Messages From The Seuss World

Mandy Hager (left) at the Paraparaumu Library

A person’s a person no matter how small…

By Mandy Hager

One of the delights of my new status as a grandmother is the revisiting of the picture books I loved in my youth.

I joke that my values were formed by Dr Seuss (above right) and in many ways this true!

My parents went to enormous lengths to provide their children with a wealth of books, many delivered from overseas because they weren’t available here, and to discuss their thematic messages so we understood the values such books imparted.

The moral messaging in Dr Seuss’s books became so ingrained that, even to this day, I can still quote whole chunks by heart.

‘A person’s a person, no matter how small’

Perhaps of all his books, the one that best reflects where we as a country should be focussed as the election looms, is Horton Hears a Who, with its lovely message ‘A person’s a person no matter how small.’

This simple belief, with all its attendant examples of what happens when this philosophy isn’t adhered to, seems to be the big elephant in the current caucus room.  

Lack of empathy for ordinary people (in Seuss’s world, symbolised by the brash unsympathetic kangaroo and her band of brutish enablers – another great analogy that has echoes in the latest treatment of Kiwis by our bully cousins across the ditch) seems to be the baseline moral stance of our current crop of ruling politicians.

Where Bill English comes in…

Mr English and his measure of condescension

Bill English’s ‘Social Investment’ ideology, which has been the cornerstone of economic policy throughout Key’s leadership as well, reeks of privilege and condescension.  

I have no problem with the idea that effort should be put into children’s earliest years, in order to pre-empt problems in their futures. This makes absolute sense.

But in English’s world, this means dabbling at edges with punitive and divisive interventions, while ignoring the real drivers.

If National and their support partners really wanted to make a difference to future generations of New Zealanders, long-term commitment to generous social supports and policies written with kindness as the underlying principle are the only answer.


‘Close the gaps’

Until we can close the gaps between rich and poor, provide healthy affordable housing, ensure people have enough money to eat and pay their bills, have open access to healthcare (and particularly to mental healthcare) and high quality education FOR ALL, issues like crime, violence and abuse, drug abuse, homelessness, disenfranchisement and unemployment will continue.

Why? Because they are all responses, some inter-generational, to the hardships people face.

Lecturing won’t solve the problem

No amount of moral lecturing or victim-blaming/shaming is going to solve such complex issues – all it will do is further entrench the divides and breed ongoing generations of dispossessed, bitter and desperate people.

And fair enough that they feel bitter and cynical. In this country, the moral messaging of our current government is more: a person’s a person only if they succeed in living according to the neo-liberal rules. Anyone else is lazy, ignorant, drugged-up and undeserving.

Republican run states have done their worst to disenfranchise voters who don’t support the GOP.

There’s never any compassion in the messaging, only ever blame – and if you can convince enough people that the disadvantaged and struggling are unworthy, then righteous indignation can overtake any real commitment to duty of care.

The other lesson Horton makes quite clear is that every voice counts – that, from the biggest to the smallest, we must assert our right to be treated as equals and worthy of support.

One of the truly despicable and cynical strategies of the Right all over the world is the move to distance and disenfranchise voters, making them feel so powerless that resistance feels worthless.

This, among the many issues facing us in the upcoming election, is one that desperately needs to be addressed and turned around if we are ever to shift this country to a more equal footing for all. Votes for outliers such as Trump and Le Pen arise when people feel the political class has failed them.

Nicky Hager’s checklist

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s checklist for New Zealand voters

My brother Nicky recently spoke at the launch of Scoop Media’s ‘Opening The Election’ forum, offering  a checklist of issues to promote for an open civil society. I recommend you watch – and urge you to think of ways that you, too, might help make the shift from policies for the few, to policies for all.