Island Life by David Slack

14

It's the way you tell them

Here are the last rousing lines of a speech by Winston Peters in the election of 2002.

If you are concerned about immigration - and what Kiwi who thinks about it for a few moments is not alarmed by the current mess - then you have only one choice in this election
Only Winston Peters and New Zealand First are committed to urgent action to bring immigration under control
Can we fix it? Yes we can!
If you are concerned about the division that continues in our city and in our country because of a Treaty industry that has taken on its own life - then you have only one choice.
Only Winston Peters and New Zealand First are committed to urgent action to put an end to the Treaty Industry.
Can we fix it? Yes we can!
If you are concerned about your safety and security and the falling social standards - as we must all be when we witness the attacks on the police that we saw here in the weekend - then you have only one choice in this election.
Only Winston Peters and New Zealand First are committed to urgent action to regain control of our streets and to arrest the disastrous decay in our social fabric.
Can we fix it? Yes we can!
In seeking your support to once again serve you and our community I am also seeking your support for my Party so that we have the strength in numbers to fix these things.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have been honoured to serve you. 18 years ago I promised that if you voted for me then there would never arise in Parliament any issue of economic or social importance, without people first turned and asked - what does Tauranga think? I have kept that promise and today I renew it.
In the words of my namesake, "Give us the tools

and we will finish the job".
Can we fix it?
Yes we can!

On the eve of Super Tuesday, it is worth reflecting on New Zealand’s contribution to the contest.

Hillary Clinton’s parents, as we have long known, did not get around to finding her a name until she was a toddler, at which point they called her Edmund.

Barack Obama, we can now see, is also a student of life down here at the last bus stop on the planet. “Find me the most successful politician they have down there and get his speech notes” he must have told a researcher. We can see from the foregoing passage that the researcher was drawn by the force of magnetic rhetoric. Alternatively, Obama enjoys watching children’s television on a slow afternoon, but that is not the inference I feel inclined to draw in the midst of the heady spirit of Kennedy reincarnation.

Why are the words ‘Yes we can’ working so well for Obama, when they presaged near obliteration for Winston?

This kind of oratory is not easy to carry off. Obama has the preacher cadence pitch perfect, and that’s important, but what matters more is the sense that he might really mean it. I don’t know if he does or not, but the numbers suggest that many people have been persuaded.

Peters has been the critic and the rebutter and the master of the gotcha for so long that when he holds himself out as a potential leader with constructive intent and a will to share the ball with the rest of the team, it just doesn't sound credible.

Get down from the table, Mabel, the money’s for the beer.

Whenever you get to your feet to give a speech you have to understand this: you can choose to use many different styles of delivery; what matters most is that it sound authentic. There’s no point trying to be Martin Luther King if you’re not advocating for the largest of ideas, and there’s no point trying to advocate for those ideas if you don’t really believe them.

As few as three words can sound profoundly different coming from two different speakers. Obama wants you to see a torch. Winston can’t help himself; he wants you to see the joke.

Context matters, too. America has been wrenched by terrorism, war and dissent. Here, our Public Enemy Number One is a man adorned in moko with a taste for street theatre whose wife is giving him grief for disrupting their domestic tranquility. We have been delivered an economic lifeline in the form of galloping world demand for dairy products and naturally, we fret that it now costs fifteen dollars for a bigger block of cheese. Rural spending rises, cholesterol levels fall, and it’s all as the young people say, good.

One matter troubles me, though, and it’s this business about people leaving the country. Let’s say there’s a young guy who grew up in a Christchurch State house who is proving to be very good at dealing in currency. He’s got a good job in Auckland and we want him to stay here. We look out across the uneven playing field and we ask: is this something we can fix? ‘Yes we can’ we say and we cut taxes sufficiently to make this young man ambitious for New Zealand. He stays right here in Auckland, doing trades for the next twenty years. He has two kids, buys a house in Howick, watches the All Blacks lose another four world cup tournaments and teaches his boy to play soccer.

One day when he’s 43, he decides to go into politics, and in just a few years time, he’s running for Prime Minister against another guy with the same background who went to London, spent quite a lot of time above the Atlantic, sat on the board of the federal reserve, and got entranced by the Irish tiger economy.

Can we work out which one people will assess to be the more capable Prime Minister? Yes, I think. We can.

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