Anti-smacking advocates in New Zealand have adopted an elite, lobbying-style of politics that has effectively killed any chance of successfully changing society's orientation to smacking kids. To this effect, Chris Trotter has written a very interesting opinion piece in the Sunday-Star Times arguing that the 'anti-smacking' private members bill should not be rammed through Parliament in the context of such widespread opposition in society. [The article does not currently appear to be online.] Trotter says that when something like 80% of New Zealanders oppose the bill, it's bad politics and bad law to push legislation through just because you have assembled a slight parliamentary majority in favour.
Trotter is probably right. The proponents of the bill have failed to convince New Zealanders. This is because the Greens and their allies never really attempted to focus their campaigns on ordinary people. Instead they have taken an elite political approach that epitomises modern activist politics - that of lobbying those in power rather than the public. Trotter suggests that previous agents of social change were about more participatory and democratic means: 'the anti-Vietnam War movement, the anti-apartheid movement, the anti-nuclear movement and gay-rights movement. As their names suggest, they were all exercises in mass democratic action - and took years.'
NZ politics now takes place in an elite way, in which single-issue campaigns are increasingly carried out in a disengaged way from society. It's a hierarchical and anti-democratic way of trying to push for social change. As Trotter, reminds proponents of the bill, 'You cannot legislate people into virtue... they can only be persuaded. And you have not persuaded them.' Of course, there are always exceptions - where there is an overwhelming and urgent case for a government to act against majority wishes to protect the rights of some citizens, but I don't believe this case falls anywhere near that.