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Chris Ford: Eleanor Catton - contracted out Muldoonism is it National?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

I salute fellow Green supporter and one of this country's finest authors, Eleanor Catton, for her comments criticising the neo-liberal, profit obsessed policies of the John Key National Government.

Being brave enough to voice a contrary opinion against the popular consensus is known as dissent. Every person has a right to dissent if they so choose. It is one thing to have any criticism thrown back at anyone who openly dissents. It is quite another, though, to be personally smeared and villified for making such comments.

Shaun Plunket's obnoxious comments on Radio Live against Catton were just an example of this. Criticising Catton for receiving public funding and having the temerity to bravely criticise the government is just McCarthyite and Muldoonist in the extreme. I say this because America's left-leaning writers and intellectuals faced the same suspicion and criticism during the Joe McCarthy-inspired anti-Communist witchhunt of the 1950s and a similar attitude was taken by Rob Muldoon towards intellectuals, writers and left-wing activists in 1970s New Zealand.

The key difference, in the case of Catton, though is that it seems that National have outsourced their criticism operations. At least Muldoon (in the days before spin doctors really got hold of things) answered his opponents directly. As we know from Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics though, John Key's National Government uses a twin-track strategy in dealing with opponents. I say this because I noted Key's more moderate tone in answering Catton's criticisms of him and his government compared to the complete vitriol dished out by the likes of Plunkett, Cameron Slater, and  the Tax Payers Union amongst others.

I have to admit that Plunket was probably expressing his own views in his Radio Live show on Thursday. However, it wouldn't surprise me if he hadn't had contact with powerful movers and shakers in the right-wing political world who had come to form this view of Catton and his conversations with those shakers (if any were had) had likely reinforced his own sentiments. It wouldn't surprise me either  if the Beehive didn't have some hand in orchestrating some sort of populist smear campaign against Catton as well. National will through its proxies be playing to Middle New Zealand's dislike of intellectuals and intellectualism in inferring that she is practically a 'government funded but unpatriotic liberal, lefty whinger.' According to the sentiment I've seen on social media, those lines tend to be unfortunately playing well with both swinging voters and National's core support base.

But all this shouldn't stop Catton and others from continuing to dissent wherever they see wrong being done. I say more dissent is needed as that, over the longer term, dissenters have been known to change the course of history. And it's also time for National to owe up and stop the contracted out Muldoonism it has engaged in for the last seven years.


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