Friday, October 31, 2014

Despite it

All politicians are human beings—even if some of them occasionally make us doubt the truth of that statement. This fact, though, is the main reason I don’t usually mock politicians who stuff up: We all do sometimes. Then, there’s also the politics to keep me in line.

In hyper-partisan places like the New Zealand Parliament (or pretty much the entire USA…), one side will mercilessly mock the other. Sometimes folks deserve it, but most of the time, mocking politicians come across as mean-spirited bullies.

We see that right now here in New Zealand.

Green Party List MP Steffan Browning did something really, really dumb: He signed a petition that called on the World Health Organisation to “end the suffering of the Ebola crisis. Test and distribute homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks." Much merry mockery ensued.

Homeopathy is an “alternative medicine” based on the assertion that “like cures like”. So, they take something that causes illness and dilute it until there are virtually no molecules of the pathogen left. Believers claim the water—which is all that’s left—has the “memory” of the pathogen and is actually more potent than if there were still pathogens left. Understandably, it is regarded as pseudoscience and peer-reviewed studies have found it to be no more effective than placebos.

Obviously, people are free to believe any dang fool thing they want to, and if they want to place their faith in homeopathy that’s their right. After all, we don’t forbid faith healing either, despite lack of scientific evidence.

The problem here is that when Browning signed the petition, he brought his caucus—and his party in general—into disrepute and opened it up to mockery. He made opponents feel justified in dismissing the Greens as a party of nutters. The Greens have worked hard, and largely successfully, to improve their public image (I haven’t seen video of them Morris dancing at party functions in many years). So, by touting homeopathy and saying that he was “not opposed to homeopathy”, that he’d used it himself, and that it had “seemingly been effective in treating one of his children in the past,” Browning did the Greens no favours whatsoever.

I rolled my eyes when I read about this, but I didn’t join in the mockery. Part of the reason is that what he did was incredibly stupid, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with how he does his job as an MP. If the Green Party feels otherwise, they can—and should—deal with it.

I’m annoyed, certainly, when an MP promotes fairy tales as true (not for the first time, but that’s another story). I’m also annoyed because the Greens are a logical coalition partner for Labour—my party—and when someone makes the Greens look nutty it makes the potential coalition seem nutty, so, yeah, I think that Steffan was a moron who didn’t think beyond himself, and so, probably shouldn’t be an MP. But, like I said, that’s for the Greens to decide.

So, while I’m incredibly annoyed at Steffan Browning and the immense damage he did to a Labour-Greens coalition, I’m not dumping on him further because of the National Party: I don’t want to do their bidding.

Jonathan Coleman, who in his best days, it seems, is a smug, arrogant bully, said Steffan’s actions were "very, very dangerous" and he was promoting "a wacko idea". In typical Coleman kindness, he added: "I think he really needs to engage his brain, it's a really stupid and dangerous idea."

Jonathan Coleman wouldn’t know subtly if it came up and bit him on the bottom. Maybe he’ll consider his own behaviour more carefully the next time he’s in a corporate box at a sports event. Just for example, of course.

But consider Jonathan’s boss: John Key called Steffan.s proposal "barking mad". It may very well be so, but it sure doesn’t sound very “statesmanlike” for the current prime minister to attack rather than distance. John Key controls government, so he has no need for personal attacks.

So, even though I know homeopathy is silly, and even though I’m incredibly annoyed at Steffan Browning, I won’t condemn him precisely because that’s what John Key and Jonathan Coleman want me to do. They can suck it. There’s a legitimate argument to be made here, but I’m waiting for John and his lackey Jonathan to make it without sounding like pre-teenage schoolyard bullies.

Personally, I don’t think John and Jonathan are capable of rising above the schoolyard. Certainly I’ve seen nothing to make me think they can. Regardless, Steffan should NOT have given them the ammunition to shoot him

And now I’ve said all I will.

Update November 4: The New Zealand Green Party has demoted Steffan Browning, taking away his responsibility for the natural health portfolio (folding it into the overall health portfolio, which is handled by the competent and widely respected Kevin Hague). Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said in a statement, "the Green Party supports evidence-based health policy." As do most people. She continued: "Individuals can make choices about their own health treatments, but it is critical public health decisions are evidence-based and that consumers have appropriate evidence-based information about alternative health products." That's a perfectly sensible and rational position, in my view. I also think it was good to demonstrate that there are consequences when an MP strays from party positions or brings the party into disrepute or exposes it to ridicule. As far as I'm concerned, this story is now over.

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