This will be handy for Matt McCarten

Foreign Policy has an article on “How to Justify Any Policy, No Matter How Bad It Might Be“.

This will be real handy for Matt McCarten as he deals with the two David Cunliffe’s, the one who tells business in private he will be moderate, and the very public lurching left David Cunliffe.

I think they may well have interviewed Winston Peters for some of these techniques.

Whatever your circumstances might be, here’s a simple 10-step program for excusing bad behavior. (It may also come in handy in your personal life, if you’re not good at resisting temptation or making sound decisions.)

Step 1: “It’s a lie. It never happened.”

When accused of bad behavior, the first instinct of many politicians (or their supporters) is denial. Bill Clinton told us he “never had sex” with “that woman” (Monica Lewinsky), and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria at first denied that chemical weapons had even been used. Similarly, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him about the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s first response was to deny it was happening, a lie he later described as the “least untruthful” statement he felt he could make. Step 1 is tempting for an obvious reason: When a bald-faced lie works, the problem goes away.

Step 2: Blame someone else.

If you can’t hide what happened, blame it on someone else. This line of defense has at least two variants. The first option is to acknowledge that wrongdoing occurred, but pin the blame on one’s opponents. Once the use of chemical weapons was confirmed in Syria, for example, Assad’s defenders tried to pin the blame on the regime’s opponents. Similarly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan now seems to think any criticism of his government or domestic political setback is the result of some sort of foreign conspiracy.

The second variation is to admit that somebody did something wrong, but pin the blame on subordinates. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie claims he knew nothing — “Nothing!” — about Bridgegate, while George W. Bush administration officials claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were just unauthorized acts by low-level enlisted personnel. If you successfully make someone else the fall guy, the people at the top can skate away scot-free. 

Pure Winston. But Helen Clark was legendary at step one. If you’re gonna lie – tell a real big one….”I never looked up” and “By definition I can’t leak” spring to mind.

Step 3: “OK, they did something bad. But they didn’t do it on purpose.” 

If you can’t deny what happened or pin the blame on someone else, the next fallback is to admit there was wrongdoing but that it wasn’t intentional. You might try arguing that no one could have foreseen the negative consequences of a particular policy decision and therefore no one should be blamed for its failure. Or one can simply assert that the bad stuff was just a regrettable by-product of an otherwise successful policy; the proverbial broken eggs that make up the omelette. This is how the U.S. government handles civilian casualties from drone strikes; they are “collateral damage” that we did not intend to cause and are therefore excusable.

Helen Clark’s speeding, David Cunliffe’s dodgy CV, the forged painting…

Step 5: “It was for the greater good.” 

A close cousin of Step 4 is to argue that the alleged misconduct was part of a noble project and therefore “worth it.” Thus, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously defended the U.S.-led sanctions program against Iraq — sanctions that may have helped cause a half-million excess Iraqi deaths — by saying the U.S. government believed “they were worth it.”

The Pledge Card…had to do it to keep National out of office.

Step 6: “Everybody does it, and our opponents do it even more than we do.”

Bad behavior is sometimes excused by the claim that it’s just “business as usual” and that those being criticized are being singled out or held to an unfair standard. Or you can take this strategy one step further, and defend your side’s misconduct by claiming that your opponents are far worse and that any means are acceptable in order to vanquish them. This line of defense is how the Bush administration justified torture, extraordinary rendition, and the other excesses of the early war on terror. By portraying al Qaeda as a uniquely evil threat, the harshest of measures were judged to be entirely appropriate.

The standard response of someone out excuses. I call this the sandpit argument, it is one children use, and it isn’t acceptable for them and shouldn’t be for politcians.

Step 10:  The Rumsfeld Defense.

When all else fails, you can always fall back on the classic Rumsfeld Defense: “Stuff happens.” Things may not have worked out as intended, and a lot of innocent people may be in dire straits as a result, but hey: making policy is an uncertain affair, and sometimes the beneficiaries of our precision-guided tough love aren’t appropriately grateful. But that’s not our fault; there are always some unknown unknowns out there and nobody’s perfect. Sue me.

Helen Clark used this all the time. She would intone in her baritone that she was moving along and so should everyone else. Remember her claim that by definition she could not leak.


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