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SOLO-NZ Op-Ed: Unwrapping the Riddle of Winston
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sun, 2008-08-31 04:06
SOLO-NZ Op-Ed: Unwrapping the Riddle of Winston
August 31, 2008
Winston Peters was named after Winston Churchill, we are told. Certainly he's reminiscent of his namesake's description of Russia: a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The person we know as an arch-Muldoonist actually started out in politics as a near-libertarian — his maiden speech extolled small government, low taxes and individual freedom. His formidable talents could have worked wonders in reversing the descent into full-blown statism. Instead, he became a shameless poster-boy for populism, unprincipled opportunism and conspiracy theories, pandering to the retarded and the psychotic on the Geriatric Left. It's no surprise to learn today that New Zealand First supporters are disproportionately represented among those who believe that New Zealand is manipulated by Big Business, the All Blacks were poisoned before the 1995 World Cup final, Bush planned 9/11, Princess Di was assassinated, Elvis faked his own death and governments are covering up alien invasions. It's no surprise, either, that his support was eroding long before the current scandal in which he is embroiled — the simple fact is that his constituency is geriatric and is disappearing by attrition.
The equally simple fact is that Winston is better than all this. This is the Winston Peters who, as Foreign Minister, has drawn America closer to us than we have any right to expect given our insane anti-nuke policy. This is the Winston Peters who disdains the theology of Political Correctness. During my time in the Press Gallery, when some dopey MP uttered some dopey PC inanity, Winston would sometimes look up at me and roll his eyes, confident that I would understand. Winston is great company over a ciggie and a tipple — a huge point in his favour which in itself, in our neo-Puritan times, is bound to garner him enemies. Add to that that he treats our contemporary media with the contempt that is their due and you’ve got a fellow who’s never going to be out of trouble for long.
Of the current scandal it should be pointed out that both Winston Peters and Helen Clark have been hoist by their own petard. If they hadn't both performed such a prolonged song-and-dance about the wickedness of wealthy folk donating to political parties and the wickedness of wealth itself (perfectly epitomised in Michael Cullen's "rich prick" jibe at John Key), they wouldn't be in this pickle now. If they hadn't given us the vile Electoral Finance Act making it impossible for anyone to donate significantly and quietly, they'd be able to tell the clamorous media to get lost. Contrary to the loathsome egalitarian ethic which they have championed, it's no sin to be rich. Contrary to the totalitarian ethic which Clark has championed, anybody, rich or poor, should be free to donate any amount to any political party, anonymously or publicly. For their part in making this impossible, Clark and Peters deserve all the odium they are copping, especially given their brazen hypocrisy in soliciting donations from the "wealthy" and then covering them up.
But other things should be pointed out too.
One is that, in this matter, Rodney Hide is not acting on behalf of the libertarian principles I've just enunciated. Hide opposed the EFA, to be sure, but that's not what's driving his present vendetta, and you won't hear him talking up Peters' right to accept money from Owen Glenn. In a manner straight out of a Peters conspiracy theory, Hide's agenda is heavily influenced by Alan Gibbs, Douglas Myers and the Business Roundtable. These luminaries have had it in for Peters since the days of the Winebox Inquiry. Of course, Peters' protagonists in that saga were no more interested than he in the generic right of folk to protect their own money from the illegitimate attentions of the state; indeed, they have been studiously useless in and absent from the battle for freedom overall. They were, however, very interested in getting away with their own dodges, and were mightily displeased when Winston crossed them. They still are. Here, now, at last, is the opportunity for payback — along with the means for Rodney to do a populist number of his own and pull his party back from the brink of extinction.
Another is that there is no nobility in the media's feeding frenzy over this matter. The spectacle of breathless Labour-loving political reporters hoopin' it across town in hot pursuit of Clark and Peters has been comical rather than inspiring, given the identity of the parties involved. Lefty Guyon Espiner's screechings at Peters to resign are as incongruous as a similar demand from John Campbell to Jeanette Fitzsimons, or John Pilger to Hugo Chavez. Doesn't Guyon get it that Winston is his own philosophy writ large? The media's long acquiescence to statism has helped nurture statist politicians who play as fast and loose with the facts as they do with Other People's Money. Welcome to your world, Guyon!
Yet another point that seems to have eluded the media mullahs is that, for better or worse, it's premature to write Winston off. They seem to have forgotten all the previous near-death experiences from which he emerged blithely, insouciantly unscathed. Deborah Coddington puts it very well in her Sunday Herald column:
"I've always said you could set Peters' feet in concrete, bind him in chains, douse him in kerosene, set him alight, dump him in the harbour and he'd still emerge from the depths, brush off his suit, shake out his pocket hanky, smooth down his hair, light up a smoke and then just smile right back into Parliament."
The tragedy of Winston Peters is not some shenanigans over funding of the kind of which all parties are guilty. It is not his idiosyncratic, incomprehensible temporisings on the subject. The tragedy of Winston Peters is that he has used his great talent, on balance, for evil rather than good. The tragedy of Winston Peters — and the answer to his riddle — is that he has chosen to be the opposite of his namesake. Churchill fought evil; Peters has appeased and embraced it.
Lindsay Perigo 021 255 8715, firstname.lastname@example.org
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