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Thursday, April 7, 2011

On @meslin, @nowtoronto, principle and pragmatism

Taking a break from #elxn41 for a minute here.

Toronto tweeters will, I'm sure, have followed the contretemps between Dave Meslin and Now magazine with some interest. A couple of days ago, Meslin finally lost his patience with Now and took exception to their characterization of him as a "seal" because of his willingness to swallow the fish tossed by Rob Ford.

Meslin is a principled and reasonable guy, and it's nice to see someone with his cred take down the sanctimonious twits at Now. Probably the most one-sided scrap since Downey vs. Boulerice, in fact.

Predictably, Now just can't leave it alone. Maybe they'll photoshop his head onto a fat naked guy or something. They're almost as classy as Sue Ann Lyons – er, Levy.

(Mea culpa / full disclosure: I have cited Now, approvingly, in a previous post. Even a stopped clock ... )

I can't argue with Meslin's celebration of civility, or his pragmatism. As he points out, there's only one mayor of Toronto, and his name is Rob Ford. Whether we like it or not, if we want to find common ground, he's the guy we have to work with.

Where I'm still having trouble, though, is finding the difference between finding common ground and extending the benefit of the doubt. It may be just a semantic difference. It may be just a matter of connotation. I'm open to discussion either way.

The question arises because some of the comments on Dave's post point out, quite reasonably, that in many respects, Ford and his supporters aren't people who deserve the benefit of the doubt. In his approach to transit, bike policy, labour relations, poor and marginalized communities, and several points of basic civility, he's shown himself as someone who doesn't get it and never will. When you consider this, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether giving him the benefit of the doubt isn't just an exercise in self-delusion.

But then again, maybe it's not really a question of that. Maybe repeatedly showing your willingness to work with your opponents isn't so much a matter of self-delusion as a demonstration of something far more laudable: generosity of spirit. And true generosity of spirit isn't miserly. It doesn't look for wiggle room or protest that those on the other side don't deserve such generosity. That's the whole point: it is extended precisely toward those who do not deserve it. That's what makes it generous. If that's where Mez is coming from – and I choose to believe, for now, that he is – then that's what makes his approach something to be praised.

In politics, however, there aren't that many things that can be evaluated so one-dimensionally, and that brings us to the second point of analysis: the tactical and strategic wisdom of trying to find common ground. I don't want to reduce this discussion to a rehashing of clichés, but it seems to me that for at least a generation, it's been left / progressive / centrist types who look for accommodation, and for ways to work with their opponents. I don't have a comprehensive list of historical examples at my fingertips, but contrast that with the nasty, vindictive, triumphalist and scorched-earth approach evident on the other side. Has anyone seen the currently ascendant right-wing types ever compromise on anything? Ever back down? Ever give so much as an inch, or a nod, or even appear to consider that their opponents might, just possibly, have a point?

No, I can't think of a single instance either. And that's why the goalposts have been pushed so far to the wrong side. It's not so much a matter of finding common ground as a case of one side giving ground and the other side taking it. Tom Tomorrow's recent 'toon celebrating the "new bipartisanship" sums it up nicely:

So, while I can admire Mez for his principle, his devotion to civility and his generosity of spirit, I have to qualify that praise and situate it strictly in a tactical sense. Strategically, the task for progressives is a lot more daunting.


  1. nicely done .... this whole debate reminds me of some ideas expressed by bill maher:

    we gotta work it out somehow.

  2. Yeah, well. I don't always agree with Maher but he had Stewart & Colbert's number there. I flagged that segment as well ...

  3. I had a discussion on FB with Mez over this when Ford was engaged in his TCHC Shock and Awe tactics. Often is the case that you either agree with the Fords of this world, or you are against them.

    For example, try using a 'wait and see' approach with Transit City. Too late.