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Monday, January 24, 2011

Coalitions and reclaiming the discursive turf

This is how Steve Harpoon wants us to think about the idea of a coalition.

(All right, all right. I wanted an image for "monster under the bed," and, well ... whaddayagonnado. Cheap laugh.)

Anyway, that's the clear strategy behind the renewed coalition fearmongering. There's no acknowledgment of parliamentary convention, no nod to context or recognition of the fact that coalition-building is perfectly legitimate and frequently a necessary strategy in multi-party democracies. That would require dispassionate and rational discourse, not to mention ... maturity.

And that's something this government does not do. With this bunch it's never about reflection or genuine and thoughtful consideration of alternatives; it's about moving the whole conversation into emotionally charged terrain dominated by soundbites and slogans that don't require thought at all. They don't want engaged citizens talking about policy, they want sheep chanting "four legs good, two legs bad" while they dismantle the infrastructure of democratic accountability and attack their enemies with broken bottles. Straight out of the Fox / Rove / Luntz playbook.

Nothing new there. If they're using this kind of crass tactic, it's because they think it works. If the evidence points that way, that's a sad comment on both the state of civic and political discourse in this country and on the intelligence and healthy skepticism of the average Canadian citizen.

So, a call to fellow progressives: let us start pushing the discursive goalposts back so that it's not so easy for Harpoon and his operatives to smear the whole notion of coalition. Several reasons for this, but at the top of the list: we can't wait for Iggy and his gormless team to do it, or trust them to do it competently even if they recognize that it has to be done.

Seriously. Look at all the ammunition Harper gives them, every day, and what have they done with it?

Um ... yeah. I think we're done with that.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, we have to pre-empt the inevitable demonizing of the BQ, and again, it's not as if we can leave it to Iggy and the No-Spines. If the Harperites stick to what's worked before, then we'll be saturated with the simplistic message, coming at us from every direction and via every medium, that inviting the BQ into a parliamentary coalition means making a deal with people who want to break up the country.

What they want from us: "Oooooh! Scary! Monster under bed!"

What our reaction should be: "Yawn. Whatever."

Last time I checked, BQ MPs were democratically elected. They have mandates from their constituents. Doesn't mean everyone has to agree with them, but it does mean they have just as much right to sit in the House as members from other parties. Whether you like their platform or not, and whether you think it's bona fide or just political theatre, they are there to secure assistance and resources for their constituents, same as anyone else.

It's a simple message, and it needs to be repeated, over and over, in order to redefine the paramaters of debate so that Spiteful Steve can't do it unilaterally. God knows he's trying.

There may or may not be an election in the offing, but that doesn't mean we can't start disrupting the Harper message machine, now.

(Update: shout-out to thwap. Dash it all, but he is at his best when he's being rude ...)

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