Comment

Yesterdaze: Would the elephants in the room please stand up

Jacinda Ardern confuses Japan with China - and she's not the only one with a case of political foot-in-mouth. James Elliott recaps the news of the week. 

It was an awkward week for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. On Wednesday it was announced she’ll be having her first bilateral meeting with Donald Trump next week. The business side of the meeting won’t be awkward, or at least it won’t be more awkward than any other Groundhog Day of Donald’s dumpster fire diplomacy.

The awkward part is that the PM is leaving behind her own dumpster fire over the Labour Party sexual assault allegations and will be meeting with a man who has been accused of sexual assault by 22 women, and who happens to be the President of the United States. They’ll need to meet in the large Roosevelt Room so that there’s enough space for about two dozen elephants to be in there with them.

Not that Jacinda was going to be drawn into answering any difficult questions over Trump before she left. “I’m going there to talk about security and trade,” she said. “Security and trade ... security and trade ...”. She repeated it over and over as if it were an incantation to ward off Trump’s lunacy in case it’s contagious. “Security and trade ...” - for all we know she chanted it quietly all the way to Beijing, sorry, Tokyo.

And, that was the second awkward part of her week. Arriving in Tokyo to watch the All Blacks’ first game in the Rugby World Cup and for talks with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, she said it was an "incredibly exciting time for New Zealand in its relationship with China - excuse me sorry, with Japan".

That was an unfortunate two-part mistake. First, she was in Japan, not China. Secondly, it’s actually Simon Bridges and National who are having an incredibly exciting time in their relationship with China.

John Tamihere puts his foot in his mouth so often his daily routine should include dipping his toes in toothpaste.

Jacinda blamed the mistake on jet lag but I think the fault lies with her usurping the role of our Foreign Minister Winston Peters. If anyone’s going to fly to Japan and say that it’s an “incredibly exciting time for New Zealand in its relationship with China” it should be Winston.

As it turned out, Jacinda was fluffing Winston’s lines in Japan while back home Winston was fluffing hers on the Labour Party sexual assault allegations. He described those allegations as “a disgraceful orgy of speculation and innuendo”. I don’t want to delve into what Winston thinks an orgy is so let’s just say those were poorly-chosen words. But, to be fair, Winston is still in recovery mode after surgery on his “leg”. However if that “leg” surgery was in fact a foot-in-mouth extraction, Winston’s got good grounds for a complaint to the Medical Council.

And on the topics of foot-in-mouth and complaints, John Tamihere.

John Tamihere puts his foot in his mouth so often his daily routine should include dipping his toes in toothpaste.

At an Auckland mayoral candidate’s debate on Tuesday, Tamihere tagged a Phil Goff monologue about enjoying Auckland for its multiculturalism with a “Sieg heil” comment, a phrase best described by the Holocaust Centre of NZ as “Nazi language ... the language of race hatred”.

Outrage followed because of course it should have. Phil Goff said the comment was “really weird”, Helen Clark described it as “appalling” and even Tamihere’s own running mate Christine Fletcher described it as “hurtful”. There’s no doubt that comment has lost Tamihere some votes in the upcoming election but the uncomfortable unknown is whether it has gained him any.

Likening Phil Goff to Hitler is inappropriate on a number of levels, including that Phil’s moustache from back in the day was never that small.

Tamihere was given the opportunity to apologise in a Radio New Zealand interview on Thursday morning. After a day’s reflection on the outrage from all quarters, this interview gave us an insight into his thought process. And it turns out that Tamihere’s thought process, to the extent that he has one, is to ask himself what Donald Trump would do. So of course he didn’t apologise, he doubled down. In fact he may have even done one better than Trump and tripled down.

He said: “Sieg heil for a guy that acts like Hitler is fair enough”. Of course, likening Phil Goff to Hitler is inappropriate on a number of levels, including that Phil’s moustache from back in the day was never that small.

Tamihere’s defence was that his comment was taken out of context and that he was commenting on Goff’s allegedly dictatorial actions in banning two Canadian white supremacist speakers last year. Putting aside the fact there’s no context in which “Sieg heil” is ever an acceptable comment, let’s nonetheless give that Tamihere comment some context. In the same Radio NZ interview, he went on to say: “I get that Jewish folk can corner the market on the Holocaust and that’s terrible...”, so maybe the best context is to put those two comments alongside Tamihere’s 2005 confession that he was "sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed" in the Holocaust.

For a man who refuses to acknowledge the appalling offensiveness of his own words and who is campaigning on an uncosted pipe dream to turn Auckland’s harbour bridge into a two-level multi-use 18-lane bridge, the construction of which can start next year and which will apparently cause minimal disruption to traffic, the German who Tamihere should be quoting is Sergeant Schultz - “I know nothing”.

Have a peaceful weekend.

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