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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Again: Stop it, all of you. We need to take the long view

(I've been looking for the Blame Thrower scene from Mystery Men, but crapped out. Anyone finds it, email me.)

Can we please, please, stop the post-election fingerpointing? Haven't we given the Dark Side enough to chortle over? With every bitter blog post, every recriminating tweet, they're just signalling the waiter for  another round and exchanging high fives.

Herewith, therefore, an exhortation to my friends in the progressive blogosphere, regardless of party affiliation. You know I respect you and value your observations and analyses, even if we don't always agree. You know who you are.

Let us, please, forswear any narrative that seeks to blame Liberals or New Democrats or anyone other than Conservatives and their zombie supporters for the results of yesterday's election. Perhaps there's some merit in examining the effect of vote-splitting in close ridings, but I'm resolved to use that only for whatever tactical advantages may be realized therefrom, and not as a springboard for blame and bitterness. As always, this little corner will stay resolutely non-partisan.

My dear Liberal friends, what do you expect? Do you want the New Democrats to apologize for running a good campaign? For trying to win the election? Isn't that the whole idea of party politics? Is it their fault that they made their best-ever showing? That they managed to convince voters that they were a better choice than you were? That they established a solid, progressive federalist presence in Quebec after you couldn't? Are these things they should feel bad about? You're not entitled to govern, and you're not entitled to Official Opposition status. In the long term, you need to decide what kind of party you want to be: a genuinely progressive party or an empty shell that spouts platitudes about "centrism" while doing Bay Street's bidding.

And my dear NDP friends: perhaps you might give the self-congratulation a rest? OK, you broke the 100-seat barrier, and you've supplanted the Liberals as the Official Opposition. Good for you, but so what? Harper's got his majority now. He can do whatever he wants and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. The Official Opposition might as well be staffed by howler monkeys for all the effect it's going to have. And while you're at it, try reaching out to your Liberal comrades. Whatever you may think of their party as an institution, there are individuals within the group with genuine social consciences and a commitment to progressive ideas. Start looking for common ground.

Much has been written about the numbers, and I'm no happier about them than any of you. The low turnout, the disfiguring corruptions of the gangrenous First-Past-The-Post system, and the enervating cynicism and disaffection that it breeds. Unfortunately, it's what we're stuck with for the next four years, so while I can sympathize with the suggestions that the result would be different if we had proportional representation, or weighted voting, or runoffs or whatever, it's not going to do a lot of good. If we had PR, Harper wouldn't have his majority, no, but then if your grandmother had balls she'd be your grandfather.

We're in for a long haul (no, really?). FPTP is what we're stuck with, and to the extent that party politics are even worthwhile any more, the campaign's got to go street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, riding by riding. But if we don't put the backbiting to bed, we're going to make party politics irrelevant.

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  1. Word.

    We're wasting time. Victory is when the victor is most careless. All eyes need to be on Glorious Leader, but not in fawning support, on the off-chance one of us can snap a phonecam picture of him pocketing the silverware.

    He's in an unenviable situation. Abortion, gay marriage, indigenous rights.... all third rails. He has a caucus pushing him to do the unpopular and unnecessary thing with all of them at once. He also, probably, has the political sense to see that if he does, he'll make Kim Campbell look like a success. So.... potential point of weakness there.

    There will be others. Harpy is rigid and doesn't take criticism well. Let's make this the longest and most miserable four years of his life.

  2. In Quebec, anyway, right wing scum governments are despised in record time. Charest Part I and Charest Part III come to mind. I'm so proud of Quebec. Why even the neoliberal Bouchard had the sense to run by claiming Charest a threat to the Quebec Model. Ontario, well, they re-elected that stupid Harris regime to majorities. If anyone should be blamed Ontario should be. They have been well trained. They reflexively lament the Rae Days as if each of them were public servants. Yes, every man, woman and child there were public servants. All of Ontario's troubles are blamed on McGuinty and all that is good is credited to Harper. The media tells them to do it. Idiots.

  3. Sunsin:

    Good points. Steve's renowned for his ironclad message control, but one wonders - now that he's got his majority, do the muzzles come off people like Maurice Vellacott and Cheryl Gallant?

  4. Unfortunately, it's what we're stuck with for the next four years...

    Why? Electoral reform is an issue that cuts across ideological lines. See Coyne, Andrew. See the Advisory Board at Fair Vote Canada. Don't just give up ground on it. Push back or it will never change.

  5. pogge:

    Can't disagee with you about the need for electoral reform, but really, what's Steve's incentive to embrace it? The FPTP status quo is working out just fine for him.

    As for Fair Vote Canada, I'm sure Steve will give them just as much respect and attention as he gives any other NGO that doesn't lick his Guccis.

  6. The basic conundrum for Canada's left lies in finding a way to communicate with the electorate. The Harper campaign appealed to anything but reason, focusing instead on fear, greed, tribalism and superstition. It is next nigh to impossible to convert these zombie supporters with facts and logic when Harper engages their reptilian brain centers and activates instinctive survival mechanisms that they then try to justify with pretzel logic.

  7. Well said, OB. I started thinking along the same lines late yesterday after the anger and dispair wore off.

    As per FPTP, it's an anachronistic abomination against which I don't think working within the party system is at all likely to succeed. The Conservatives, Libs have benefitted too much from it in the past. If the NDP were to gain power in a majority in the next election, I don't see them giving it up. If they got a minority, then the Libs and Cons would block it. Without having something seriously committed to prior to a writ - something much stronger than a campaign promise, something that can't be pushed aside without it being political suicide for a leader's political career AND party, I don't see our system reforming itself.

    My cynicism is based on my perception of the psychology of people who become party leaders. You have to WANT that power; you have to SEIZE it. This doesn't square with ceding a lot of it as soon as you get it.

    We need to force the system to change. I think it things like FairVote are a good step but change is going to require a massive populist movement, the engagement of all of the people who think the FPTP system stinks on ice. That means the vast, vast majority of people who are not attached to any of the existing parties.

    My two pence, looking for the other $0.98


    p.s. I post as anonymous because I get errors trying to use OpenId. Any tips?

  8. There's more than one level of government. And momentum matters.

  9. Before, Harper could argue that the dreams of his wildest wingnuts were impossible anyway, since trying to implement them would bring down his minority government. That excuse is gone. A little whispering into the nutcases' ears that Harper might betray them might work wonders as well.

    There are also problems and questions that Harper didn't resolve but just kicked down the road and will meet with again. The pricing for the F-35 is one good example. That bill will come in with hard numbers one day, and he will be shown to be a liar. Denmark, for instance, allocated about 23 billion Canadian dollars to buy fewer planes than we are getting -- coming out to well over 400 million dollars per plane. That won't change many minds, you say? But Harper's share of the vote only went up by two per cent. It doesn't have to change many minds.

  10. The post-electoral frenzy of fingerpointing was inevitable, it's consistent with what goes on among progressives on a regular basis. When the "More Progressive Than Thou" purity evaluations aren't being conducted there's usually a rousing round of the Blame Game keeping everyone entertained.

    But seriously:
    Progressives shouldn't be fingerpointing, they should be soul-searching, figuring out why their message isn't resonating. (I can think of all kinds of reasons, but that's another comment for another day.) Likewise for the NDP. They did well, but for the next 4 years they'll be in the CPC crosshairs, something they're not really accustomed to, and they better be ready for it.

  11. Will you permit an observation from the dark side? Harper Derangement Syndrome is killing all of you and is the cause of your civil war. It is keeping progressives at each others throats and excusing them from actually confronting the demographic, cultural and economic shifts you have to confront and coming up with ideas that have some measure of popular appeal. The man has been in power for five years now and has done none of the scary things you predicted, but all you seem to have done during that time is have fits of the vapours over his every move. Indeed, so predictable and reflexive have become your "shocked and appalled" responses, you've even lost sight of the difference between a serious scandal and run-of-the mill political jousting. And in terms of his so-called disrespect for Parliament and democracy, he has miles to go before he even comes close to what Trudeau did.

    He may have grown horns and a tail for you, but that isn't how he is seen by at least half the population in the ROC and no doubt many more, who view him much more respectfully, even if they don't particularly like him, and a man of considerable strengths and qualifications for the job. You disagree, fine, but you have become so addicted to seeing him as evil incarnate that you have also come to see his supporters in the same way, and you are leaning on a lot of dated stereotypes in so doing. Heather Mallick's absurd comment that he appeals to grumpy old men but not to "women and immigrants" is typical. The fact is the Cons (like Ford) have worked very, very hard and have made huge inroads in the ethnic and New Canadian communities, which has clearly won them bigtime in Toronto and elsewhere. What are you people doing in the small towns besides call people names ("zombie supporters"? Witty.) and make fun of the way they live? (And BTW, anybody who talks about "white suburbs" in 2011 hasn't visited one for a long time.) To be honest, after quite a few years of blogging and tracking progressive sites, I know that you are all very, very angry, but I haven't a clue who you think your constituencies are. It certainly isn't the "working class", who started boring you and morphing into yahoo "fundamentalists" the moment they saved up enough for a starter home in the suburbs,

    Godwin and denial don't add up to a political programme. Sorry, but a lot of you are stuck in a time warp and headed the way of bitter reactionaries if you don't get out more and study what the numbers 2011 actually mean and how folks see issues of importance to them.

    OK, ok, I'm going now.

  12. Dude, I never asked you to leave. You don't have to agree with me to drink here - just DBAA.

  13. @Peter - Well said.

    Hopefully progressives will come to understand that "Harper is Satan, vote for us because we're not him" isn't a very convincing platform. And that the shrieking anti-Harper hysteria indulged by those gripped in the throes of HDS is particularly unhelpful in appealing to the broader electorate.

    "The man has been in power for five years now and has done none of the scary things you predicted..."

    IMO that's why he finally convinced the electorate to give him a majority, and he well knows it. I've always thought it's weird that some people are so convinced that given a majority, Harper would go full-metal theocrat and roll Canada back to the Dark Ages. Harper has governed, by all appearances, as a social moderate. If he touches any of those 3rd rail social issues people are so paranoid about, he breathes new life into the Hidden Agenda meme and he's toast in elxn42. I can't believe he'd be stupid enough to risk losing a majority he's spent 5 long years building. Whatever else he might be, Harper's not stupid.

    That being said, he will probably implement some conservative policies that progressives might not like. Tough luck. Maybe by the next campaign progressive parties will have gotten out to talk to the voters, and actually listened to them, and will run on something a little more substantive than "We're not him".