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Letter from Elsewhere: The Adjectives Of Outrage

Anne Else's Letter from Elsewhere

The Adjectives Of Outrage

Interesting choice of words in the headlines this week. Helen Clark was described as “furious” and “bitter”, “savage” and “lashing out”, over the ludicrous insinuations about her husband’s sexuality, and the fact that the Exclusive Brethren had hired a private investigator to scurry around him, her, and senior Labour ministers.

“Outraged” would have been much more accurate, and fair. I was outraged myself when I heard Don Brash sanctimoniously intoning that people had a right to keep their private lives private. He was implying that there was no difference between the many media stories about his alleged extra-marital affair with a senior Business Roundtable figure, based on what he and one of his MPs said in caucus, and one story based on photos showing Dr Davis being embraced by Dr Ian Scott on election night.

As the Sunday Star-Times made clear yesterday, this story stems from the looniest fringes of the so-called fathers’ rights movement, as well as the religious right. The same groups have been pinning claims that Clark is a closet lesbian to their virulent attacks on a whole raft of allegedly “anti-family” Labour policies, from civil union to paid parental leave. The same stuff has been enthusiastically peddled by websites linked to both Act and National.

So far, Clark has ignored all this. But dragging her husband into it was a step too far. No wonder she reacted so strongly. She has had enough, and is refusing to be tarred with the same brush as Brash. It’s not about sexuality, or sexual behaviour; it’s about whether there is a significant and deceptive difference between your public face and your true face.

Ironically, it’s the Labour Party which has done away with one longstanding reason for this kind of deception, by making it possible for politicians to be completely honest about their sexuality for the first time in New Zealand, so that even National can now have its first openly gay MP. But that doesn’t make it okay for to make false claims about Helen Clark and Peter Davis, for its political opponents to disseminate these claims, or for a religious sect which forbids its members to vote to hire private detectives to trail them. (It doesn’t make objecting to these tactics homophobic, either.)

It’s still unclear whether anyone in the National Party knew about the Exclusive Brethren’s latest little games, but Brash’s recent admission that he has met with them since the election (apparently unbeknown to his colleagues) has a disturbingly familiar ring to it. It’s hard to know what else Clark and her husband can possibly do, short of inviting the television cameras into their bedroom, to show that they are precisely what they have always looked and acted like: a loyal, happily married heterosexual couple. But given this now rather stark contrast with the leader of the National Party, it’s hardly surprising that the big lie tactics deployed by unholy alliances of the far right in other countries are now openly surfacing here. Thanks to the Rainbow Warrior effect – those neighbourhood characteristics of New Zealand life which led to the rapid unmasking of the French agents, much to their surprise – it doesn’t look as if they’ll get away with it this time, either.

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- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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