Can Jacinda Ardern inspire a new generation?

The intermittently hopeful Chris Trotter asks  Can Jacinda Ardern, like President Kennedy before her, inspire youth?

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” –  John F. Kennedy

Nothing in President Kennedy’s inaugural address resonated in the hearts of young Americans, and the youth of the world, like the words quoted above.

Nothing in what Ardern has said so far comes close to anything like this rhetoric.

The big question for 2018, therefore, is: what are the motives and values connecting New Zealand’s 37-year-old prime minister with the generations born after the post-war Baby Boom?

The full measure of that success is captured in Kennedy’s proud boast that, thanks to humanity’s technological prowess, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

The Ancient Greeks would have called this hubris – and they would have been right.

But what of the generation for whom Jacinda now speaks? Untempered by war; undisciplined by the existential stakes attached to global ideological competition; unimpressed with their nation’s colonial heritage; and uncommitted to the universal definition of human rights for which Kennedy pledged his country’s all on that chilly January morning in 1961: for what will the Millennial Generation “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe”?

Well, for a start, they would probably refuse to be bound by such an open-ended and reckless pledge. “Any price?”, they would respond. “No, not any price. The world has had enough of men who commit the lives of millions to the fulfilment of promises they had no right to make.”

For a great many millennial women, JFK, himself, is a problem. “If #Me Too had been around in 1963,” they ask, “how many women would have come forward to denounce the President?”

Politics, media and the ability forr anyone to speak up have changed markedly in the last sixty years.

Jacinda’s millennials are not well disposed to big promises, all-encompassing systems and unyielding ideologies. They have grown up amidst the havoc wrought by a generation far too prone to alternating fits of selfless idealism with bouts of hedonistic excess. That all their Baby Boomer parents’ enthusiasms boiled down to, in the end, was the cold and selfish cynicism of neoliberalism, taught them all they need to know about the malleability of human aspirations.

The Labour Leader’s brisk “Let’s Do This” slogan was perfectly pitched to an audience more intent on achieving small dreams than grand visions.

Or was it largely a typical reaction in the age of celebrity worship with little though of the politics? It was probably a mix of both – Ardern did impress with how adeptly she stepped up into the Labour leadership role, and she did what was needed to do a deal with Winston Peters (but given his animosity and legal action against people in National  that may have been fairly easy to achieve).

Sanders and Corbyn were the proof that growing old did not have to mean growing cynical and cruel. The Millennials looked at the career politicians of their own generation and saw far too much evidence of wholesale generational surrender. How had so many twenty-something minds been taken over by so many hundred-year-old ideas? Sanders’ and Corbyn’s bodies may have been old, but their thinking was as young as the kids who cheered them on.

I suspect a lot of Ardern’s support was quite a bit more shallow than Trotter thinks.

This, then, is the torch which the Prime Minister is being asked to carry into 2018. The inspirational torch of authenticity which dispels the darkness of hypocrisy. If she truly wishes to change their world, Jacinda must first prove to her generation that the world is not changing her.

That’s an impossible wish.

Any politician is changed by the world they grow up in, and by how their career unfolds. Anyone suddenly elevated to being leader of a country has to change considerably to manage many conflicting pressures, and in reaction to events as they unfold.

Ardern will change New Zealand a bit for sure. Whether she will change the country in a direction and to the degree that Trotter wishes is another matter. It’s unlikely she will come close – but Trotter’s ideals seem to be stuck in the past, and the millenials and whatever else post baby boomer voters and MPs are labelled.

Ardern has already changed significantly – she has moderated Labour policy ‘promises’, and she has already lost the openness and energy that she launched her leadership with.

The holiday break, such as it is for a new Prime Minister, may give Ardern the opportunity to refresh and launch into 2018 with a grand vision for a new generation, but she still has to deal with the needs and the votes of the baby boomers.

It will be an interesting year – it’s hard to predict how Ardern will evolve as Prime Minister, but Trotter is likely to continue as a political manic depressive.

 

 

 

 

 

A new era of post baby boomer politics

Jacinda Ardern’s rapid rise to the top in politics this year has perhaps signalled the beginning of a new era in New Zealand politics, where there is a sudden surge in influence of politicians who weren’t born in the fifties or sixties (of last century).

Other politicians on the rise in Government, like Grant Robertson, James Shaw, David Clark, Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Tracey Martin and Julie Anne Genter are all new age MPs.

The odd one out of course is Winston Peters, but surely his career is just about over.

If old school National MPs slip away this term, as some of them should (like Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce)  then that will leave the way for younger MPs like Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye and Chris Bishop to wave the baby boomers goodbye and take over.

While many baby boomers may like to be given choices over their end of life if they are unfortunate enough to face an awful death, it is the influence of younger MPs who are leading the push to get the bill passed.

In his closing speech in the first reading of the bill – End of Life Choice Bill first reading – David Seymour rebuttal – David Seymour said:

I felt when I was listening to Bill English’s contribution that we were talking at each other from different ages. The age that a blanket prohibition on all end of life is required as the cornerstone of our law may have been a good argument in 1995. It may have even been a good argument in 2003.

It is not a good argument today because, as Chris Bishop so ably outlined, we now have almost a dozen jurisdictions around the world that have designed a law that does give choice to those who want it and protects those who want nothing to do with it whatsoever.

We are like ships in the night: one speaking from 1995; the other speaking from 2017 when so much of history has moved on.

The baby boomer ship hasn’t sunk yet, but it is sailing into the political sunset.

The sudden generational change is in part fortuitous – Seymour’s bill was drawn from the Members’ Bill ballot. But that was necessary because old school politicians and parties wouldn’t risk promoting it – Andrew Little deemed Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice bill “not a priority” and dumped it, so Seymour picked it up.

Little was also instrumental in the rise of Ardern, stepping aside as Labour was listing badly.

Old and middle aged are becoming dirty terms in some quarters. The dismissing of experienced opinions as now worthless is perhaps understandable but is often over the top and unwarranted.

But there is now doubt the influence of baby boomers dropped significantly over the last six months, and is likely to continue to fade.

I’m happy to see a new generation of ideas, enthusiasm and governance largely take over. The younger politicians have an opportunity to make a mark, and make New Zealand a better country in the modern era. They will no doubt have challenges but I think we will be in good hands.

However as a baby boomer I am not digging my grave yet, despite supporting an enlightened approach to euthanasia.

I will still give my two bobs’ worth of  opinions for a while (that’s showing my age). I’m not exactly a technophobe, I have grown up in the age of computers, having worked with them for over forty years (I wrote my first program on punch card in 1972), printing a conversion chart from Fahrenheit to Celsius – that also ages me a bit, but y memory isn’t shot, I still remember the calculation of minus 32, times 9 divided by 5.

But this is just baby boomer reminiscing about an era that is now becoming history, last century history.

I’ll keep chugging away here for a while yet, but if any youngsters want to contribute here with their two hundred dollars worth of opinion I’ll welcome a new era of ideas and angles.

And that’s what we are going to get in Parliament over this term and beyond – a new generation in politics. Revitalisation and different approaches in dealing with difficult issues are an essential part of a thriving country.

It won’t be that long until we have MPs who born in this millennium – it is possible next year, or next election. Chloe Swarbrick was born in 1994. I hope I don’t need to make an end of life choice before I see that happen.