It's a commonplace among lawyers ...
If you have a good case, bang on the facts. With a weak case, bang on the law. With no case, bang on the desk.
That's what retired corporate lawyer Chris Northover did in his Chronicle opinion piece on August 26.
Rather than address the issues raised in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics - an expose of the name-calling and personal vilification campaigns against opponents involving National's Judith Collins and allegedly at least one member of John Key's office in order to force adversaries off policy messages and confuse the public - Northover's piece used those same techniques to deflect from those matters.
The paramount issue is the credibility and trustworthiness of Key and, by extension, National and its local candidate, Chester Borrows.
Before we can even give serious consideration to the policies on offer we need to consider the charges brought out in Hager's book.
The subversion of democratic process by the feeding of leaks by Collins and others to a malicious blogger who self-identifies as "despicable" and is dedicated to the creation of political mayhem cannot simply be brushed aside by Key's calling the charges a distraction or by Northover's name-calling and labelling the book as "tittle-tattle".
Calling Hager paranoid won't do at all. Not only is that dime-store psycho-babble but it's a diagnostic term that would be unethical (without actual examination) if it were being thrown around by a genuine medical professional qualified to use it.
To remind readers, Dirty Politics is based on the leaked emails of a sensationalist blogger who relied on mainstream media to amplify his "scoops" apparently sourced to him from the higher echelons in the National government.
Hager's charges gain credibility as new emails emerged recently suggesting an agenda of Collins to take down the former Serious Fraud Office chief, resulting in her forced resignation from Cabinet.
The emails also forced the New Zealand Herald into defensive mode over its willing funnelling of the dubious work of a blogger known for his bully-boy tactics.
One need not be "paranoid" to question Key's veracity when he promised not to raise GST prior to election, then did so.
Or his reliability and commitment to democratic process in using the GCSB to spy on Kim Dotcom, a legal resident of New Zealand, and then changing the law to permit further spying on all New Zealand citizens.
Or his unwillingness to consider the expressed wishes of 67 per cent of New Zealanders in his selling the country's energy assets to foreign interests and the top 5 per cent of Kiwis who could afford to buy into the deal.
A critique of the book and its fact basis would have been welcome but the Northover piece claimed that the book, rather than National's methods, distracted from a policy discussion. Blame the messenger.
What about policies? National's education policies ape the American ones with standardised testing and merit pay for teachers.
Standardised testing failed in the US; merit pay creates competition among colleagues who need to co-operate for the good of the students.
National has a law and order plank just in time to increase prison populations at a time when crime rates are dropping, so private prisons can prosper.
National's healthcare proposals are strictly corporatist and bottom-line in outlook, not patient-centred.
If re-elected, National's plans would further diminish our local hospital services in favour of regionalisation.
Good for the bottom line, not so good for patients and Wanganui.
I'm friendly with Chester Borrows and Hamish McDouall - on a personal level, they're both good men.
That said, I can't recall Borrows ever speaking critically of any policy of National affecting Wanganui.
He was in favour of the terrible maternity services regionalisation proposal until he felt the political wind of our protest marches.
Moreover, in the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement - which would make our regulations of work and safety subservient to interests of multinational US corporations - Borrows acknowledged in Majestic Square that he was cynical but that we should just trust National to act on our behalf. Yeah, right.
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.