Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The paranoid style of Canada’s Liberal leadership

In 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote the article “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” to explain the extreme and aggressive style of American right-wing populists. It was consciously a liberal insider’s analysis of political outsiders. Indeed, his article concluded on almost a sympathetic note:
“We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”
The Tea Party movement, the Birthers and Obama’s own musing about middle class angst brought the image of the right-wing paranoid back to help explain the dyspeptic nature of US politics today.
In Canada, conservatives are watchful but hardly driven by demons; they are in office in Ottawa, Toronto and most of western Canada and, otherwise, are making money.
There may be no authentic paranoid force in Canada. Nevertheless, many successful Canadian politicians appeal to irrational fear.
Ironically, the politics of paranoia is practiced as high art by the leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party. Of course, their best practitioners are highly polished; some may carry back packs, but none own Harleys. Liberals are generally highly educated, and survived with ease the financial collapse of 2008. They are not without influence. Nor do they believe that the majority of other Canadians are misguided and living in sin. Indeed, they’re sure that their thinking is utterly mainstream.
Nevertheless, they were thrown out of office five years ago and that still drives them crazy.  The US nut bar lost sleep over the so-called missile gap.  The Canadian Liberal can’t rest out of office. Their intolerable discomfort in opposition forced this election and their likely humiliation next week.
In Toronto, yesterday, Michael Ignatieff and former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien put it all on display. The Toronto Star run the headline “Tories a threat to nation Liberals built, Chretien says.”
“What is important is, we built a country together,” Chrétien said. “I see you, you’ve come from all over the world to share our values of being a Canadian.
“But if you’re not careful, you might lose them one by one,” said Chrétien, who bounded onto the stage to shake hands with the assembled local Liberal candidates.
When he first entered politics in 1963, there was no medicare, no Canada Pension Plan, no Canadian flag, no national anthem and the Constitution was a British law, he told the crowd. And at that time there were no guarantees of individual rights through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he added.”
Ignatieff broadened the net, dropping the pretence that he’s preparing to assume the responsibilities of office:
“On the issue of Iraq, Ignatieff said the thing he has learned in dealing with the United States “is you don’t believe what the American tells you.”
Really? It’s the Liberal Party, not a time-tested national consensus that upholds our national institutions? And protects us from lying Americans?
Ignatieff also insisted to the Toronto Star Editorial Board that the Liberal Party’s “tradition” is too unique to allow for a merger with the NDP.
The language of the American paranoid is laced with American exceptionalism. The rhetoric of Canada’s Liberal Party is exceptional as well.