Don’t Scare the Horses

While everyone else is spending a fortune on presenting a slick media image, smiling gratefully as they swallow rotten fish and getting scary with the make-up, Jeanette Fitsimmons is seen planting trees with some guy who looks like he’s been hiding from the hairdresser along with Shrek the Sheep and subsisting on locusts and juniper berries for the last 50 years. I’m really sorry if this guy is your husband Jeanette, I’d love to share some turnip wine with him at some stage but you’ll have to put as much distance between you and him as other politicians put between themselves and their trusts until after the election. Or get him a suit – this is politics and we’re not playing now.

Television 3 23/10/08

Politics is not science and it’s not about reality either, the dark arts of public relations are required to create a persona worthy of public worship and respect in order for an election to be won. It’s why early Chinese emperors employed full time portrait painters – it didn’t matter that the paintings bore little resemblance to themselves, hardly anyone would ever see the actual emperor, in the same way we are unlikely to see many politicians again in the flesh after voting day.

The image was a tool far more powerful than reality and the big guns in politics know this. It’s why we know how much John Key’s suits cost. In the States, the Democrats have tried to highlight the fact that Sarah’s suits have cost more than the GDP of small countries and the Republican attitude has been … ‘ and so?” They know it will be worth it because if people actually listened to anything she said there is no way you would leave the woman in charge of your cat for the weekend let alone your country’s foreign policy. No – they know that when people vote they are buying a package and Sarah Palin is about as gift wrapped and consumable as a bow-tied Christmas present.

For the most part, an electorate is a deeply conservative beast and everyone is justifiably interested in how much money they will have in their pocket in the coming few years. For all those people who still believe that the economy floats in a disembodied state completely separated from the planet that we live on, seeing guys in tie-dyed tshirts, planting trees just scares them. All that needs to be done then is for another politician to intone the words ‘slowdown in the economy’ in the same way that religious fundamentalists talk about Armageddon and there goes any chance of getting any serious environmental voice into government.

In 1996, inspired by all the talk of Taiwan being an ‘Economic Miracle’ and how the New Zealand economy should be following suit; I took a job there to see what all the fuss was about. On the first day my classes were cancelled (there had been a pollution warning that morning - if the kids had to walk from air-conditioned home to school, doctors were concerned they’d keel over) I walked to the local market to buy some food.

There I found boxes of frozen salmon from Alaska. Fruit from the States was on sale, and local shrimps that had been farmed on inland salt water lagoons that had contaminated the water table. When I went to the supermarket there were 9 aisles of bottled water from Fiji to Norway but I certainly couldn’t turn on my tap and have a glass. The only local food I could buy were peanuts and greens but my flatmate didn’t recommend this either as it had been locally grown greens that had resulted in closing down the local school cafeteria from severe food poisoning. Because several of the children were now totally paralysed the overuse of insecticide was being investigated rather than an ordinary bacterial infection. Taiwan started to look less like an economic miracle and more like an environmental disaster and the two Mercedes in every driveway started to lose their glamour.

It’s not that fringe anymore to think that a healthy environment is fundamental to the long-term viability of our economy. Which is why I’d like Jeanette to get down and dirty at this point - and not in the tree planting kind of way. Hide Shrek-man. Get a suit. Whatever it takes.

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