Key, leadership, and the audacity of hope

It's good to have role models, to aspire to the heights others reach, to see in world figures the virtues we would want to emulate in ourselves.

To share their vision. To hope.

And so it's quite natural that a political leader such as the "young, smart and rich" John Key might think about himself in the same breath as US Senator and Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States Barack Obama . . . isn't it?

The reactions from political opponents have been small-minded and spiteful.

When Mr Key was asked by the Financial Times, of London, about himself, his political directions and his background he merely said:

"I'm a bit like [Barack] Obama. I am not institutionalised in Wellington . . . I had 18 years in the commercial world and I will be quite pragmatic."

All he was doing was pointing out that, a teensy wee bit like Barack Obama (if you discount the latter's early career as a community organiser and civil rights lawyer, and his eight years in the Illinois State Senate), who's only been in the US Senate for four years, that he - Mr Key - was relatively new to politics too, and would bring to the job of prime minister the skills learnt in his former life as a high-flying money trader and investment banker.

The Financial Times didn't have to over-egg the pudding by pointing out that, if he did win office, he would be the "most inexperienced politician to lead New Zealand in more than 100 years".

But then that's the media for you.

In fact Mr Key was restrained. There are other similarities.

Quite possibly, when the FT rang, Mr Key had his feet up flicking through the pages of Mr Obama's most recent political memoir, The Audacity of Hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream, reminding himself in which overlapping orbitals their brilliant spheres of influence spun.

Taxation for instance.

Only on Monday did Mr Key and the National Party launch their billboard campaign: "Wave goodbye to higher taxes, not your loved ones. Choose a brighter future, party vote National".

And, gosh, right there on page 47, Mr Obama is preoccupied by the very same issue.

"I consider the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to be both fiscally irresponsible and morally troubling."

Or possibly Mr Key was thinking back to the cut and thrust of his early days in Parliament, attacking the wimpish Labour-led Government for not joining the Iraq war effort, saying New Zealand was "missing in action".

How reassuring then he must have found this entry further down on the same page: "Back in 2002, just before announcing my Senate campaign, I made a speech at one of the first anti-war rallies in Chicago in which I questioned the Administration's evidence of weapons of mass destruction and suggested that an invasion of Iraq would prove to be a costly error."

Great minds think alike - well, about the same sort of things, at least.

Mr Key must have been positively mesmerised by the time he reached page 62 where Mr Obama explains how the earnings of the average CEO in America have increased from 42 times what the average hourly worker took home in 1980 to 262 times in 2005.

"Americans understand the damage such an ethic of greed has on our collective lives . . . conservatives should at least be willing to speak out against unseemly behaviour in corporate boardrooms with the same moral force, the same sense of outrage, that they direct against dirty rap lyrics."

It's a fair bet Mr Key was thinking he couldn't have put it better himself.

But the clincher was obviously the passage on climate change on page 168 which would surely have confirmed for born-again greenie John Key that what he had not always believed was now the way, the truth, and the lightbulb - as long as it was ecologically friendly and powered by renewables.

"Just about every scientist outside the White House believes climate change is real, is serious, and is accelerated by the continued release of carbon dioxide . . ."

The backgrounds, the experiences, the visions, the policy positions . . . Frankly, the similarities are uncanny.

"A bit like [Barack] Obama"?

Oh come now, Mr Key. You are practically soul-mates. There really is no need for such false modesty.

• The Audacity of Hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama, published by The Text Publishing Company, RRP $27.99.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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