By Stephen Franks*
The left may be more nasty than the right but not on the evidence of David Cunliffe's comment:
I have thought that if Judith Collins was the last woman on earth, the species would probably become extinct.
Cameron Slater and David Farrar jumped on the Hon David Cunliffe's throw-away insult to Judith Collins as an instance of the nastiness that just leaks out of Labour, despite them all being on best behaviour for the election.
I agree about the left tendency to nasty personal attacks. From experience their proportion of primarily nasty people is much higher than the right's but to me the offence taken at David's over the top "insult" is PC nonsense. The left deserve the trouble, because they are the quickest to manufacture offence out of misinterpreted humour.
But I can't agree that the comment alone, in context, justifies the conclusion about David Cunliffe. I worry about anything that entrenches hypersensitivity and diminishes the likelihood of jokes to lighten the election load.
Mr Cunliffe no doubt now regrets leaving himself open to the kind of faux outrage that is par for the course when a joke can be placed into one of the verboten modern sin categories. There will be sustained media interest in anything that hypersensitivity can treat as racism or sexism, for example. But not agism it seems from the media open season on Don Brash.
In this case the "insult" was so plainly untrue that it is simple hyperbole. If the Hon Judith Collins was one of Parliament's genuine gargoyles, if she was known to be goofy or socially unappealing, then there might have been room to argue that Cunlirffe's description was genuinely cruel.
But she is neither. I've never found her to be anything but attractive and pleasant - business like - but pleasant. So to me David's "insult" was a mistake and possibly revealing, but foolish more than nasty.
* Stephen Franks is a commercial and public lawyer who represented the ACT Party in Parliament from 1999 to 2005 as its justice and commerce spokesman. He also stood for the National Party in the 2008 election as its Wellington Central candidate.
He writes his own blog at stephenfranks.co.nz.