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)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stephen Harper’s moral culpability for the robo-calls affair

The scrupulous integrity of Conservative campaign manager Guy Giorno, the good judgement of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and their knowledge of the law—coupled with lack of evidence—are slowly having their effect.
Now, no one is even playing with the theory that Harper won his precious majority by tricking his opponents into an unpopular election and, then, orchestrating a vast conspiracy to suppress tens of thousands of voters who wanted to elect Michael Ignatieff as Prime Minister of Canada.
John Ibbitson formally buried the plot yesterday in “The case against a conspiracy.” He went on, however, to make a claim against Harper that deserves careful consideration, particularly in this American election year:
“That doesn’t mean the robo-calls affair is bogus – far from it. The Conservative leadership fostered such a hyper-partisan climate within the party that some person or persons at the riding or even regional level may have felt justified in crossing the line of legality. But this makes Mr. Harper, Mr. Giorno et al morally, not legally, culpable. Voters, not judges, will decide what punishment they deserve.”
What is a “hyper-partisan climate” anyway? And when does it become morally and, conceivably, legally culpable?
Is having a winning zeal for the fight a vice or is the offense actually wanting to beat Liberals?
(Conservatives usually know when you are working in a losing campaign: journalists will note that campaign workers are realistic and surprisingly “thoughtful.”)
Excess in politics is often a matter of taste and expectations.
The clenched fist is cool in Facebook and cute when raised by a naïf in a park. However, wouldn’t you feel a little creepy if Bob Rae in a blue suit tried it at the Empire Club, or Thomas Mulcair used it at the New Democrats' Leadership Convention? Or any Senator in the US Senate?
Hyper-partisan slogans such as “Canada can’t afford Michael Ignatieff” or “Another four years of Stephen Harper and You Won’t Recognize Your Canada” or,  for instance, in the US, “America won’t survive another four years of Barack Obama” are junk food for paranoids and partisans.
They don’t, however, invite partisan zombies to commit crimes; they offer silly reasons to vote for the other guy. It’s a form of pollution we must live with—the ugly canary in the cave, if you will.
To hold politicians in competitive mass democracies morally accountable for the conduct of zealots—after they commit crimes—would emasculate open debate and would also be ridiculously inefficient.
Canadians should stop fretting about “American-style” dirty tricks, as if the US of A invents all the dirty politics, along with original sin. Politicians and pundits in Canada would be better served to stand up and embrace America’s best defense against political corruption today—political satire.
By emulating Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Canada’s long-faced political analysts could do a much better job of exposing the hilarious excesses of the “hyper-partisan” talk we hear every day.
Just one new Mordecai Richler in Toronto or Montreal—or, imagine, Ottawa—would be worth half a dozen judicial inquiries and another three years of censure motions in Canada’s Parliament.

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