Nation's sleepy 'shire' status preferable to extreme political actions

Martyn Bradbury says we're 'sleepy hobbits' - but we don't know how lucky we are.

Martyn Bradbury says we're 'sleepy hobbits' - but we don't know how lucky we are.

OPINION: Faced with rejection at the polls, pundits like to find fault with the electorate.

Prominent Left-winger Martyn Bradbury, for example, likes to call New Zealanders "sleepy hobbits". The idea is that we are too fond of simple pleasures to engage with revolution and ideology. 

He intends this as criticism, of course. The problem is that I've never really understood why we should take offence at the suggestion. 

Things aren't perfect in this country and, actually, they never will be. Imperfection is part of the human condition. Societies reflect the imperfections of the individuals and families which inhabit them. I don't mean to say that we should be blind to the injustices around us. 

Nor should we be complacent about the threats to what we have. Nevertheless, is it really such a bad thing to desire a pleasant life? 

I am reinforced in this by an assassination attempt on American lawmakers last week. The victims were members of the Republican Congressional baseball teams. The attacker, a Left-wing activist, opened fire on them as they were practising and hit four people. As at the time of writing, two of them- including one congressman - remain in a critical condition. 

This is not the first time this has happened in America, of course. Since its founding, assassins have claimed the lives of 56 politicians. This includes four presidents and (so far) 14 Congressmen. 

Not all attempts have succeeded. Nine members of Congress have been seriously injured in such attacks. Unsuccessful attempts on US presidents and presidential candidates are so commonplace that we actually forget about them. 

Remember when some guy tried to assassinate Donald Trump last year? It was at one of his rallies in Las Vegas.The attacker attempted to grab a gun from the holster of a policeman so he could shoot Trump. It was on TV and everything. But I have to confess that, until I looked up a list of attempted assassinations as research for this column, the incident had slipped my mind entirely. 

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, no elected officeholder or person seeking election has ever been murdered in New Zealand. 

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It is tempting to blame such attacks on American gun culture. That is, after all, one of our go-to criticisms of that nation's cultural life. But it's not an entirely satisfying explanation. 

For example, the United Kingdom has regulated firearm ownership since at least 1824. The rules are now so tight that the Olympic pistol shooting team has to travel to Calais to practice. But that didn't stop a radical Right-winger from shooting and killing MP Jo Cox last year. She is one of eight assassinated members of the British Parliament. 

The numbers for the rest of Europe are too long to go into. The same goes for South America. There have even been six assassinations in Australia and one in Samoa. 

I am not saying that those who wish New Zealand voters were more radical want murder. That would be a grotesque thing to say. But political polarisation increases the risk of domestic political violence. Scholarly links between angry discourse and angry actions are not hard to find. 

I am also not saying we haven't had periods that were, relative to today, fractious and violence. The New Zealand Wars, the Waihi miners' strike and the 1981 Springbok Tour are all examples of troubled times in our history. It would be naive to think we won't go through such times again.

But we are not living in those times now. In the most recent Roy Morgan survey, 60.5 per cent of respondents said they think the country is on the right track. Just 27 per cent said we are on the wrong track. Sentiment has remained at around those levels since 2008.

Roy Morgan's most recent numbers for Australia have 40.5 per cent approval and 38.5 per cent disapproval. According to the Real Clear Politics average, the numbers for Americans are 34.8 per cent and 58.6 per cent respectively. I can't find recent figures for Britain but I am willing to guess they're not very pretty. 

And if it seems strange, try to think about some of the things which we aren't going through.

The country is not paralysed by political gridlock. It is not constantly swapping governments. We are not always on the brink of a constitutional breakdown. We are not stalked by the terrorism of radical extremists. We do not kill each other over our religious differences. We don't have people committing mass murders because that's what they think God wants them to do.

We are not a flawless people by any means. But this is still a country where fatal road accidents remain shocking enough to lead the news bulletins. We do know how lucky we are. Can you really blame us if, having looked at the outside world, we prefer the quietude of the Shire?

 - Stuff


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