Monday, June 1, 2015

Walking the Green Mile with James Shaw on Social Media

Good grief. I'm looking at my various social media feeds right now, and it seems just about every arm-chair radical with access to a smart-phone has come out of the woodwork to express their fear and loathing of this ardent Thatcher-quoting Market-monotheizing hard right-wing Wolf of Wall St in Green clothing who's just this weekend won what's arguably the year's most important political contest. Northland By-Election notwithstanding.

I'm talking, of course, about James Shaw.

And if you didn't recognize him from the string of epithets reeled off above, then you're not alone. What's happening to Shaw at the moment is less character assassination than it is character creation.

The raw level of "SHRILL" presently emitting from keyboards across the country tonight is arguably at a high enough fever pitch to shatter glass. Pity it hasn't *quite* reached a frequency capable of cracking preconceptions, to boot.

Since getting home from the Greens' AGM on Saturday evening, I'd lost count of the number of individuals - some of them usually quite politically perspicacious and whose opinions I normally hold in high regard - who've taken to facebook in order to express everything from guarded reservations about the man based upon little more than hearsay, through to full-blown out-and-out apoplexy of the sort you or I would customarily only reserve for a Minister of the government, or one of its support parties - and leveled at him for the exact same reason.

For the most part, these aspersions are more lacking in substance than Jim Anderton's vision for the future of our youth.

Somebody will claim Shaw's right-wing. I'll ask them for proof (because seriously - if he is, I want to know about it), and they'll come back with some vague comment about how it's something he must have said or implied during the leadership campaign. In one case, asking a complainant to supply proof for something they'd said about him was met with "You do the work. You're the journalist."

Another class of miscreant will breathlessly cite the fact that Shaw's maiden speech in Parliament contained the self-evidently damning line "Thatcher was right!" One guy I saw responding to a comment about this straight-up said that he didn't care about the context - the mere fact Shaw had put those three words together in a sentence apparently told him all he needed to know about the character of the speaker. Presumably that he's some sort of arch-neoliberal, and economic evil incarnate into the bargain.

However, a cursory check of the context in which the remark was made gives a very, very different impression. When Shaw said "Thatcher was right", he was strictly and exclusively referring to her views on climate change. The first line of the paragraph sets up in grandiose tones how Nat MPs will often cite Thatcher as a guiding light and point of inspiration for their own politics. So Shaw whips out a quote from her and a fact about her life to establish that she was, in fact, a believer in man-made climate change. And on that, I'd certainly like to hope, we can all agree that Thatcher was INDEED right!

(Owwww. It actually physically hurt typing those last five words)

Now to be fair to Shaw's detractors, there's also been one *actual* point of concern which I've seen raised that's actually worth taking note of.

Apparently, during the 2014 campaign, he gave an interview to a small Wellington newspaper in which he expressed a belief that "properly functioning markets can serve the wider good" - and, more worryingly, claimed that those of us who feel sketch and uneasy about teh word "market" somehow finding itself being increasingly looked to as a catchall problem-solving tool ... were merely "afraid of the word 'market' because of the switch to a free market economy over the last 30 years".

At first glance, this doesn't look particularly good. In fact, it's not hard to see why an *ahem* excitable mind might leap to the conclusion that these quotes betray elements (if not an entire alter ego) of the hated neoliberalism within Shaw's economic world-view.

Yet look closer. He hasn't pulled a David Parker and openly stated something completely post-Rogergnome daft like "competitive markets don't need regulation". Nor has he insisted that the market is better than the state at "serving the wider good".

Instead, he's simply said that markets can be useful - but only provided they're "properly functioning". None of this is even slightly controversial for most of the political spectrum. And, given the "properly functioning" criteria is almost inevitably going to mean "substantively regulated and/or intervened in by government", you could very easily read the quote as an endorsement of a "mixed economy" rather than the "free market mania" some of my friends toward the Far Left of the political spectrum seem to have breathlessly decided it's evidence of. And in any case, didn't Lenin's New Economic Policy *also* make use of a market mechanism...?

However, I do find the second part of what he's said to be hella problematic. I got into politics motivated in no small part  by a burning desire to set right the economic malaise that has plagued this Nation since we began our flirtation with trusting markets over men in 1984. Shaw's therefore entirely right when he states that my insta-skepticism of anyone promoting market-based solutions in areas that are otherwise the preserve of the state is linked to opposition to the excesses entailed in our "switch to a free market economy over the last 30 years". Given UoA Economics Professor Tim Hazledine's calculation that the calamitous consequences of this shift have included damage to our economy and society commensurate with at least twenty Chrischurch earthquakes, I feel that this is an entirely healthy position to take; and am a little disconcerted by Shaw's easy rejection of such concerns.

In any case, one comment stating the potential utility of a market does not a rabid free-marketeer make; and as far as I'm concerned, more information is needed before we make a judgement as to where on the left-right economic spectrum Shaw truly sits.

Finally, I've also seen people getting up in arms about Shaw's claim that he can take votes off National.

What the hell, people!

At the moment, with National sitting on almost half the seats in the House - and regularly above 50% in the polls ... I'd have thought that winning votes off National and attracting those voters to the left-wing parties was exactly the name of the game? Isn't that how we *win* the next Election and ensure the Nats aren't able to secure a fourth term government...? Or have I missed something.

Oh, and for those of you who responded to the above point with "they'd be taking votes off Labour instead if The Greens were truly still left-wing" ... it's not like there's that many Labour votes left to take.

In any case, being able to hew votes off the Nats is not an iron-clad indication that you're economically right-wing. New Zealand First runs the most left-wing economic policy of any party in Parliament, and yet we've taken votes and even an entire fortress-electorate off the Nats recently.

From where I'm sitting, the sudden explosion of anti-Shaw mania that seems to be sweeping the social media pages is but the latest manifestation of the reflexive anti-Green sentiment that's long existed in common throughout swathes of both the far-left and center-right of our politics. The far-lefties have tended to view the Greens as something of a milquetoast roadblock on radical politics: making many of the same noises, but in hopelessly moderate fashion, and thus hijacking momentum and membership from "true reform" or revolutionary efforts. Attacks on Shaw from this quarter are thus driven by a sense of maddening desperation that the closest thing to a Parliamentary vehicle for their concerns (because apparently, New Zealand First's far-left economic agenda of #Nationalizing large swathes of the means of production while protecting the Kiwi worker doesn't count) is moving further and further toward mainstream popularity.

The right-wingers, by contrast, have evolved their views. Where once they were content to lambast The Greens as a bunch of hemp-clad, hash-snorting, hair-flowering hippie throwbacks ... they've now realized that The Greens, in their modern iteration, are a clear and mainstream threat. To the Establishment of politics - and, more worryingly, from WITHIN the Establishment of politics. That's why you saw figures like Rodney Hide chucking out endorsements for James Shaw during the course of the campaign. Because they know that attempting to sever The Greens from their predominantly left-wing activist base is the best way to spike The Green Party's guns. And so far, the level of furor about Shaw on social media that's emitting from just about every disgruntled latter-day Rick-from-the-Young-Ones floating around the far-left activist equivalent of the Beltway suggests they're on to something.

How else to explain the Young Nats going after Shaw on Saturday with this mind-bogglingly un-self-aware attack image on facebook. It's almost like they've forgotten their OWN leader's previous life as a dodgy financial trader in their haste to paint Shaw as some sort of rampant free marketeer. About the only similarity I can possibly twig between Shaw and DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort (particularly in the scene being referenced) ... is that they've both got demonstrable charisma, and the ability to make an inspiring speech.

It's also not like the right wing has a monopoly on breathlessly over-egged allegations committed in pictorial form, either...

Urgh. There's something eerily familiar about all this.

Because honestly. I don't think I've EVER put this much effort into defending a party leader from spurious and/or self-congratulatory allegations of the "is secretly right-wing"/"the tablets of destiny decree that a coalition with National is inevitable" nature.

Except, of course, when it comes to Winston Peters, pretty much every Election.

And then, as now ... all I've got to say to many of the Militant-reading millenarian malcontents presently running around the internet and social media pushing that line about Shaw, is this:

How'd them predictions work out for you last time?

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