Friday, October 06, 2006

On stale talking points

There is, perhaps, no book that was as poorly-timed as Stephen Clarkson's The Big Red Machine. With the sub-title "How the Liberal Party dominates Canadian politics", the book seems almost quaint these days. I'm not saying that the Liberal Party is doomed to wither and die - though we don't know how the leadership race will play out yet, do we? - but it's become increasingly clear in the years since 2004 that the Liberal Party's so called "dominance" during the 1990s was due to a combination of a divided right and a supine left. The moment the Conservatives finally got together and the NDP found a leader who could do what had become unthinkable - add seats in Parliament - the Liberals were in trouble.

There's certainly value to a political system that fetishizes financially-competent management and socially-moderate policies, which the Liberals under Jean Chretien did in spades. At the very least, it makes for predictable policies. However, the other thing Chretien did was appeal to the general Canadian population, with a side of mockery for Stockwell Day. Paul Martin seemed to appeal to nobody outside of the Liberal Party, and fewer of them as time went on.

The point of all this is simply to say that the Liberals began to believe their own hype. Believing they were the Natural Governing Party, they treated Conservative voters as race traitors, and the NDP as thieves. The idea of voters as conscious, agency-bearing individuals never seemed to occur to them. The moment that a serious challenge was posed on both sides of the political spectrum, suddenly the talking points behind Liberal dominance became inoperative.

I bring this all up not to bash the Liberal Party - though I of course enjoy that - but to talk about Stephen Harper, who I enjoy bashing even more. Wonderdog, in comments, writes:
If we can't divorce our operations in Afghanistan from the "war on terror" rhetoric (which Harper, unfortunately, seems very fond of), we will lose.
It's ironic - or something - that the war in Afghanistan, the genuine war that was a response to an attack from international terrorists, is now at risk of being lost because it's too closely associated with George W. Bush's War On Terrorism(tm). But whether I like it or not, Harper does indeed enjoy the rhetoric of the GWOT.

The problem is that, once more, the talking points have become stale. They were never terribly popular in Canada in the first place, which is probably why the Liberals seemed careful to not associate themselve too closely with this war. On the one hand, this leaves them open to accusations of not supporting the troops, yadda yadda yadda. Nevertheless, it also leaves them the opportunity to oppose the mission that they initiated - something the Democrats were unable to do in Vietnam, for example.

(As an aside, this will be immensely unfair if the Liberals manage it. This mission changed under Martin, Hillier was named as Chief of Defense Staff under Martin, and this war in Afghanistan really is a Liberal War as much as a Tory one. All the same, Harper has tried damn hard to make it His War in a way Martin and Chretien never did. So you reap what you sow, I guess.)

The polls are all over the place*, but it's pretty clear that Afghanistan is a hard sell, and unlikely to get less so before the next election. Harper can't change this dynamic by accusing 50-60% of Canadians of hating the troops, or saying that all of us want the terrorists to win. If there's a spring election, it might coincide with a new offensive by the Taliban forces, giving Harper the complication of drumming up support for a mission while caskets are being flown home.

He's welcome to try and win the next election with the old talking points, but frankly I think he'll be even less successful than Martin was. As for the Liberals, if they were smart, they'd choose the leader least-burdened with Afghanistan and Iraq-associations, if only to give that leader the room to maneuver around Harper effectively.

Of course, Michael Ignatieff is leading in the leadership contest.

*The latest poll shows Canadian support for the war up to 57%, but it's been done by CanWest, our own homegrown version of Fox News. Frankly, I'm skeptical.

2 comments:

Olaf said...

John,

As you know I love your stuff, but I seriously disagree with your Afghan position. I don't know how much of my Afghan stuff you've braved, but I feel very strongly that we can either keep the troops in the region to help provide security, or abandon the country altogether to the Taliban. I don't really see another solution.

So, if you think that we should abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban, than so be it, but say that... don't muse about 'maybe talks will work', and 'there has to be another way', if you can't propose why the talks would work with the obstinate members of the Taliban (Mullah Omar gonna run as an MP?), and you can't propose what that 'other way' is.

Also, I know that you didn't make such statements in this post, although I think I've gleaned it from other threads and posts (set me straight if I've misrepresented you).

So, here's the deal. I challenge you to run your next post with the title "Abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban", or perhaps the less brash "Let Afghans Fend for themselves", if you think that we should pull our troops out because the mission is not worth it or is futile.

Or, if you think that troops should only be engaged in reconstruction missions (which is what the latest two fallen Canadians were doing, incidentally), than I challenge you to run a post with the headline "Allow Canadian soldiers to be sitting ducks for Taliban suicide bombers".

Ok, I might have gone too far, but I guess I just don't understand what reasonable alternatives there are that can be accomplished without physical security.

If you won't listen to me, listen to The Globe Ed. Board

auntiegrav said...

If I was Canadian, I would say that this is the USEmpire's problem, since it is their consumption that wants control of the world, Canadians should pull out and raise the price of natural gas.
But that would be the logical thing to do.
America is like the spoiled child and they won't look for alternative ways of doing things differently until it really hurts or they lose an arm(y). We just keep looking to the Oil Mommy to keep pumping energy into the economy so we can be entertained away from reality.
If you want change, keep it in your pocket. Starve the rich.