Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hypocrisy II (November 10, 2013)

It has always been a trait of the right to dismiss left-leaning folks as radicals or dreamers.   The notion being that ‘progressive’ ideas about health, justice, the environment and economics are just too ‘out there’ to work in the real world.  While there is often merit to these critiques, recent events in Canada have clearly demonstrated that nobody operating within electoral politics has a monopoly when it comes to inconsistencies and hypocrisies.  Perhaps we are all dreamers – and maybe there is dirt behind all dreams. 

Those of us with long memories will recall that Toronto mayor Rob Ford was one of those simple-solution right-wingers who claimed to be tough on crime.  I guess the police are good guys until they are sifting through your own garbage.  But what is even more striking to those of us who can remember the recent past is that Ford also took the standard conservative stance on drugs.  In 2005 Ford stated, “You have to get these people (drug users) into rehabilitation and if they don’t go, well, then you just enforce the law.  If it’s illegal, you arrest them.  That’s the bottom line and if they have to dry out in jail- great.”  I guess that was when it was ‘them’ rather than Ford himself.  Plus, assuming the mayor didn’t generate the crack himself, surely his recent admission suggests some sort of tie to organized crime.  As well, I wonder if Ford’s ‘law and order’ backers want all of the people out there fighting addictions to merely ‘apologize’, ‘take time off’ or ‘get help’.  

Now why would Ford’s supporters who, at least in theory, admire the mayor’s stated views not be calling for his resignation?   Is it because Ford is a wealthy elite rather than a low-income kid that his admission of drug use is somehow a quaint character flaw rather than a serious social and crime problem?   Is class (that dirty word – a phenomena the right-wing elites claim doesn’t exist) really the issue here?  And why is our tough-on-crime Prime Minister silent about his old friend?  Obviously a good chunk of Ford supporters are Harper supporters so it seems likely the Prime Minister doesn’t want to alienate potential voters by being overtly critical of Toronto’s still somewhat popular mayor.  In the name of keeping some key voters on board the hard line on law and order can take a back seat.   I wonder if Harper would be so silent if the mayor in question had ties to his political opponents? 

And I’m not going to even get into Ford’s supposedly ‘hold the line on spending’ policies – which are, for one willing to take the time to look, similar to the federal Conservatives, more about reallocations rather than reductions.  What the question is here is why can’t conservative politicians live up to the goals and ideals they claim to cherish?   Is it straight-up hypocrisy?  Are the eye-catching objectives and promises simply unrealistic in the bright light of day-to-day living?   Or is ‘fiscal belt-tightening’ along with ‘law & order’ something the Conservatives merely want other people to practice?  You know, ‘them’.   

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury (November 3, 2013)

On the electoral politics front here in Canada, we have been living in pretty interesting times of late.  Who would have guessed, even a few weeks back, that a newspaper such as the Sun would have editorials in the same week calling for Rob Ford and Stephen Harper to step down.  If that is the view of the friends of the Conservatives one can only imagine how their enemies feel. 

For all of the Prime Minister’s straight-shooter/man-of-the-people reputation he is remarkably unable to justify or even acknowledge any of the decisions he has made lately.  In the style of a television crime boss, rather than accept any responsibility for his action, when facing scrutiny the PM opts to dig up dirt, real or imagined, on his opponents.  On the one-hand, we are morally superior to the other parties and on the other, we engage in precisely the same type of shifty behind-closed-doors dealing.  This Grade 2 ‘but Timmy does it too’ tactic is neither credible nor inspiring.  The order of the day: deflection, deflection, deflection.  And if Harper truly believes in the vacuous notion that government should be operated as a business, perhaps he should take responsibility for those he has appointed – both those in the Senate and in his own office.  Some CEO!   Reminds me how the Conservatives always attack the Liberals and NDP on economic issues, while a quick look to the past reveals that if the Conservatives had had their way with respect to deregulating financial institutions, Canada would be in the same bind as many other struggling countries.  No need to mention that I guess when you have a flashy media-friendly (if barely existent) ‘action plan’. 

And while the Harper administration talks about reeling in spending they are not even credible on this front – their supposed forte.  This very week a Toronto Star headline read ‘Harper’s Office Spends More As Rest of Government Holds The Line’.  Wait, isn’t it the crazy, spendthrift, unionized public service that is wasteful and in desperate need of trimming?  That’s what we’ve been told.  Still, I guess there is no need for data when ‘common sense’ is on your side.  The same Star piece goes on to speculate, “What the numbers suggest is that in Harper’s world restraint is virtue … to be practiced by others.”  And what about the Globe & Mail headline from earlier this summer that noted ‘Federal Deficit Balloons Despite Harper Agenda’.  A short, but interesting, read.  You don’t even have to have a long memory, or be a political scientist, to realize the Harper administration is not serious on this topic.  The ideology is not so much about saving taxpayer money, as it is to reallocate existing funds to specific Conservative-friendly sectors and programs.  This is the contemporary (sans Progressive) Conservative reading of fiscal responsibility.

As incredulous-laugh inducing as he often is, the Rob Ford fiasco feels more like a tragedy than a joke.  If the mayor of Toronto does indeed have problems there is no shame in admitting and acknowledging them.  Still, it is his willingness to ignore the needs of the city over his own personal issues that is so astounding.  Part of the mission of a politician is to bring people together with an aim of consensus building and compromise.  Current issues aside Ford has been a remarkably divisive politician.  As with all contemporary conservative politicians Ford is marketed and sold as ‘salt-of-the-earth’ and ‘one-of-us’ rather than as the elite he truly is.  You need to do more than coach a sports team or drive your own vehicle to dispel what is at core a sense of privilege and superiority.  If anyone needs more proof that the Conservatives have a class-based sense of entitlement they need go no further than recollect recent comments made by Wallin and Duffy in the Senate.  Imagine, these poor souls might temporarily lose their salary … and benefits!  Gasp!  One feels we are not far from hearing one of our illustrious Senators say of the public ‘let them eat cake’ 

While I can’t help but feel somewhat gleeful this week as the Conservatives implode and start eating their own, I’m also constantly uneasy.  What is the larger story here?  As the conservatives in this country have made a case for occupying the moral high ground in recent years it is perhaps not surprising that some in the right wing base are shocked by the recent activities of Ford and Harper.  But to me such personal failings, artificial populism, dodgy handling of issues and hypocrisies are not the problem – or maybe they   are linked to something else.  It is not a ‘few bad apples’ or some ‘poor choices’ but how the Conservatives present a hollow and bankrupt market-based ideology.  Units replace people. What is sellable?  The very ‘do as I say not as I do’ and ‘lets operate government as a business’ attitude demonstrates an ideology that is class-oriented, divorced from citizens and ultimately a void.  Harper is friends with Ford, appointed Duffy and Wallin and claimed he was going to clean up the Senate for the same expedient reasons – to raise funds and score easy political points.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Terry Glavin – ‘Stephen Harper is right not to trust the history establishment’ (Ottawa Citizen, February 13, 2013)

Of course the title of Terry Glavin’s recent editorial begs the question: what history establishment?  Who could he possibly be talking about?  Oddly enough he is not describing himself or the much-championed, prolific and ‘decorated’ Jack Granatstein.  No the problem is those pesky universities who fail to understand that history has a proper, obvious and ‘common-sense’ canon.  While Glavin notes that there are some useful aspects to ‘cultural’ and ‘social’ history, he is hard pressed to name any.  The trouble, apparently, is that contemporary historians see themselves as activists.  
One need merely have a cursory look at depictions of Canadian history books to know this is nothing new – and didn’t start in the demonic New Left 1960s.  As with most histories you can read a lot by noting absences.  It is pretty amusing the much-praised, and theoretically neutral, Granatstein is so praised by Glavin.  Why even mention that the unbiased common-sense historian works under the umbrella of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute – a not so subtle ideologically-driven think tank with both a ‘mission’ and set of ‘corporate goals’.   Among a long list of what the organization wants to achieve is “To develop relationships with the media such that they will routinely contact CDFAI.”  Mission accomplished!
It is interesting that Glavin seems to want Canadian history to be both non-activist and positive in outlook.  The notion seems to be that being positive is both common-sense and ideologically neutral.   Reflecting back on the 1990s, Glavin notes, “Most Canadians weren’t aware that Canada is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t teach even a vaguely positive history of itself to its children.”  No ideology in that statement.  While the argument is that students were learning ‘faddish’ rather than real history, my experience with university students in the 2000s suggests otherwise.  I was most often disappointed by what I took to be tidy and linear conceptions of the past.  As I note that some undergrads were reading Granatstein, perhaps he shares some of the blame.
The editorial favourably cites recent comments by the prime minister regarding what are taken to be key anniversaries.  Harper is quoted as saying, “These milestones remind us of a proud national story rooted in the great deeds of our ancestors and in a centuries-old constitutional legacy of freedom.”  By employing words such as ‘story’ and ‘great deeds’, it’s no wonder some folks fear the worst with respect to upcoming changes at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  Harper’s words also demonstrate a particular obtuseness given the Aboriginal issues that were coming to the surface at the time he made these comments.  Of course, given Harper’s long-standing relationship with Tom Flanagan, any astute student of Canadian history already had a sense of the prime minister’s take on such issues. 
Speaking of history - one can’t help but note there is nothing new in this editorial.  It is the same dull story on offer: My conception of history is neutral and correct and all else is activism, or worse, some fancy academic trickery.  What I have is good sense and what you have is ideology.  All of the standard and predictable conservative lines.  Thus folks such as Glavin and Granatstein must paint those who challenge their positively conventional conceptions of the past as an “establishment” or “orthodoxy.”   Imagine some of those crazy university nuts are more committed to nuance than Canada.  If only those duped and brainwashed students had access to the Ottawa Citizen and Granatstein’s books all would be well.   If only such non-establishment publications were widely available.