bedroom by a client of mine. I had 2 days off work for this was not offered counselling by my employer or the police just had to carry on. I continued to work care for my children and my partner who at the time was a deputy school principal. Then came along Jenny Shipley as Social Welfare MP and her sidekick Christine Rankin. Rankin decided to make WINZ offices open plan. Where clients could come in when they felt like it. No appointments system
    Queues were hours long. What shambles screamimg kids everywhere and stressed mothers. Rankin then decided that the staff had process every bit of paper work within 24 hours. The place became very stressful and staff were taking time off because they were sick. The pool of workers was getting smaller and smaller. I got bad tonsilitis and had flashbacks of the client in my bedroom couldnt sleep kept worry that i wasnt doing the right thing and ended up in the mental health ward at the hospital. Dont think the staff at the hospital understood me. I was sectioned by the court to stay there for 5days. I am not the only staff member to end up having a mental break down. My diagnosis is the same as John Kirwin. I was having panic attacks. Anyhow i got out of WINZ and left my marriage cause my husband couldnt understand me. I went to work somewhere else. The staff at WINZ are just the meat in the sandwich the MPs and the managers in Wellington make these crazy decisions and sometimes the staff hear about them in the newspaper or TV. Management doesnt ask frontline staff anything.!??! Anyhow now i have deal with WINZ cause Im 66 and still have panic attacks.
    Have deal with Super staff that are not up to scratch and are so slow cause they say they cant cope with the baby boomers. Took them 5 weeks to process something for me. I think its a govt department that never copes
    Glad to have got out of there!!!!!!

  4. Thanks Wayne Hope! Excellent piece, factually based and spot on the money. As for Mr. Hooton, he derives his income from stirring the Political Shite Pot. A well studied word twisting shit stirrer that uses sick, highly controversial & untruthful conservative Ideology as a battering ram pitting Labour against National so as to gain from monetary reward from whichever talking point he chooses that serves his purpose. He would most likely flip if he was approached by Labour to play Attack Dog. Not the type of person anyone would call “Friend”..
    The man is nothing more than another Talking-Head opinionated Brick in the Wall of Neoliberalist Capitalism. Let’s see how well his Wall stands up to the voices of Reason and Fairness that are singing in Chorus over his sick Monotone of Greed driven Narcissistic – Lookit Me, Durge. He might qualify as a Funeral Singer at hard right Death Ceremony’s! Thats about all he’s qualified for at the days last light. Like Hosking, he’s a Clingon to a dead & failed Corporate style Ideology… Poor lad doesn’t even know what a total Dick he is…
    The Coaltition have had no choice but to act in this crisis for all, knowing that they were in a “No-Win” situation however the played the Pandemic. Unfortunately we’ve had a double dose of catastrophy that has hit us all between the eyes. How often does a Global Economic Meltdown happen at the same time as a Global Medical Pandemic that threatens Democracy and Freedom of Movement?? It’s high time we moved past this event with our eyes wide open and it’s a good thing to have these talking heads Identified and labeled for what they actually represent as we move forward. Jacinda & Co. have done the best job possible considering the challenges we face.. Kindness goes a long way in the middle of a Shit blizzard!

  5. Specious propaganda is what Matthew Hooton is all about. It is his job. He is a paid lobbyist, a hired water pistol. He is very good at well aimed small squirts.

  6. It all can be summed up as the end justifies the means. ACT says document dump is ‘hiding’ information. The interview of the Health Minister post dump never happened. Sex abuse in ACT youth wing not deserving of leader statement because that never happened? Ardern not visible. Ardern too visible. National Health spokesman decries covid 19 response as unsafe for weeks. Now says it is safe but Cancer! Bridges demands budget be released now! I guess they have to be seen as doing and saying something/anything. Just another day in right wing crazyland. Biggest laugh for me is Mark Richardson saying his feelings were hurt by PM biting back.

    • And it always intrigues me when those on the right crying wolf when Key said nothing to hide nothing to fear, yet never released what was on the tape recorded between he and ACTs Hohn Banks. Remember his seek and destroy mission of that reporter. Now I may be wrong but that was rather cynical. What was Key hiding, I never ever saw Hootens opinion on this?

    • Bridges can just pick up the budget early from the servers he got the last one from can’t he?

  7. Pity it’s paywalled – but I can read the first sentence: “Left unchecked, how long before kindly social democrats morph into enthusiastic authoritarians?” So I guess it must be social democrats that are the “cynical” ones. Or maybe that’s the standard Hayek line.

  8. and in ACT crazyland today Seymour claims he has proof Health officials backed his call for Butchers Bakers and greengrocers to remain open under level 4. Trouble is he has posted a MBEI report rather than an MoH advice. His supporters are lapping it up. Dumb and dumberer.

    • But with the prostitute Media giving him oxygen, his support rises. The only probable good news is it’ll be at the expanse of (Chinese spy)National party,.
      And if the voters of Epsom EVER wake up, and don’t vote for him, or Lab/Greens THINK for just one second and vote for Goldsmith (the crooked pillock) then ACT are ‘gone burger’ and their votes are wasted and Labour could have a MASSIVE majority.

  9. The silly little smiling turnip doesn’t deserve the oxygen that comes from being debated.
    Must it not feel odd, to ride a wave of unpopularity to ones obscurity?
    Moving on…

    • The problem with your comment is that you may not like Hooten but he’s not going anywhere, unlike JA who will last only as long as her popularity or the good decisions of her ministers. Mmm not holding my breath.

  10. Hooton says, “But make no mistake; the government has now crossed the line from using its lockdown powers to maintain public health to cynically promoting its electoral interests.”

    Sort of like “But make no mistake Matthew Hooton, has continued down the line of making facile subjective comments to cynically promote his political electoral interests.

    I would have it that everything a government does promotes it’s electoral interests. How do you define and identify the line, the moment, the decision to do something to promote its electoral interests deliberately and cynically? From the tiniest degree to being totally for those reasons? You don’t. You just say it and it becomes fact.

  11. The article was great. Great to see Hooton’s bubble burst. Loved the word ‘specious’ at the end. This article should be studied in schools by senior English students as a deconstruction of rhetoric, a revelation that the emperor of columns has no clothes.

  12. If it was National in place of Labour right now, I bet Hooton wouldn’t have any problem about freedom restriction.
    Mind you in saying that, if it had been National in power we would probably have never gone to level 4, just to 3 and that only for a couple of weeks.
    National apparently believe the risk of more deaths is an acceptable one.

    • If National were in power Mike, we would be in the same position as England and the states.

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