By JOHN ROUGHAN
There will be nothing in the Prime Minister's past that haunts her, nothing that if held up in Parliament one day as stark fact, stripped of its human context, would be likely to hound her from public life.
Maybe there was some marijuana. Whenever she is asked, she carefully replies that anybody who was at university when she was a student could hardly have avoided it.
So we can take it that at some time, probably late one night at the fag end of a political society meeting, somebody handed around a joint and pressed that seriously serious girl to have a puff. Tentatively, feeling a little foolish, she must have had taken a draw, probably hated the roughness in her throat, and handed it back, regretting her curiosity.
You just know she was a sensible young woman. Let others drink and dance, flirt and fight. She wouldn't have been interested. Not prim or prudish really. Just not interested.
When Mark Todd's extra-equestrian activities hit the headlines the other day, she didn't read the story. Wasn't interested.
You can see her as a student, prematurely mature. At parties she would be talking politics. Not gossipy personality politics, but issues. Issues were her thing. And not messy issues of personal relationships and sexuality. Vietnam, apartheid, nuclear disarmament, Anzus. On those subjects a self-conscious, cerebral girl felt she could relate to like-minded people.
Loyalty was not a big value to students of politics at that time. We could not comprehend Muldoon's determination to stand by, and hide if he could, mediocre ministers like Colin McLachlan.
Hypocrisy was the big thing. The Vietnam generation developed a loathing of hypocrisy. On drugs, sex, the war, practically anything, the case against old-fashioned views was hypocrisy. The deeds hadn't always matched the strictures.
While Helen Clark was working her way from student to staff member in the politics department at Auckland University, Dover Samuels was living on the Gold Coast, working as a diver and playing in a Maori showband.
In Bondi and Surfers Paradise in those days a good looking young Maori who could play three chords and sing was the life of the party. With limited talent, a little charm and lots of chutzpah, you felt you had Australia in your lap.
It is probably there that Dover Samuels acquired that damned hat, perhaps to hide thinning hair, to stay young. Some time in the 1980s he returned to his childhood home, Matauri Bay, and built a fine motel. There, in evenings in the restaurant, he was still the life of the party.
He lived for a time, we now learn, with a teenage girl he had taken in and employed. When she became pregnant, he arranged an abortion. His first marriage, according to his former wife, was abusive. His second wife, Jacqui, whom he had met in Australia, has for many years now run the motel with panache.
Dover Samuels can be serious, too, in his own way. He is not analytical, not ponderous. He is aggressive and tends to bellow. But he listens and his eyes sparkle. He is warm and he has been around. Still, I'd rather talk to Helen Clark. That is what worries me.
Political comment, like Parliament these days, is provided predominantly by tutored people with tidy lives and tolerant views up to a point. There are not many like Dover Samuels in those circles and it is easy to assume there are not many like him outside.
You might certainly suppose so when you compare his fate with that of Mark Todd. Dover Samuels has been pilloried for a genuine, if not respectable, love affair on his part. Mark Todd has been reselected for the Olympic equestrian team regardless of the discovery of surprising things he has done with his riding tackle.
In neither case should news media make the slightest apology for intruding on privacy nor claim that they are doing anything more worthy than satisfying normal, nosy human interest. It is not merely a matter of whether Mark Todd or Dover Samuels broke a law. Public figure or politician, their lives are of legitimate curiosity. Mark Todd is somebody we thought we knew. Now that a British tabloid has gone to distasteful lengths to find out more about him, some insist they didn't want to know.
I want to know everything there is to know about somebody I am in danger of admiring. Otherwise I am deceived.
It is an interesting phenomenon that when a hero falls there are those who instantly adjust their view and pretend it is no more than they had always supposed. They fool nobody.
We are human beings interested in others, particularly those we raise on a pedestal by election or acclaim. There's nothing wrong with the interest in their private lives; it is our conclusions that matter.
Dover Samuels has been fired from the cabinet because the events that have come to light from long ago supposedly render him incapable of speaking credibly as Minister of Maori Affairs against domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, abortion.
Maybe to Helen Clark and her political class he would sound hypocritical, but he would not be speaking to them. It ispossible that in acknowledging his past he would enhancecredibility with the people the Government needs to reach.
Possibly those people will be as impressed as conventional commentators that she has firmly punished Dover Samuels for his past. Or possibly they would have been more impressed by a minister who, they knew, had been in their shoes.
Empathy is a favourite word of the politically correct, but they make little effort to apply it. Some might say that is hypocritical.
The tragedy of today's aversion to hypocrisy is that when people have not lived up to a principle, it is the principle that is discredited. How can you oppose decriminalisation of cannabis if you have smoked it?
In politics there is now no place for regrets and personal growth. Unless you are prematurely mature, your past can come back to bite you.
By JOHN ROUGHAN