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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Getting it wrong on the right

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Craig and Whyte may raise eyebrows, but their US counterparts really know how to offend

People celebrating in Arizona this week after their governor vetoed a law that would have let shop assistants refuse to serve gay people. Photo / AP
People celebrating in Arizona this week after their governor vetoed a law that would have let shop assistants refuse to serve gay people. Photo / AP

Last week, I wondered whether Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's various quirks, notably his willingness to unleash his lawyers at the slightest provocation, make him unsuited to politics.

What, then, are we to make of Act's new leader, Dr Jamie Whyte? To mix metaphors on a Herculean scale, rather than dip his toe in the political pond, Whyte made a splash that has left him high and dry.

He declared that incestuous relationships between consenting adults shouldn't be illegal; furthermore, if the siblings concerned want to get married, the state shouldn't prevent them.

If you're looking for a textbook example of how not to launch a political career, it's hard to go past making a gratuitously controversial statement on a subject that could hardly be further from people's minds.

As Whyte admitted: "It's a matter of almost no significance because it just doesn't happen."

I'm all for former philosophy lecturers getting into politics. There are more than enough apparatchiks who never deviate from their PR minders' talking points.

While you can take the boy out of the philosophy department, you can't take philosophy out of the boy. Whyte was advancing a hypothesis: once you've accepted the principle that the state shouldn't interfere in the sex/love lives of consenting adults, on what logical or philosophical basis do you not extend that principle to relationships involving siblings?

I suspect many people who heartily endorse the core principle would regard incest as a bridge too far because of the challenge it poses to the traditional concept of family and that institution's role in society.

But it's intriguing that this radical suggestion came from the leader of a party generally seen as being well to the right of centre.

Whyte asks: "I wonder who does believe the state should intervene in consensual adult acts?"

A declining number of people in New Zealand, thankfully, although probably still a lot more than Whyte seems to think. And some American right-wingers, who apparently find homosexuality as confronting as we find incest, would like to impose a form of segregation that discriminates against gays rather than blacks.

The Arizona state legislature passed a law allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay people if it goes against the owner's religious beliefs.

It was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer, hitherto a conservative poster girl for her draconian anti-immigration and anti-abortion legislation that was subsequently gutted by the US Supreme court. She's now accused of betraying Christians.

In Kansas, similar legislation was passed by the State House of Representatives but defeated in the State Senate.

The Kansas bill went much further, in that it would have allowed employers to sack staff for being gay and permitted state employees, including police and hospital workers, to refuse to perform their duties if it involved interacting with gays.

And after University of Missouri all-American defensive lineman Michael Sam's announcement that he's gay, a Republican lobbyist in Washington is pushing for legislation that would ban gay players from the National Football League.

"Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man," said the appropriately named Jack Burkman. "That's a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country." Presumably the moms of Sam's former Missouri teammates are being retroactively tormented by the thought of their sons showering with a closet gay.

Speaking of which, it's interesting that Craig was so offended by Greens co-leader Dr Russel Norman's claim that he, Craig, thinks women belong in the kitchen and gay people in the closet.

His counterparts in the USA would regard that as an endorsement. Rather than call in the lawyers, they'd make it a bumper sticker. In their ideal world, women are in a kitchen in a contraceptive-free zone and gay people are in the closet or in Canada.

If Craig finds New Zealand's comparatively couth political discourse unbearable, you can only wonder how he'd fare in the US.

At a recent town hall meeting held by Oklahoma Republican congressman Jim Bridenstine, a woman in the audience insisted that "Obama should be executed as an enemy combatant". Bridenstine's response: "Everybody knows the lawlessness of this president."

And then there's ageing rocker Ted Nugent who recently called Obama a "sub-human mongrel" and Hillary Clinton a "toxic c***" and "two-bit whore for Fidel Castro".

A rabid dog howling at the moon? Nugent is on the board of the powerful National Rifle Association and is an icon for the feral far right. In January, a Republican congressman took Nugent to Obama's State of the Union address and he's now campaigning for the Republican's Texas gubernatorial candidate, who describes him as "a patriot and defender of the Constitution".

- NZ Herald

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