Accusations of racism are easily made, but when they're flung about with reckless abandon the term "racist" can lose its meaning.
The claims range from the absurd and divisive campaign by the Coastal Coalition, to the blogosphere's furious response to idiotic ministerial comments.
It's all too easy to denounce something or someone we don't like as racist, and God knows I've done it too. But we should all take more care about who we label as racist, and reserve that term for the truly vile.
Take Maurice Williamson. He made a number of unquestionably offensive jokes at a builders' event. Never mind the fact that he was an idiot for saying such things on the public record (although he has a history of saying stupid things). He shouldn't have said these things at all.
But does that make him a racist? I don't know Williamson, so I can't say. I think it's possible to say something racially offensive without becoming a "racist". Just as a person can do evil without necessary being an evil person.
The accusations of racism thrown about by the Coastal Coalition are vicious. Its press releases are not shy in alleging racism, but themselves engage in a broad smear of Maori. Phrases such as "Maori grievances", "non-iwi Kiwis", "corporate iwi," "Maori elite", and "Maori aristocracy" are used with abandon. Maori are depicted as an elite group who have riches and privileges the rest of us can only imagine. I'd love to know who these elites are. Do they have mansions on Paratai Drive? Will I meet them at Rotary or the golf club? Perhaps I will rub shoulders with them next time I'm at the Northern Club or at the next Business Roundtable networking event. Who are they? it's funny, because I could easily name dozens who belong to this country's business "elite", and almost all of them are white, male and middle-aged.
But it is truly rich (pun intended) for a group backed by the likes of squillionaire Alan Gibbs and a bunch of money-worshipping ACT Party acolytes to use "elite" as a pejorative term. When used to denigrate Maori interests and rights it might even be considered racist. But then I'm reluctant to use that label.
Ironically, Eddie, the blogger at the Standard who seems especially incensed by Williamson's idiocy, worries that Key is pandering to the "Pakeha elite".
Surely Key can't be pandering to both sides. If he's pissing everyone off, then maybe he's got the balance about right. God knows, because dealing with the foreshore and seabed issue is like sending a marching band through a minefield. Rather him than me.