Tonight the NZ prime minister dines with the US vice president – a man who holds numerous views on the world that are, well, pretty much the opposite of everything she stands for. Don Rowe previews the worst working dinner imaginable.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Singapore today for the East Asia summit. United States Vice-President Mike Pence will be there too, reportedly RSVPing to the gala dinner on the express condition he gets to sit next to Ardern, potentially making the most of a loophole in his self-imposed restriction on eating alone in proximity to a human woman.
Ardern told Morning Report today she expected the conversation to be “wide ranging”, encompassing regional issues, steel tariffs, climate change and the like. But wide as it might be, it’s almost impossible to imagine where the pair might find common ground. Maybe it was all a terrible administrative cock-up and Pence actually wanted to sit beside Justin Trudeau’s wife.
The NZ prime minister has called climate change her generation’s nuclear free moment. Pence has called climate change a myth, much like that other well known myth, evolution. If he were to cry “Let’s do this”, the “this” would presumably be the Trump agenda of breaking down the rules-based order that Ardern passionately advocated at the UN, and generally just making things demonstrably worse. It remains to be seen if Ardern has a “uranium on your breath” zinger up her sleeve.
Gender issues could prove sticky, too. At the UN, Ardern declared that “Me Too” must become “We Too”. Her government has made equality a key policy platform, looking to reform abortion law, improve the gender balance in cabinet, and extending paid parental leave.
Pence, on the other hand, has been called the biggest threat to women in a generation. Citing his paranoia around sexual temptations, Pence refuses to attend events serving alcohol without his wife – whom he famously calls “Mother”. Like Ardern, he too wants to reform abortion law, only in the opposite direction: Pence pines for a day when Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose are sent to the “ash heap of history“, which presumably looks something like a scene out of The Handmaid’s Tale. Pence has also been at the forefront of the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood in the United States, threatening to shut down the government over the issue.
And Mike Pence is notoriously, furiously anti-LGBTQ. Ardern, a former Mormon, left the church in her 20s over their anti-LGBT stance and today identifies as an agnostic. Pence, who remains a staunch evangelical, has voted against laws that would prevent discrimination of LGBTQ in the workplace, campaigned vigorously against gay marriage and is so homophobic even Trump is said to have joked that the VP wants to “hang gays“.
There could even be friction over the local film industry. The live action adaptation of Mulan is currently being filmed in New Zealand – a film Pence believes is “mischevious liberal propaganda“.
“Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohort,” he protested, presumably before going on to rage against the idea that Monsters could incorporate, or Nemo might ever seriously be found.
Jacinda Ardern famously said she never wanted to lead the country, or even her party, stepping in as an emergency substitute for Andrew Little. By contrast, Mike Pence is said to have “wanted to be president practically since he popped out of the womb”.
Even baby Neve, darling of the world media, is unlikely to be much of an icebreaker. Mike Pence believes working mothers cause serious emotional damage to their children. Ardern will be attending the summit famously as a mother who works.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.