It is alleged that Napoleon once advised never to ascribe to malice that which could adequately be explained by incompetence.
In the case of the ACT Party, the distinction appears to be meaningless.
Take, for example, John Banks announcing that he's "much more interested in the penguins at Antarctica than I am in some of the social problems that we have in New Zealand".
I'm honestly not sure whether that counts as incompetence or malice.
On one level, it's clearly rank stupidity. Successful politicians don't usually go out of their way to make themselves appear out of touch with the concerns of their constituents, even if they've been smart enough to be vague about which of those concerns they don't care about.
On another level, it's malice. If you're anti-gay rights or anti-abortion, then you're quite welcome to read into Banks' comments that he's just as apathetic about these issues as you are. And, as an added bonus, Banks cares about the welfare of endangered animals and a pristine Antarctic wilderness.
For a certain sort of (socially conservative) right-wing voter, this message ticks all the subconscious boxes.
It's also just vague enough for anything unsavoury to be plausibly deniable if he's confronted about it.
Full marks for figuring out how to pander to the base without alienating the swing voters *too* terribly much.
I'm not going to touch Banks' various and sundry comments about South Auckland as they've already been done to death elsewhere, except to note the vanishingly small line between incompetence and malice in ACT's parliamentary caucus that these evidence.
It's incompetent to galvanize a large swathe of the Auckland electorate against you by referring to their part of the city as a "social disaster"; and it's malicious to subsequently characterize the browner denizens of that area as subsisting on benefits in order to "sit in front of TV, smoke marijuana, watch pornography, and plan more drug offending, more burglaries" with the ultimate objective of "coming through our windows if we live in Epsom".
My inner cynic wonders why Banks wasn't so quick to condemn the white-collar (and mostly white) criminals who are disproportionately concentrated in his (and my) Epsom electorate.
Oh that's right, it's because it'd mean condemning guys like Banks' business partner, Peter Huljich.
Then again, Banks does occasionally say things that prove Napoleon's maxim.
His recent assertion that Onehunga College was a charter school was presumably just incompetence, rather than a devious soundbite designed to make it seem like ACT's new and unmandated shakeup of the education sector wasn't nearly as untried, unfamiliar, or foreign as it actually was.
Unfortunately, his incompetence here doesn't reflect very well on his ability comprehend, much less implement the wide-ranging "reforms" he's seeking for our kids.
With comments like these, I'd respectfully suggest that Deborah Coddington dubbed the wrong inept white male the Mr Magoo of Kiwi politics.
In any case, lest we think this curious combination of odiousness and incompetence is something new in ACT's leadership, let's cast our minds back to a man who was apparently unaware of that other political maxim ... "when you're already in the hole, stop mining the conservation estate".
It's odious to suggest that we must open an open-cast mine at Pike River in order to respect the men who died there; it's barely conceivable incompetence to suggest ruining our pristine conservation estate with strip-mining to create a tourist attraction.
It was, however, karmically appropriate for him to suggest there was a "silly old man leading [my] party" in light of Hide's eventual fate as leader of ACT.
Fortunately, there's a new generation of ACTress unburdened by the rank bigotry and frank incompetence of their predecessors ready to take the helm and steer the party back to being one of high-minded principle.
It's one thing to call Labour out for alleged breaches of the Electoral Finance Act (weird, considering ACT was so dead set against said act that they were prepared to take then-Attorney General Michael Cullen to court over it) ... but it's quite another to try and compare Labour with the Nazi Party based around their shared use of the colour red and the fact they've both got youth wings.
ACT on Campus' persistent use of rape, whether to intimidate opponents or just to make really weird and unfounded comparisons also does nothing to endear them in my eyes.
Maybe Rick Giles wasn't so bad after all.
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