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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Now what's all the fuss about?

"Oh, fiddle de de dee! Don't I even get a chance to take a bath?"

Yes, well. Some of the comments on Thursday's post take me, with more than a little justification, to task for what may have been an excessively facile argument about the slippery and elastic nature of political labels.

Sigh. Guess I brought it on myself, all the more so because I've been on for so long about the importance of not letting the far-right wack jobs strip words of their meanings. Damn that lifelong quest for absolute moral and logical consistency anyway!

In all honesty, though, I can't really disagree with any of the arguments made yesterday, in particular the thoughtful and detailed one from Captain Daylight, so let me begin by thanking all who stopped by.
You like me! You really like me!
If nothing else, it's evidence that people are reading what I write. (Am I up into the double digits? Really? Ha! In your face, thwap!)

So, by way of clarification: perhaps I misspoke myself. Or was misunderestimated. When I suggested, in the context of the preceding post, that labels didn't matter, it was in the context of comparing and contrasting Canada's two main political parties and the very small likelihood that either one of them would do anything substantive to reverse the damage done by thirty years of backlash against the progressive legacy of the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, the Just Society and Keynesian macroeconomics (not to mention feminism, environmentalism, the civil-rights movement and its struggles against racism, etc.).

Let's be honest: for at least a generation, we've had to deal with the ruinous effects of Reaganomics, Margaret Thatcher and her attacks on the very notion of community, the vilification of government as such, the seemingly indestructible canard about the private sector being more efficient, and an entire political/media complex designed to perpetuate those ideas. We've had to endure regressive fiscal policies that overwhelmingly favour corporations and the owner/investor class, while programs designed to help those in the middle and lower classes are gutted.

  • So-called "free trade." 
  • Deep integration. 
  • Multilateral agreements on investment. 
  • Structural adjustments. 
  • Austerity programs. 
  • Privatization. 
  • Deregulation. 
  • Outsourcing. 
  • Deindustrialization. 
  • Concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. 
  • A sustained diminution in the scope and efficacy of the mechanisms of democratic governance. 

All of these things were enthusiastically embraced by the Conservatives under Mulroney and the Liberals under Chretien/Martin. (And it's not just in Canada, of course, because you can demonstrate the same continuity in the United States – Reagan / Bush I / Clinton / Bush Jr / Obama – and in the U.K. – Thatcher / Major / Blair / Brown / Cameron.)

We are facing the virtual disintegration of civil society itself, because as those institutions and things we have in common wither away, there's less and less to hold the fabric of society together. Consequently, the very notion of citizenship is devalued. We are atomized, isolated, and exhausted, because it seems there is less and less that we can accomplish by acting collectively, pooling our energy and resources, and devoting our energies to pursuit of the greater good. And the corporate media is always there to distract us with something shiny.

Does anyone really believe that a change of government is going to reverse that? Whether Harper gets his majority, or by some miracle the opposition parties get their acts together and form a coalition, the continentalists and CEOs and financial institutions and international investors are going to continue getting what they want: free-flowing capital, deregulation, meek and complant workforces, lower taxes,  and no pesky unions or Bolshie talk about social responsibility. It was in that sense that I suggested that labels don't matter. Much as I'd love to be wrong about this, the next government of Canada is going to adopt that agenda, regardless of whether it's Conservative, Liberal, or a coalition involving the NDP, Bloc and/or Greens, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Of course labels matter, and of course it's important to be vigilant about the meanings of words and phrases. If we allow that to become contested terrain, we're in even deeper trouble, because we won't even be able to communicate effectively. Might as well surrender right now.

Which brings us to the rebranding of the federal government in Stephen Harper's name and the continuing debasement of the national discourse. Most of the initial outrage has been vented, but allow me one brief moment of snark: it's not your government, asshole. It's ours. You're just the help.

On the other hand, though, I wonder, isn't it possible to turn this against him? Thanks to things like Walkerton and Ipperwash, "Harris Government" was well on the way to becoming a pejorative term, even an epithet, by the time the son of a bitch left Oilcan Ernie holding the bag. Is there any reason the same thing can't happen to Harper? The stupid bastard's just taken off his Teflon, for Christ's sakes.

From now on, everything that goes wrong, every setback, every bit of spiteful stupidity can be courtesy of the "Harper Government." Food prices going up? Freezing because you can't afford to heat your house? E coli in your tap water? Shit on your shopping carts? Homelessness? Racism? Violence against women/gays/immigrants/aboriginals? National discourse poisoned by lies and invective (sit down, Ezra, I'm not talking about you ... )? No money for social programs because they're jerking off to glossy pictures of F-35 porn? Thank the Harper Government.

Some months ago, I tried to draw the connections between principled conservatism (a proud and honourable intellectual tradition) and the obligations inherent in stewardship. When you assume public office, you assume the responsibility to work for the benefit of the entire society, and not just those segments that happen to support you.

And more importantly, you are responsible for leaving things better than you found them. You have a duty to care for your society, your environment and your fellow citizens, so that what you pass on to succeeding governments and generations is as good a condition as it was when you found it. You do not get to remake the institutions of government and the public sphere in your own bleak and petulant image of bitter, all-consuming and nihilistic partisanship.

Let's see a show of hands. Anyone think Stephen Harper's setting a good example of stewardship? Or even traditional conservatism, for that matter?


Yeah, me neither. To arms, comrades!

(Update: Seems I'm not the only one. H/t Bonesy over at DJ.)


  1. "it's not your government, asshole. It's ours. You're just the help."

    I think that's the message we need to keep drumming.

    I put up a post today that pretty much says what you say (but you are much more eloquent!) He wants to claim all, then he has to claim responsibility for what goes wrong under his dictatorship. Direct responsibility, at that.

  2. Murray Dobbin wrote - "Now the details are out and they paint a picture of incredible corruption – even if only a fraction of the allegations by whistle blowers turned out to be true. The released documents show that 42 of the 228 cases involved (logged between 2007 and 2010) alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars. Many involved counseling public employees to break the law. Fifty fell into the category of “gross mismanagement” and fully 60 alleged that acts of Parliament had been contravened and almost as many – 58 – involved the punishment of people who tried to expose wrong-doing. It was precisely this kind of political terrorism that Ouimet’s office was supposed to reign in."

    Is the re-branding/name change meant to protect the government from Fraud charges? There can be no fraud if they don't claim to be the Government of Canada. Anyone know? Something to think about.