What politicians say . . .

Last updated 05:00 19/02/2014

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There may be exceptions to the rule, but I F Stone, an American journalist and fearless opponent of cant, once observed that every government is run by liars.

Columnist Jonah Goldberg said much the same thing: "Someone once noted that a ‘gaffe' in Washington is when a politician accidentally tells the truth".

French President Charles de Gaulle said: Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word".

And German statesman Oto Bismarck urged: "Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied".

Must it always be so?

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig thinks not. He is considering suing Green Party co-leader Russel Norman for defamation after taking offence at comments made about his views on gays and women. If Mr Craig insists he does not think a woman's place is in the kitchen and a gay man's place is in the closet, then acknowledging this and apologising might quickly help to settle the matter. But Dr Norman is refusing to budge. "It's very important in a democracy that politicians can speak their mind in a responsible way," he declared. "I believe that is exactly what I've done . . .".

Speaking his mind is not necessarily the same as getting things right, of course, but presumably it is more important to Dr Norman than accepting Mr Craig's word about his beliefs. Anyway, he reckons Mr Craig should toughen up, because he will have to accept the criticisms that will come his way if he becomes a member of Parliament. This sort of thing is just part of robust political debate in a democracy. The Waikato Times would agree with this.

But the Conservative Party leader doesn't see why different standards of honesty and rectitude should apply to politicians than to the rest of the community. The Conservatives aim to campaign for greater probity and are challenging the veracity of what others have said. So far (says Mr Craig) they have got about eight retractions for statements the party has disputed. We wish him and his party well with this mission. We also suggest he considers this caution from another American journalist, David Harsany, who said: "Washington has a mysterious power to turn perfectly reasonable, wholesome, well-meaning human beings into equivocating crooked gasbags".

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- Waikato Times

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