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ANALYSIS: By Chris Trotter

There is something decidedly sinister about the way the right-wing media is pursuing the “elimination strategy is madness” argument so doggedly. Yes, it’s always interesting to discover what people are saying about New Zealand overseas, but The New Zealand Herald republishing anti-Jacinda Ardern editorials from the Daily Telegraph — mouthpiece of the British Conservative Party — points to an altogether more disturbing preoccupation.

These misgivings are only reinforced when one considers the near unanimous hostility directed towards the Prime Minister and her government by New Zealand’s talkback hosts.

At the most superficial level, one could argue that the right-wing media’s editorial hostility is generated almost entirely by bottomline anxieties. With most of its advertising revenue generated by realtors, retailers, the hospitality industry and tourist operators, the big media outlets must experience significant financial pain whenever New Zealand and/or its most important economic hub, Auckland, goes into lockdown.

The pressure brought to bear on the media bosses to get the doors open for their advertisers’ paying customers is easily imagined.

More than anything else, commercial enterprises hate surprises. Certainty and predictability are what they need to go on generating profits for their shareholders. The sudden appearance of covid-19 in the community, followed by lockdowns of a severity to make the eyes of overseas commentators water, bring with them consequences that are costly, disruptive and generally bad for business.

Unsurprisingly, a significant fraction of the business community would very much prefer that covid-19 was responded to in a fashion less injurious to their financial health.

Those business leaders less bound by the short-term selfishness of their colleagues take a more responsible position. They understand how very bad it looks for businesspeople to convey the impression that they care a great deal less about people getting very ill, and quite possibly dying, than they do about making money.

Short, sharp, uncompromising lockdowns
They also know that New Zealand’s style of short, sharp, uncompromising lockdowns protect the economic interests of the business community a whole lot more effectively than the loose, dangerously porous, lockdowns on display in the UK, the USA, and across the Tasman in Australia.

Not that anything as mundane as “the facts of the matter” have ever slowed the government’s critics down. Neither New Zealand’s extraordinary success in keeping the number of covid-19 deaths below 30, nor the powerful bounce-back of its economy, cuts any ice with the “elimination strategy is madness” brigade. Indeed, the obvious success of Jacinda Ardern’s elimination strategy only seems to make them madder.

So what is it? What drives Ardern’s critics so crazy?

Sadly, a great many of her right-wing opponents seem to be inspired by nothing more edifying than sexist antipathy towards a young, female prime minister, from a tiny and powerless country at the bottom of the world, who has outperformed (by a wide margin) the male leaders of much larger and more powerful nations.

Something about this picture is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Young women are supposed to defer to the “big dogs” of the international community — not show them up. Ardern has produced a disturbance in the conservative “Force” that makes them shudder: as if an entire political ideology suddenly cried out in indignation and was rudely silenced.

They fear something terrible is going on.

And, in a way, they’re right. From the perspective of those responsible for creating a world in which the interests of business take precedence over even the ordinary person’s right to stay safe and well (some might say especially over the ordinary person’s right to stay safe and well) the sight of a young, female prime minister putting the interests of ordinary people first is a terrible thing.

Ardern’s “kindness” works way beyond neoliberalism’s explanation
Because Jacinda Ardern’s “kindness” doesn’t just work a little bit, it works way beyond neoliberalism’s capacity to supply a credible explanation.

Take Sweden, for example. For a while it was the “who needs lockdowns?” brigade’s poster child. But Sweden, with just twice the population of New Zealand, racked-up a horrifying 14,000+ covid fatalities. Had Ardern followed the Swedish prime minister’s example, her country would have sustained upwards of 7,000 deaths.

By following its leader’s strict elimination strategy, however, New Zealand’s “Team of Five Million” kept their country’s covid death toll to 26.

On the Right, however, this sort of science-guided, humanitarian response to covid-19 just doesn’t compute. Conservatives around the world react by accusing Ardern of political cowardice. She simply doesn’t have the balls to adopt a strategy that will lead directly to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

Look at the Brits; look at the Yanks; they had the courage to condemn tens-of-thousands of their people to early and unnecessary deaths; they know that “you can’t live in a cave forever”; that, in the end, the economy must come first.

This is the upside-down world towards which the right-wing media’s wayward editorial decisions are dragging its readers, viewers and listeners. A world in which saving New Zealanders’ lives is the wrong thing to do. A world where “freedom” means nothing more than being able to go shopping wherever and whenever you want – without a mask.

That the big media companies haven’t quite arrived there yet is because there are still some executives who understand that, ultimately, the news media relies on ordinary people to read its copy and listen to its broadcasters’ opinions.

Ordinary people who, if right-wing editors and producers ever get around to actually swallowing the insanity-inducing Kool-Aid swishing about in their mouths, will be offered-up to deranged conservatives (and the advertisers) as unavoidable human sacrifices to the Moloch god of the free market.

The only elimination strategy the right-wing media will ever wholeheartedly support.

This essay, by Chris Trotter, was originally posted on the Bowalley Road blog of Thursday, 26 August 2021, under the title: “A Disturbing Preoccupation: Why the Right-Wing Media Hates Jacinda’s Covid Elimination Strategy”.  It is republished by Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.

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