DE mortuis nil nisi bonum. Of the dead, say nothing but good things.

What is death for a politician but being outside the realm of possible power - unelected or out of the majority, hence, essentially irrelevant?

I would have liked to follow the Latin dictum where our old friend Chester Borrows is concerned.

Here he is, out of office, showing signs of the post-ministerial blues while training for his next career. Meantime, he's back among us after 12 years in Parliament, six of them as a minister and including nine years when his party, National, was in power.


For all that service I say: "Good on him."

As a former minister, he's entitled to be called the honourable for the rest of his life. And, of course, there's those perpetual perks of the free seats on our national airline, the one that dumped us here in Whanganui and now Kapiti for a better-looking bottom line.

What possible bone could I have to pick with Chester?

On May 4, he wrote an op-ed offering good advice for families.

He started off with a couple of pot shots at the last two former prime ministers. He writes "art forgeries, mincing prime ministers on catwalks", then after a brief foray at the process whereby our public money is distributed (it's influence with the PM and an eye on the polls that does it), Chester leans into his sermon's advice which, he says, has nothing to do with money.

It's good advice. Spend time with your kids. Read to them or with them. Have some active fun time with the family ... a picnic, a walk, the beach. Get away from the television, especially for dinner.

Be a good role model for health by going for a walk after tea. Learn new things and take an active role in the civic and community life.

Nothing wrong with that advice and probably a large number of middle-class, well-off Kiwis are already following it.


Chester has advice for when money is not the issue. What about the rest? The ones for whom money does make a difference. Money is a degree of freedom and its absence is a degree of circumscription.

When you're a single parent trying to make ends meet by working two jobs, you may be out of energy when you do come home and all the strength you have left over may be expended just to cope with the natural chaos that kids create around you. Doesn't leave much time for the good stuff.

Study after study shows that with increasing wealth, empathy - especially for those less well off - lessens. John Key, with assets of $50 million, said airily that the poor are poor because of bad choices. Right - they chose the wrong parents or the wrong skin colour.

There are two cycles in modern democratic societies. One is the path Mr Borrows took - stay in school; get a job or get a tertiary degree; get involved with politics; and get elected or selected. Afterwards a job in the corporate world beckons ... starting at the top.

The other cycle is less virtuous. Come from poverty and or a single parent household; have trouble in school and leave early. Low-level jobs are the only ones available and what beckons is the alcohol/drug/criminal economy together with violence and incarceration as outcomes.

To suggest, as Borrows does, that families as a social structure may be a protective antidote to this downward spiral is the sort of condescending grandiloquence you would expect from a member of a party with no ideas as to how to fix the problems but to look the other way for nine years.

Borrows ends with a hollow retread of the lines which Ted Sorenson wrote for JFK's inauguration. Don't ask government for help, ask "what are you doing for yourself and your family?" That's what National said for nine years and now we're seeing the results of their neglect.

■Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.