Bury­ing the hatchet – ‘Yes, we can!’

Auckland City Harbour News - - News -

It wasn’t imagination. The lanky shadow of Barack Obama seemed to stretch across the trou­bled world.

His mov­ing and sig­nifi winning words call­ing for unity of pur­pose and pol­icy echoed here too in the dy­ing min­utes of a Labour gov­ern­ment and an his­toric prime min­is­ter’s sur­prise de­ci­sion to move on. Par­tic­u­larly in the good­will high­lighted by John Key’s pub­lic tributes to He­len Clark’s ca­reer.

What we need now, also from the United States, is our own ver­sion of “The Joe Bi­den out­come”.

It was tucked away in the hectares of type and tor­rents of words and film which led up to the Obama victory.

Ap­par­ently, in vi­cepres­i­dent Joe’s home­town of Ge­orge­town, Delaware, all the pre­vi­ously bit­ter ri­vals cel­e­brate what they call “Re­turn Day” af­ter the count­ing is over.

They for­get the re­cent past, the highs, the lows and ride down the main street to­gether in a cav­al­cade, win­ners and losers, to show that the di­vi­sive­ness of the cam­paign need not – hope­fully will not – con­tinue. They even bury a sym­bolic hatchet. Let’s fol­low suit. In a new age of new leaders, de­vel­op­ing bal­ances of power and pol­icy, let’s put the bit­ter­ness baby and mind­less nig­gling out with the elec­toral bath­wa­ter.

As pres­i­dent-to-be Obama did: “Se­na­tor McCain fought long and hard in this cam­paign. And he’s fought even harder and longer for the coun­try that he loves. He has en­dured sac­ri­fices for Amer­ica that most of us can­not be­gin to imag­ine. We are all bet­ter off for the ser­vice ren­dered by this brave and self­less leader.”

John McCain, ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed but not bit­terly so, paid his match­ing trib­ute to Barack Obama: “He has achieved a great thing for him­self and for his coun­try ... by in­spir­ing the hopes of so many mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who once wrongly be­lieved that they had lit­tle at stake or lit­tle infl in the elec­tion of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is some­thing I greatly ad­mire and com­mend him for achiev­ing.”

In so strongly hail­ing an op­po­nent’s great­ness, John McCain re­vealed his own.

Nor­man Kirk set a strik­ing Labour prece­dent in a dif­fer­ent way and in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances in the open­ing days of his gov­ern­ment in 1972. First, he mem­o­rably gave his cau­cus and the civil ser­vice their pre­cise rid­ing or­ders: “Trea­sury can look af­ter the books – we will look af­ter the peo­ple.”

It had its own prece­dent in the Sav­age-Fraser-Nash pledge from the 1930s of ser­vice to the peo­ple “from the cra­dle to the grave”. And he went fur­ther. He coun­selled his MPs against the un­der­stand­able temp­ta­tion to kick Robert Mul­doon – their scourge, the man Labour had cam­paigned against for so long as a po­lit­i­cal en­emy.

Nor­man Kirk made it clear his MPs must deal with is­sues as se­ri­ous as those we face to­day – that there were much more im­por­tant things to do than hang­ing and burn­ing ef­fi­gies, blam­ing and ob­struct­ing.

Later, on Septem­ber 3, 1974, when Par­lia­ment paid trib­ute to Kirk, the dead po­lit­i­cal war­rior, Mul­doon, the epit­ome of the po­lit­i­cal street-fighter, the de­stroyer of ca­reers, an ad­ver­sary ap­par­ently without mercy, re­paid in kind.

From the Hansard re­port of his speech on that sad day: “There is no one in this house, on ei­ther side, who would not give credit for the Labour victory in 1972 to Nor­man Kirk ... he stumped the coun­try ... car­ried the elec­tion victory on his back ... as one of his chief op­po­nents I could only have ad­mi­ra­tion for the tremendous en­ergy of the man in the cause which he held so dear.

“He will be re­mem­bered as a great New Zealan­der, an or­di­nary man with no airs and graces, who in the New Zealand tra­di­tion wanted none of the trap­pings of of­fice but just the op­por­tu­nity to serve his peo­ple ... a great par­lia­men­tar­ian.”

Of course, it’s some­times much eas­ier to praise the dead rather than the liv­ing.

But let’s re­mem­ber the spirit which Nor­man Kirk evoked from even his sternest po­lit­i­cal critic and ri­val, and the re­sponse to victory and de­feat in the United States only days ago, the ex­change of tributes and good wishes on our elec­tion night.

Th­ese are the po­lit­i­cal sign­posts point­ing to a gen­uine and constructive way back from the flashes of ug­li­ness which have marred our re­cent po­lit­i­cal life.

It’s more than time to put aside the de­lib­er­ately dam­ag­ing mud-sling­ing, the grand­stand­ing, in­nu­endo and the snide half-truths which have been the past weapons in de­fence of power or in the seek­ing of it.

Let’s avoid fall­ing back into those dam­ag­ing tac­tics as new leaders put their stakes in the po­lit­i­cal ground.

In th­ese times, we too must set new bound­aries and de­mand the best from them.

Each in dif­fer­ent ways and with strik­ingly dif­fer­ent out­comes asked for our trust. Each of us, for our dif­fer­ent rea­sons and in our dif­fer­ent ways, gave them that trust and took them at their word.

It’s now up to them to show us that they can be trusted to aban­don petty feuds and ma­li­cious re­flexes, points-scor­ing and con­spir­a­cies.

There is real need for them to be­gin a new era of pub­lic ser­vice, to meet the needs of the needy and give hope to the hope­less, to “look af­ter the peo­ple” rather than to prime their own am­bi­tions.

Like oth­ers in the world com­mu­nity, we have sel­dom been in greater need of wis­dom, tol­er­ance and re­spect for the skills of those who do not share the same views.

Yes, we need what John Key de­fined in his win­ner’s speech as unity of pur­pose. So, let’s bury the past and now pool our tal­ents to work jointly and ur­gently in the com­mon good.

So that when we ask them in­di­vid­u­ally, in their sep­a­rate par­ties and as a Par­lia­ment: “Can you hon­our the trust we have placed in you?” they can draw on the words and spirit of that Obama catch­phrase which swept a na­tion and has de­servedly echoed around the world and the hearts and minds of so many mil­lions: “Yes, we can!”

If that’s the gen­uine an­swer – as we hope it is – then every­one can be a win­ner. “Yes, we can!” To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl. co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked.

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