Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Liberal confirmation bias

About two years ago, the Liberals spent a bunch of time insisting that the NDP was attacking only them and ignoring the Conservatives. Unfortunately for them, though, it turned out that when you actually started looking at the evidence, a very different picture emerged. That evidence revealed that the NDP was not only criticizing both of their opponents, but was in fact was criticizing the Conservatives quite a bit more frequently than they were criticizing the Liberals. Oops.

This sort of mistaken conclusion can arise because of what in the social sciences is called a confirmation bias. In a nutshell, this is a tendency to look for information that confirms the hypothesis you already hold about a situation, and avoid all the information that contradicts it. In the context of current-day Canadian politics, it's clear how such a bias might come about. The Liberals see the political scene as entirely binary, with the Conservatives as the bad guys and the Liberals as the good guys. The assumption that follows from this is that the NDP (being generally decent folk, if a little misguided) will criticize the bad guys and let the good guys be.

The confirmation bias arises in the varying ways different NDP criticisms are evaluated by Liberals. All NDP criticisms of the Conservatives are ignored--that's just the proper way of things, after all. At the same time, any NDP criticisms of the Liberals are considered unusual and therefore noteworthy. What emerges is a false, yet fervently-accepted-as-true picture in which the NDP is completely refraining from criticizing the Conservatives but directing deadly blasts at the Liberals. This isn't in any way malicious or deliberately deceptive; it's a very normal reaction to falling victim to your own biases about what the world's supposed to look like. It should be clear, though, that without reference to any actual data, everything said along these lines is complete conjecture. And in addition, if the aforementioned track record is anything to go on, it's almost certainly incorrect.

Well, it seems that everything old is new again, and the very same accusations have resurfaced in the wake of the recent by-elections. This time, though, there's no outrage, just a smug "this strategy of yours of attacking the Liberals while ignoring the Conservatives, it's not working!" As before, there's no evidence to back up the notion that such behaviour is even going on. Of course the NDP is attacking the Liberals and ignoring the Conservatives, everybody knows that. And by the way, have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Now, I haven't looked at any data myself, so who knows, they might be right this time. But it's certainly not what I'm seeing through my own, New-Democrat-coloured glasses. Instead, what I'm seeing is the NDP speaking out against everything they disagree with, whether it comes from the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc, or the Greens. Most of the time, these criticisms tend to be statements along the lines that the Conservatives are doing something lousy but the Liberals weren't much better when they were in government, or that the Liberals are doing something that's making it easier for the Conservatives to do something they disagree with. Which doesn't exactly amount to "attacking the Liberals while ignoring the Conservatives."

I'm asking the Liberal bloggers, then, to put up or shut up. Either give us some data to back up your spurious accusations, or quit making them. If it turns out you're right, I'll grant you the point. But I suspect the results of any serious investigation into the matter might surprise you quite a bit.

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pat Martin helping to sweep the Cadman mess under the rug is pretty low.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anon,

They say that 'data' is the plural of 'anecdote'. In this post, I'm asking for the former.

Anonymous said...

Layton voted against a 2007 Liberal/BLoc motion to pull the troops out in 2009.

Of course, once it was too late to pull our troops out without leaving a vacuum in Kandahar, Layton's pricks were all for it.

There's more but I have to catch the bus.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anon,

Since you seem not to have actually read the post you're responding to, let me be clear here in the comments.

What you are doing here is listing what you perceive as a series of NDP failings. This provides absolutely no evidence to back up the notion that the NDP is "attacking the Liberals while ignoring the Conservatives." In fact, it doesn't even prove that the NDP is attacking the Liberals--you're not bringing up NDP criticisms, just other perceived NDP failings.

But even if you were listing a series of NDP criticisms of the Liberals, even that wouldn't qualify as the sort of objective data I'm asking for. That's my whole point about observation bias--you're only looking at one side of things, not evaluating things methodically and systematically.

What real data might look like in this context is, for example, a comprehensive list of all NDP criticisms in Question Period, or on their website. ("Comprehensive" means ALL of the criticisms, not picking and choosing what jumps out at you.) You'd "show your work," i.e., you'd spell out exactly how you were coding the criticisms as being either of the Liberals or of the Conservatives, and you'd say explicitly how you handle criticms of both. And then you can go through and count up how many criticisms are of the Conservatives, and how many are of the Liberals, figuring percentages for each.

Put up or shut up. With real data, not confirmation bias-influenced single occurrences.

Mark Francis said...

This is going to be a hard one to quantify, so I'm not trying.

Isn't it obvious that Layton should be going along with the Liberals as anything that hurts the Liberals helps Harper? ;)

Anyway, I'm a Liberal, but I'm certainly not binary. Actually, I should say that I'm binary but not with just one bit. I have at least a whole word going for me, if not an entire byte.

Steve V said...

"About two years ago, the Liberals spent a bunch of time insisting that the NDP was attacking only them and ignoring the Conservatives. Unfortunately for them, though, it turned out that when you actually started looking at the evidence, a very different picture emerged. That evidence revealed that the NDP was not only criticizing both of their opponents, but was in fact was criticizing the Conservatives quite a bit more frequently than they were criticizing the Liberals. Oops."

IP, I suggest a quick re-read of Hansard after the last election. I distinctly remember watching QP, wondering when it was exactly that Layton was going to ask the government a question, that didn't take a shot at the Liberals. I remember this well, because I voted NDP in that election, and it was about then that I pledged to never do so again, the political opportunism so craven, all the principled posturing evaporated. That was the "evidence" I saw.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Mark,

Oh, come on, it wouldn't be hard to quantify at all! The kind of little "study" I outline in the fourth comment on this post is quite doable.

I won't insist that you do it, though, as long as you also don't make any accusations you can't back up. Deal?

Steve,

Three points:

1) I'd like to hear your response to the evidence presented in the first three links of this post.

2) Talking about how you felt when you watched QP isn't data, or evidence. That's the very sort of situation that can produce a confirmation bias. The point of actually looking at the data systematically is to do away with such a bias.

3) "Asking the government a question that doesn't take a pot shot at the Liberals" is quite different from "attacking the Liberals and ignoring the Conservatives." Unless the questions actually failed to attack the Conservatives, that is. If you think the NDP should only criticize the Conservatives, then say that (although I'm not sure why a political party should be required to only criticize one of their opponents), but don't refer to that behaviour as "attacking the Liberals and giving the Tories a free ride" when in reality both are being criticized.

Steve V said...

IP, you asked for proof:

Jack Layton, first day of QP after the election:

"Mr. Speaker, 13 years ago a Liberal government was elected on a commitment to build child care spaces across the country. Three majority governments, eight surplus budgets and not a single child care space was built...."

Jack Layton, second day of QP after the election:

"Mr. Speaker, 13 years ago the Liberals promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. Instead, they went up by 24% or more. Even George Bush had a better record in dealing with pollution than the previous government."


Jack Layton, third day of QP after the election:

"Mr. Speaker, for 13 years the Liberals promised that they would protect public health care in this country. Then we saw provinces chipping away at our public health care system. One could think of Alberta. What did we get from the Liberals? We got a beating of the chest, we got the occasional letter, and we got ever decreasing fines being called upon. They did absolutely nothing to stop the growth of for profit medicine and the deterioration of medicine in this country."


And on, and on, and on.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Steve,

Let me spell this out again.

Picking and choosing individual examples does not constitute evidence. That is the very sort of action that produces a confirmation bias. The existence of a few examples along the lines of your accusations does not prove that all of the examples were like that.

The accusation at hand is "the NDP is criticizing the Liberals and ignoring the Conservatives." Proving that requires looking at all NDP criticisms (or at least all of them from a particular time period), and showing that this data set includes absolutely no criticisms of the Conservatives.

Given the hyperbole that pervades politics and the blogosphere, though, I'll cut you some slack. If you can show that there are more NDP accusations of the Liberals than there are of the Tories in a comprehensive data set, I'll happily grant you the point. (Even though that wouldn't prove the accusation as stated.)

Put up or shut up.

Steve V said...

"Picking and choosing individual examples does not constitute evidence."

The fact you see what I presented as such, is evidence of your own bias.

I also remember this was the same time that Layton and Harper had all those meetings, where they were clearly plotting the Liberal "squeeze". As I said, I voted NDP just weeks before, so that speaks for itself. What a turnoff, what a disappointment, so freaking obvious to the point of embarrassing.

I am quite comfortable with my perceptions. The evidence speaks for itself, I didn't pick and choose, I LOOKED AT THE FIRST THREE DAYS. It took me about 85 seconds.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

P.S. to Steve: I'm still awaiting your response to the evidence from the last time someone actually looked at the data comprehensively. It's from the time period you're talking about, so it's quite relevant to the accusation you're making now.

Steve V said...

It's not an accusation, it's just fact. Why are you asking the government questions, and referencing the Liberals? Those questions I showed speak volumes about the NDP strategy. Frankly, I'm not going to put the energy into graphs, or whatever, IMHO it was too obvious for words, and that's why I started looking elsewhere. I voted NDP, so your bias argument evaporates- I wanted to believe!

Steve V said...

PS, I still like you :)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Steve,

You are absolutely picking and choosing the words that fit your theory. That's not my bias speaking, it's a fact. You took three questions asked by Layton and pulled out the words that were critical of the Liberals. You did not show that he failed to criticize the Conservatives in those three questions. You didn't even show that he criticized the Liberals more than the Conservatives in those three questions. Those also weren't the only questions asked by the NDP on those three days--you picked out the ones that jumped out at you.

As far as "I voted NDP, so your bias argument evaporates" goes--I don't buy that at all. The Liberals enjoy a very unusual position in Canadian society. You don't have to be a partisan Liberal to find a third party criticizing the Liberals so shocking that you completely overlook all the criticisms of the Tories. It hadn't happened before.

Evidence doesn't "speak for itself," it requires comprehensive examination. I realize that you have strong feelings about this, and that you expected something different from Layton after the last election. Strong feelings and expectations, however, do not constitute data. I'm asking for data.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Steve,

If your real accusation is "the NDP has been attacking both the Liberals and the Conservatives," then I will agree with you 100%. I won't even demand data to back it up, since that statement can be backed up by a single example. It's not nearly as inflammatory "the NDP has been attacking the Liberals and not the Conservatives," though.

Steve V said...

"Those also weren't the only questions asked by the NDP on those three days--you picked out the ones that jumped out at you."

What I did, is go to the first day of QP, looked under Layton, and copied and paste the first thing he said. I then went to the second day, looked
under Layton, and copy and pasted the first thing he said. You get the gist, I didn't select, it just came to me. I didn't pick the ninth day, then go to the fourteenth day, then the twentieth, to fit it into my thesis, I just looked, there it was.

Justin Socie said...

Ok - I did some fact checking for you.

Looking at the last 20 press releases by the NDP (all the ones on the first page), they have criticized the Cons 13 times, and the Libs 10 times. Interestingly, they have given the Cons a pass on the scandals that have hit them lately (Cadman affair, NAFTA-gate).

Looking at 20 press releases from July 9, 2004 to Oct 7, 2004 (the oldest press releases on the site, from when the Libs were in government) the NDP criticized the Libs 16 times and the Cons exactly zero times.

Obviously, there are going to be methodological issues if we are going to extrapolate anything from this study - but here I go anyways:

It seems that the NDP has criticized the Cons a shade more than the Libs. If we look at this alone, then your thesis seems to be confirmed.

We should note though that the NDP have given the Cons a pass on the particularly damaging issues for them. There is an argument that the NDP are crticizing the Cons to keep up appearances of opposition to them, but is giving them a pass on anything that could actually damage them.

I suspect the main issue of disagreement here is that Lib supporters expect the NDP to criticize the government. When the Libs were in government, it seems that the NDP focused on them exclusively. Now that the Cons are in government, it's basically a 50/50 proposition between the Cons and the Libs.

So, there you go. We have some stats to play with, though obviously the size of the sample isn't great. I would've done a more thorough study, but I have to run to class now.

bza said...

Steve,

Layton was criticizing the Liberals frequently in early 2006 since they just lost the election and the Conservatives had no government record yet.

However, if you take a closer look at what individual MPs and the NDP as a whole has done lately you'll see a very different picture emerge. We have seen what Hansard said, lets also take a look at press releases, since they are a good indication at the kind of message being put out by the party.

Take an NDP MP like Bill Siksay for example. If you scan through all of the press releases he released in the past year you'll find no criticism of the Liberals at all: http://action.web.ca/home/billsiksay/en_alerts.shtml?template=no&nolinks=1&scroll_robot=2

Or even scan the NDP press releases in the past 3 months: http://www.ndp.ca/headlines?from=0&limit=20.

There I counted 15 specific criticisms of the Conservatives and only 3 specific criticisms of the Liberals. Including one criticizing the current Liberals for not being enough like Lester Pearson. Which is kind of backhanded praise in a way.

IP is right, when one takes a closer look at the evidence, especially since the Conservatives actually started to govern and implement policies, its clear that the NDP has criticized the Conservatives more than the Liberals.

Justin Socie said...

How the hell did you only find 3 criticisms?

Josh Gould said...

Setting aside that you are providing a non-random sample, let's examine your claims in turn:

Looking at the last 20 press releases by the NDP (all the ones on the first page), they have criticized the Cons 13 times, and the Libs 10 times. Interestingly, they have given the Cons a pass on the scandals that have hit them lately (Cadman affair, NAFTA-gate).

Pray tell, which of the following do NOT criticize the Cons?

Fri 14 Mar 2008
Conservatives and Liberals extend Afghanistan mission: NDP stands up for peace

Mon 3 Mar 2008
Layton to Obama, Clinton: You have an ally with the NDP on NAFTA

Sat 1 Mar 2008
NDP announces Poverty Critic

Tue 26 Feb 2008
Budget extends agenda that fails working families
Corporate tax giveaways outstrip new funding 6 to 1

Wed 20 Feb 2008
NDP takes on Harper budget, Harper agenda
Mulcair says Flaherty must “make the right choices”; reverse flawed agenda

Tue 19 Feb 2008
NDP calls on Harper to implement stronger health system now

Mon 18 Feb 2008
NDP calls on Harper to give Canadians a Family Day holiday

Fri 15 Feb 2008
REALITY CHECK: Why should we believe Dion on infrastructure this time?

Fri 15 Feb 2008
Harper can't be trusted to change the way Ottawa works
Your money ... their friends

Thu 14 Feb 2008
Layton to Harper: increase, extend transit funding
‘Federal transit funding should be entrenched in law’, Layton tells Mayors

Thu 14 Feb 2008
NDP introduces bill to eliminate conflict of interest over CNSC

Fri 8 Feb 2008
NDP calls on Conservatives to address infrastructure deficit

Fri 8 Feb 2008
NDP condemns refusal to review sale of CBC program rights

Fri 8 Feb 2008
NDP calls for ban on bisphenol A in children’s food containers

Wed 6 Feb 2008
NDP says Conservatives’ record on housing is shameful

Wed 23 Jan 2008
Housing plea is a wake-up call for Harper

Tue 22 Jan 2008
NDP rejects call to extend Afghan combat mission
Manley recommendation inconsistent with Canada’s role in the world

Sat 19 Jan 2008
NDP launches 5 point plan to reduce gun violence
Includes Support for ‘Absolute Ban’ of Handguns in Toronto

Fri 18 Jan 2008
NDP demands cell phone cost crackdown

Fri 18 Jan 2008
NDP urges Conservatives to crack down on internet child pornography


As far as I can tell, the only press releases which specifically target the Liberals are the first - which criticizes them (and the Cons) for supporting the Afghan mission extension - and the "reality check" concerning the Liberal record on infrastructure. It is not exactly a new tactic for the NDP to criticize the Liberals as being "progressive" only when campaigning.

Looking at 20 press releases from July 9, 2004 to Oct 7, 2004 (the oldest press releases on the site, from when the Libs were in government) the NDP criticized the Libs 16 times and the Cons exactly zero times.

Without looking it up, I fail to see why the NDP should have been criticizing the Cons at the time, who were not in government and, more importantly, had no record to criticize. Of course, the current situation is far different, with the Cons trying to out do the Liberals when it comes to patronage.

So, your sample fails. Please see solutions (a phrase I've been writing far too much lately on far too many tests).

Wheatsheaf said...

Loving the post.

I am just dumbfounded why the Liberals and the Toronto Star even care that the NDP spends time attacking both the Liberals AND the Conservatives. We get flack for ignoring the Greens, but the Greens coalition partner wants us to ignore the Liberals. Are the Liberals so great that they don't deserve criticism? Or do they just forget that the NDP is a separate party with different supporters?

janfromthebruce said...

Justin, you just said that Layton gave a pass to the Cons on NAFTA-gate. I guess you weren't watching Layton on American TV, or you would have known right away that he did just that.
But more importantly, Layton was doing what social democrats do best, fighting for better environmental and labour standards for all ordinary citizens of all 3 countries. I like that kind of partisan bent, went after cons for interference, and going for the better deal for the most people cause that is who the NDP represents - people politics not party politics.

Interestingly, they have given the Cons a pass on the scandals that have hit them lately (Cadman affair, NAFTA-gate).

Of course, this is the kind of bias IP is talking about. Ignoring the rest and focussing on one that validates one's "special lens."

Woman at Mile 0 said...

So your point here is that the NDP like to spread it around so the Libs and Cons are getting equal time at the end of the NDP battering ram? I guess we should all feel better now eh? To me it would seem the Cons are in power and screwing us over and that is where opposition anger should be directed. As for bloggers.... I would bet if you added Lib posts that slam the NDP versus NDP posts that slam the Libs in the past 6 months...the NDP bloggers win hands down. I feel it personally because I often refrain from noting and commenting on their theatric tirades towards the Libs. Frankly I try to mostly ignore them and this is because a lot of my friends are NDP and as a supporter of PR I really don't see as many insurmountable differences between us as some die hard NDPer's seem to see. In the end I just don't say everything I want to say. Not a bias at all, just want to focus my ire where it should be directed...the Cons.

Sean S. said...

women mile 0 - who cares about bloggers? really?

So you answer to IPs complete debunking of the Liberal complaint of NDP bias is to say "but the bloggers!"?

Personally, I have focused specifically on the Liberals when they (mostly the Lib-bloggers) bring up the same old tired arguements against the NDP....go ahead take a look at the archives.

Finally, how are the NDP supposed to gain seats across the board by focusing just on the Cons while giving the Libs a complete pass? Or are we falling back to the same old tired argument that the NDP should be helping the Liberals form government? Yawn...

IP...great post, though I doubt this will stop Lib-bloggers and media types from re-hashing a poor arguement.

catherine said...

I got turned off the NDP just for this reason, and I can say that once this becomes a serious concern for an NDP voter, examples are very easy to find and we don't keep scorecards or databanks.

When you keep data, how do you count things like the recent environmental confidence motion? Given that there were no shortage of confidence motions that the Liberals were clearly all avoiding because they didn't want to trigger an election, the NDP knew full well that they could put forward ANY confidence motion and the Liberals would find a way of not triggering an election. Do you count this as attacking Harper or attacking the Liberals? To me it is such an obvious ploy (Harper uses it a lot) that I know exactly what side it belongs on in your datachart, but I also recognize that as an NDPer you may not agree.

Justin Socie said...

Josh:

Thanks for the feedback.

Setting aside that you are providing a non-random sample

I said that it wsn't random. It's a comparison of the most recent 20 press releases (the first page) with the oldest 20 (the last page, plus 4 to make it even). While that isn't random, it isn't slanted either.

Pray tell, which of the following do NOT criticize the Cons?

These ones (from the top to the bottom of the page): Mar 3, Mar 1, Feb 18, Feb 14 (CNSC release), Feb 8, Jan 19, Jan 18 (Anti-Child Porn).


As far as I can tell, the only press releases which specifically target the Liberals are the first - which criticizes them (and the Cons) for supporting the Afghan mission extension - and the "reality check" concerning the Liberal record on infrastructure.

You have to actually read the press releases, rather than just the headlines.

Without looking it up, I fail to see why the NDP should have been criticizing the Cons at the time, who were not in government and, more importantly, had no record to criticize.

Fair point. That is certainly a difference between the two situations. The Libs are not in government either, but they were fairly recently. I wonder if in 1993 the NDP basically split criticism between the governing Libs and the just-vanquished PC's?



Jan:

Justin, you just said that Layton gave a pass to the Cons on NAFTA-gate. I guess you weren't watching Layton on American TV, or you would have known right away that he did just that.

My sample was press releases, not TV appearances. That would be an interesting sample to take as well.


Of course, this is the kind of bias IP is talking about. Ignoring the rest and focussing on one that validates one's "special lens."

You show a laughable lack of self-awareness on that one. You provided one example of a TV interview that you saw, which is outside the scope of the sample, and used that to support your already-held position.

I presented a small sample of stats, and then just drew a few fairly obvious conclusions from them. I don't think that my conclusions should be particularly offensive to supporters of either party. The fact that the NDP given a pass in their press releases on the two scandals plaguing the government is inarguably noteworthy.

Jay said...

Can I fill this commercial break by saying thanks and kudos to you, IP? Again this week, and more than once, you have distinguished yourself through your intellectual honesty and especially your respectful patience. You are a progressive model here in the blogosphere. Thank you.

bza said...

justin,

funny we both analyzed the press releases at the same time. i probably had a slightly different methodology than you did.

i just looked at the title to see if it criticized the conservatives or liberals and didn't read the rest of it.

your analysis is probably correct, i just used a different methodology. and i would agree with your findings that the conservatives were criticized more than the liberals. though the liberals were criticized when it warranted it.

Justin Socie said...

and i would agree with your findings that the conservatives were criticized more than the liberals. though the liberals were criticized when it warranted it.

Hahaha. That's quite the spin. ;-)

Woman at Mile 0 said...

Sean S...I believe I started my comment by stating I agreed with SteveV who was arguing that the NDP party was attacking the Libs as much as the NDP. I added the part about NDP bloggers as an observation.

Josh Gould said...

When you keep data, how do you count things like the recent environmental confidence motion? Given that there were no shortage of confidence motions that the Liberals were clearly all avoiding because they didn't want to trigger an election, the NDP knew full well that they could put forward ANY confidence motion and the Liberals would find a way of not triggering an election. Do you count this as attacking Harper or attacking the Liberals? To me it is such an obvious ploy (Harper uses it a lot) that I know exactly what side it belongs on in your datachart, but I also recognize that as an NDPer you may not agree.'

This is one of the most ridiculous arguments I've seen yet. So the Liberals shouldn't be criticized for attacking the Harper government endlessly, and then turning around and voting (or abstaining) to keep them in power? If the CPC is so bad that the NDP should focus all its attention on the Harper government, then why the hell are the Liberals not voting to bring them down?

The alternatives are straightforward:

1) The CPC isn't really that bad after all, and so the Liberals shouldn't be criticized for, yes, postponing an election.

2) The CPC really is that bad and should be defeated as soon as possible, in which case the Liberals should justly be criticized for not expediting such a defeat (which, I should note, the NDP caucus is repeatedly voting for).

3) The CPC really is that bad and should be defeated as soon as possible, which only means that it should happen as soon as the Liberals (a) find the courage of their convictions and start articulating a clear policy alternative to the government and (b) get their organizational problems dealt with. In other words, we shouldn't have an election until the bright lights in the party office think they can win it. Since the strategic interests of the Liberal Party certainly take precedence over, say, the interests of the country generally, it is not right for the NDP to criticize it for its increasingly long string of abstentions and legislative backtracking (see RESP, tax credit for).

I personally think No. 3 is the correct answer.

These ones (from the top to the bottom of the page): Mar 3, Mar 1, Feb 18, Feb 14 (CNSC release), Feb 8, Jan 19, Jan 18 (Anti-Child Porn).

None of those criticize the Liberals either; they are in most cases simply examples of the NDP calling upon Harper to do something consistent with NDP policy (unlikely, but there you are - that's what opposition parties do).

Justin Socie said...

None of those criticize the Liberals either; they are in most cases simply examples of the NDP calling upon Harper to do something consistent with NDP policy (unlikely, but there you are - that's what opposition parties do).

That's true: the ones where the NDP didn't criticize the Cons, they also often didn't criticize the Libs. That doesn't change the final 13 to 10 outcome.

catherine said...

I think the National Post has your answer:

"Although he denied the NDP has deliberately made the Liberals the brunt of its public attacks, Mr. Layton was nonetheless scathing in his criticism of Mr. Dion for keeping the Conservatives in office."

It's those adjectives like "scathing" that people think of when they see Layton's zeal for attacking Dion. Difficult to put a number of it.

Blogging Horse said...

IP, you are setting up a clinic in spin-busting. Hat's off.

You hit it on the head when you said "The Liberals see the political scene as entirely binary, with the Conservatives as the bad guys and the Liberals as the good guys. The assumption that follows from this is that the NDP (being generally decent folk, if a little misguided) will criticize the bad guys and let the good guys be."

As someone said once, Liberals have become accustomed to expecting the NDP to be Robin to their Batman.

They haven't faced a strong challenge from the left since 1988. And having allowed their left to atrophy over that period Liberals are today super-sensitive to any attack on it. One attack against their failures on child care or the environment is 10 times louder than the din of NDP attacks on Harper.

So they run to the media screaming "the NDP only attacks us" and their now laughable "the NDP has been propping up Harper". Attacks which - as you are so ably demonstrating - wither under any serious scrutiny.

catherine said...

Josh, I make no claims as to what the NDP should or shouldn't do. Personally, I think when they are so obvious that Harper and Layton are parroting the same tactics and words, Harper benefits more than Layton. But that's just my opinion.

bza said...

Whoops, I should have said 'criticized the Liberals when the NDP felt it was warranted' instead of that its always warranted. My bad, i'm not THAT partiasan. :p

Josh Gould said...

Josh, I make no claims as to what the NDP should or shouldn't do. Personally, I think when they are so obvious that Harper and Layton are parroting the same tactics and words, Harper benefits more than Layton. But that's just my opinion.

I think Harper would benefit a lot less if the Liberals actually stood up to his legislative agenda now and then. Actions speak louder than words, as they say...

Anonymous said...

I think the focus on press releases is a bit of a red herring. Parties release tons of these, most of which get little coverage. Also, a party may have the same amount of press releases on two different subjects, but that doesn't necessarily reflect how much they're focusing they're attacks on it. You’d need to analyze the media, paper and print, QP, etc. Something most people couldn’t be bothered to do to respond to a blog post. Which pretty much means you've made it nearly impossible for anyone to give an answer you'd accept that contradicts your position.

And even if the NDP is actually attacking the two equally or even the Conservatives more so, that doesn't mean that the attacks get equal coverage. Could be that the media is focusing more on the attacks against the Liberals as that fits with the current narrative. Or maybe people get that impression because the NDP tends to attack both the Cons and Liberals on a given policy issue, and then gets coverage attacking the Liberals on their own issues like abstaining, giving the impression they're giving twice the focus to attacking the Liberals.

Regardless, while I understand your frustration, even if you’re right, I think this post is pretty pointless. Politics is all about impressions and perception. While we’d all be better off if people based their conclusions on hard facts and reasoned analysis, few do. They say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. But if you’re asking people to do quantitative analyses of their beliefs, than I’d say you’ve lost.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Steve,

What I did, is go to the first day of QP, looked under Layton, and copied and paste the first thing he said. I then went to the second day, looked under Layton, and copy and pasted the first thing he said.

If you want to prove that THE NDP is NEVER criticizing the Conservatives, you need to look at ALL of the questions from ALL of the NDP MPs, in their entirety. Not just lift the first couple of sentences and ignore the rest of the question.

Again, if your issue is that it's Layton who's doing the criticizing of the Liberals, SAY that. If your issue is that the NDP is criticizing both parties when you think they should only be criticizing the Conservatives, SAY that. I'm sure we will still have some disagreements, but at least then we can have a discussion that departs from a point of intellectual honesty. Saying that "the NDP is ONLY criticizing the Liberals and IGNORING the Conservatives" isn't intellectually honest, because it's simply not true.

Justin,

Thank you for doing that legwork, and for spelling out your methodology carefully enough that it could be discussed.

We should note though that the NDP have given the Cons a pass on the particularly damaging issues for them.

Can you back that up with data, please? And tell us how you're defining "particularly damaging."

I suspect the main issue of disagreement here is that Lib supporters expect the NDP to criticize the government.

See, I disagree that any party should be required to only criticize one party they disagree with, but at least this is a rational argument. It's a good, intellectually honest point of departure for a discussion. But this isn't the accusation the Liberals are making.

When the Libs were in government, it seems that the NDP focused on them exclusively.

There's that pesky "it seems." Can you back it up with data? I personally remember plenty of NDP criticisms of the Conservatives when the Liberals were in power--they weren't in QP, though, they were in the media. So I'm willing to grant you that if you can back it up.

Woman at Mile 0,

So your point here is that the NDP like to spread it around so the Libs and Cons are getting equal time at the end of the NDP battering ram?

What I have observed is that the NDP criticizes things they disagree with, no matter what party they come from. Like I said, I haven't done any analysis, so I don't know whether they're giving the two parties "equal time."

I'm not talking about bloggers, in any case, so please leave us out of it. I'm talking about the federal NDP caucus, since that's who the accusations of "ignoring the Conservatives" have been aimed at.

I agreed with SteveV who was arguing that the NDP party was attacking the Libs as much as the NDP.

Actually, SteveV was defending the original accusation, which was that the NDP isn't criticizing the Conservatives AT ALL.

catherine,

I can say that once this becomes a serious concern for an NDP voter, examples are very easy to find and we don't keep scorecards or databanks.

The issue, though, is that an accusation has been made that the NDP is NOT criticizing the Conservatives at ALL. If your real accusation is something else, then say that. Then we can have an intellectually honest discussion about whether or not the NP should be doing what they're actually doing.

the NDP knew full well that they could put forward ANY confidence motion and the Liberals would find a way of not triggering an election. Do you count this as attacking Harper or attacking the Liberals?

Personally, I wouldn't count a confidence motion as "attacking" anyone. This post is about criticisms, in any case.

anon,

I think the focus on press releases is a bit of a red herring.

Okay. It doesn't have to be press releases--it can be something else, or a combination of things. I absolutely agree that you'd need a variety of sources to get anything that's seriously reliable, but at this point any data at all is an improvement over baseless accusations.

They say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. But if you’re asking people to do quantitative analyses of their beliefs, than I’d say you’ve lost.

True enough. But this is why I'm a blogger and not a party strategist, as well as why I strive for objectivity in this blog instead of partisan spin, regardless of my own personal partisanship.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Jay,

Thanks. :-)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

One point I'd like to make to everyone:

If the NDP really weren't criticizing the Conservatives at all, I'd be the first one to call them on it. NDP voters want their MPs to hold the Conservatives accountable. Most NDP voters aren't blind partisans who are all "the party, the party, it is always right" about things--we vote for the NDP because we like their ideas. When the Conservatives put forward policies that run counter to those ideas, we want the NDP to criticize those policies from an NDP perspective. I'm quite satisfied that they're doing this. They do it every day.

janfromthebruce said...

Woman at Mile 0 said...
"To me it would seem the Cons are in power and screwing us over and that is where opposition anger should be directed."

It is, and it is being supported by the liberal caucas who doesn't show up for votes or seats on its hands.

I believe that you as well as most lib bloggers well know that the Harper govt is still in power and passing awful legislation with the help of its "friends", only made possible in a minority govt when another party with ample votes supports 'confidence' motions.

I agree with you anon: "Politics is all about impressions and perception. While we’d all be better off if people based their conclusions on hard facts and reasoned analysis, few do."

And it is who gets to spin in the media and which parties get to "spin" the narrative that the distortion works to their advantage.

So I go, for example, to lib blogs and see that jack layton face with thanks Jack - the myth that the NDP sunk the libs, which we all know was numerically impossible, but what the heck, it is about spin and distortion.

IP is asking for a non-partisan analysis of the data to see if the NDP actually attacks the libs more than cons. If one reads what NDP said in the MSM, it most often reflects this distorted image, as here, the NDP cannot be held accountable for what the media chooses to "highlight" with their "special lens."
Everybody tries to put their "frame" on and hope that it isn't "reframed".
IP is just asking for "the facts mame!"

Justin Socie said...

IP:

Can you back that up with data, please? And tell us how you're defining "particularly damaging."

The data was that they didn't put out a press release on it. My comment was in the context of my brief study.

As for the phrase "particularly damaging", I suppose that I thought that would be a non-contentious point of agreement. If you think that the issues that the NDP brought up would damage the Cons in the polls more than scandals that strike at the very heart of the Conservative's arguments as to why they should be in power, I'm all ears. Or, uh, eyes.


See, I disagree that any party should be required to only criticize one party they disagree with, but at least this is a rational argument. It's a good, intellectually honest point of departure for a discussion. But this isn't the accusation the Liberals are making.

That's fine. I didn't go trolling for data to confirm that argument. I just looked at the data out of curiosity, to try to explain what the NDP tactics are. Clearly, the tactics of the NDP, if we can take their press releases of representative of them, is to criticize both the Libs and the Cons. When the Libs were in power, they only criticized the Libs.

I suspect that Libs' frustration with this change in tactics is exasperated by the point that Libs have more policy agreements with the NDP than the Cons do. So, when a Liberal looks at the fact that the NDP bash them whether they are in government or not, but bash the Cons only when the are in government, and somewhat tepidly at that (that part is subjective, I know, and add to that that the Libs have more plicy agreements with the NDP than the Cons do, it is pretty easy to understand why Libs thinks that the NDP tactics are cynical and politically motivated rather than principled.

This frustration is further exasperated by the NDP often trying to argue that they are the party of principle rather than politics.


There's that pesky "it seems." Can you back it up with data? I personally remember plenty of NDP criticisms of the Conservatives when the Liberals were in power--they weren't in QP, though, they were in the media.

Again, in the context of the study. The NDP didn't mention the Cons once when the Libs were in government.

Anonymous said...

Two points:

1. I really don't care if the media refers to a Layton attack on the Liberals as "scathing". Peoples definition of words like scathing can vary and imply a lot of editorializing. I have seen far too many screaming headlines that say "Dion BLASTS Harper". and "Layton BLASTS Dion" etc...then you read the actual quote and it is just one politician expressing the usual disagreement with the policies of another. The media seems to like using a lot of hyperbolic headlines to sell papers.

2. I don't blame the NDP for not spending much time attacking the PCs in the immediate aftermath of the 1993 election. The Tories at that point had TWO seats and were esentially dead and the NDP had also lost official party status and had the right to ask about one question per month! I think they can be forgiven for not wasting time attacking the PC government that the Canadian people had already annhilated.

Cliff said...

Excellent post, and some of the responses from Liberals have been breathtakingly revealing in their aggrieved sense of entitlement.

Bottom line folks, you wouldn't be getting this upset over critiques from the left if you didn't think you were vulnerable to them.

With the Liberals behaving as the junior partner in a center right coalition government and letting the Conservatives govern with unchecked impunity the unavoidable conclusion is that it's only partly due to their fear of facing the electorate - and largely due to an unambiguous ideological affinity to the Conservatives policies and goals. The NDP saying that the Conservatives are being bastards and the Liberals are helping isn't a pile on it's a simple unvarnished fact.

Stephane calls himself an economic right winger in an interview with the Globe and Mail - what's left but economics to be left wing about?

Liberals, you want to neutralize the slings and arrows from the left? The accusations of hypocrisy and expediency and outright deception? Convince your party that its time to swing back to the left - it's the trendline for the whole continent anyway, the third way triangulation crap your party is pulling now is all very 1990. If Canadians want to vote for a center right party they'll vote for the Conservatives.

The NDP's criticisms wouldn't bother you so much if you didn't have a sinking feeling we were right.

catherine said...

Justin, interesting comparison. I've never followed QP so my observations come elsewhere. Layton acts like a man who spends a lot more time thinking of ways to fight the Liberals than the Conservatives, although he can't be completely open about it. It makes sense from the perspective of simply increasing seats for his party. He is much more likely to get votes from liberals than from conservatives. So for people who want to see more NDP seats, this is the party for them. For people who want to see the next government be more committed to social justice and the environment, they should support Dion. He and his party is focussed on replacing the Harper government and it is within their reach.

I was struck by Elizabeth May saying openly that her party isn't just there to get the most votes/seats for their party that they balance this by what is best for the country. I certainly don't think one can expect any political party to take this position.

What one can criticize the NDP for is copying the Conservatives level of negative sloganeering. That stupid shrugging picture of Dion with not a leader sloganeering has shown up multiple times on the NDP pages. They have worked to do what they can to drive home the image and slogans of not-a-leader. The equivalent attack on Harper would be to use one of his incredibly arrogant looking photos with slogans driving home a bully-image. Either is repugnant and erodes our political system.

The Green party should be commended for fighting a positive campaign on the by-elections and doing what they can to elevate political discourse in Canada, whereas the NDP and Conservative approaches are dragging it down.

I think the reason the NDP gave the bribery attempt a pass and sided with the conservatives in blocking investigations is that it had the potential to strike a fatal blow to Harper, which could work against NDP gaining seats. The kind of attacks they do on Harper are meant to win over liberal voters, not to turn off conservative voters.

Again, I would say this is Layton's job so why criticize him for it. Criticize him for what he does to the level of political discourse, but not for what his target is. Criticize the Liberals for not effectively articulating to Canadians why Harper is bad for Canada. That is the job of the Liberals and it is naive to expect to get help from the NDP on that. In private discussions, Dion is convincing in his understanding of what Harper means for Canada, but he hasn't articulated it to the nation. Perhaps Rae or Findlay will do this. If not, we are all in trouble and the blame will lie with the Liberals not the NDP. On the other hand, the Liberals should expose the NDP's tactics and goals too. They need to win votes on both sides in order to form a government.

j said...

How much time do we have on our hands?

Who cares who is attacking whom? If the NDP want to use the same stupid character-assassinating lines as Conservatives and in so doing help paint the country blue, then so be it. They'll alienate their own voter base in the process.

More partisan bickering, anyone?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Justin,

Okay, I see what you're getting at now with your data on that one "particularly damaging" issue. I think it's difficult to make any pluralized claims about a single non-occurrence of a press release, though.

The NDP didn't mention the Cons once when the Libs were in government.

All right. We don't know whether your sample is representative, but three months of press releases from 2004 is, in fact objective data, at least. I'll grant you the point.

I think it's a huge leap, though, to extrapolate from that point to the notion that this has anything at all to do with the Liberals as Liberals, and it's an even greater leap to the notion that these criticisms are cynical. From where I sit, it's not that the NDP criticizes the Liberals whether they're in power or not but the Conservatives only when they're in power, it's that in January of 2006, the NDP had a shift in perception about itself. It stopped seeing itself as a perpetual opposition party (which therefore only had responsibility to criticize the government in power), and started seeing itself as a party that could itself form government (which therefore had responsibility for getting its own ideas out, and for criticizing any ideas that conflicted with those).

I guess I'm saying that I accept your data but reject your analysis.

catherine,

Layton acts like a man who spends a lot more time thinking of ways to fight the Liberals than the Conservatives, although he can't be completely open about it.

Back it up.

What one can criticize the NDP for is copying the Conservatives level of negative sloganeering.

Are you saying that the NDP and the Conservatives engage in negative sloganeering while the Liberals don't? If so, back it up. Personally, I suspect that if you looked at the level of negativity coming out of the NDP and the level of negativity coming out of the Liberals, they'd be approximately equal.

You also might want to keep in mind the fact that the NDP has stated a goal of making a run at government in the next election, not just of winning more seats. This makes their "tactics and goals" not really that much different from those of the Liberals. If you condemn one set of tactics and goals when they come from the NDP, you need to do the same when they come from the Liberals.

catherine said...

IP, simply monitor the three party websites over a period to see what I mean. I've used the three webpages in the past to make my point to others, and it was very striking when the Conservatives were running their not-a-leader ads. No similar character attacks on Harper have been used.

I don't think anyone considers the possibility of the NDP quadrupling their total seat count in the next election as a possibility. When I voted for them, it certainly wasn't because I had that expectation. I was referring to realities and what Layton's job was, not required statements, like he wants to be PM.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

catherine,

I'm not seeing what you're seeing, I'm sorry. Both the Liberals and the NDP have engaged in personal criticisms of Harper. They haven't criticized him specifically for not being a leader, they've criticized him for other things. But it's very much Harper this and Harper that, unflattering photos of Harper, &etc.

For what it's worth, I agree with you that the negativity in Parliament is pretty soul-crushing, and like you, I wish it were different. I just think the NDP isn't any different from the other two major parties on that front. (Of the four parties in Parliament, the one that I've observed to actually engage in somewhat less negativity than the others is the Bloc.)

As for the rest of what you said, no, I don't think the NDP can form a majority government all on their own after the next election. I don't think that's a possibility for the Liberals, though, either, and I don't blame either party for trying. As for forming minority governments or coalition governments, I think pretty much anything is possible. And I think a lot of people would agree with me about that.

You can doubt the likelihood of Layton becoming PM all you want, but don't doubt his sincerity about it. And it can't be a "required statement" when it's something that the party never voiced before 2006.

catherine said...

IP, I saw it your way up to a year or so ago.

The Cadman affair is a striking example since, unless one thinks the whole Cadman family is lying (and some Conservatives have spoken out saying they believe them) then a bribery attempt did take place. Given Harper's style of hands-on leadership, his words on tape, the words in Flanagan's book, it seems very likely that Harper was aware of the bribery attempt. There is unlikely to be the paper trail for criminal conviction, but if one doesn't want to condone corruption in the PMO, one should require Harper and others to openly address these serious charges so the voters can decide. That the NDP chose to side with the Conservatives on this matter, I found to be an unusually open display of Layton's strategy. So open, that I wonder what he gets in return. That's the way I see it.

I respect the way you want to count these things, that's your choice. But for me it is not a matter of counts, it is watching the whole picture and interpreting the actions and consequences. Again, not trying to convince you of anything, just explaining my own perspective, which we both agree differs from yours.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

catherine,

I actually don't generically want to "count these things." I just think that if you're going to make claims about which party isn't criticizing another, or is criticizing one party more than it's criticizing another, those claims need to be grounded in fact. If you're not going to make those claims, you don't need to count anything. So be careful about being able to back up the claims you do make, and it's all good.

Your claim about the NDP "siding with the Conservatives" on Cadman is spurious, by the way. I heard the CPAC MPs panel on that issue several days in a row, and the NDP and the Conservatives do not have the same stance on that matter. Just because the NDP doesn't have the exact same position as the Liberals doesn't mean they have the same one as the Conservatives. Our political reality isn't that binary.

catherine said...

I was referring to the fact that the NDP and Conservatives kept it out of the Ethics Committee and that the end result of all the NDPs actions on this is one that the Conservatives are grateful for, for understandable reasons.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

catherine,

Whether or not that's true, the "end result" being the same isn't the same thing as having the same position. If the NDP and the Liberals both criticize Harper on climate change, the end result is the same, but their positions sure aren't.

Justin Socie said...

IP:

I think it's a huge leap, though, to extrapolate from that point to the notion that this has anything at all to do with the Liberals as Liberals, and it's an even greater leap to the notion that these criticisms are cynical.

I should've explained that better. I think that Libs often think the NDP criticisms are cynical because they aren't fully honest. For them to be fully honest, they would have to mention that they disagree with the Cons more than the Libs.

Even if I grant you that the NDP criticize the Cons and the Libs equally ferociously, which I don't believe to be the case, if the NDP criticize the two parties and act as if they are the same, a Liberal supporter is going to think, "shouldn't the NDP think that the Cons are worse than us?" The Liberals have more policy agreements with the NDP than the Cons do, but the NDP pretends this isn't the case.

I understand why the NDP does this. There is a group of voters that find themselves agreeing more with the NDP than the Liberals during an election, that are willing to vote Liberal because the Cons are worse. The NDP wants these votes, so they don't want to acknowledge the reality that the Cons are worse than the Libs. If they do, they play into the Libs' argument to these voters - "Vote for us, because the Cons are worse!". Inspiring stuff, I know.

Some NDP supporters are so partisan that they have even convinced themselves that the Cons aren't worse than the Libs.

The reality is, if the NDP are going to get more votes, they're going to get them from former Lib supporters. It makes electoral sense for the NDP to go after the Grits harder than the Cons, because that is where their votes are going to come from.

This frustration by Lib supporters is then exacerbated by the fact that electoral gains by the NDP can often be at cross-purposes with some of the party's stated policy goals that they share in common with the Libs.

Listen, I'm not trying to argue that the NDP have a responsiblity to be fully honest in their criticisms. It isn't like the other parties are. The Liberals aren't entitled to receive honest criticisms from any party. It is up to them to win votes despite them.

I'm just trying to explain where the source of frustration comes from for Lib supporters over the issue. It's up to individual NDP supporters to decide whether the NDP tactics bother them. Some have decided that they do - obviously you're not one of them.

On a side note, I know that my study is pretty limited. I don't think it's usefulness is as limited as you think - generally, a political party's strategies should probably be reflected in their press releases.

Josh Gould said...

Some NDP supporters are so partisan that they have even convinced themselves that the Cons aren't worse than the Libs.

Straw man, back it up. I don't know anyone with an NDP persuasion who believes this. At most, some might believe that the Cons would not be worse than the Libs if it weren't for the fact that the NDP can more easily exact concessions from the Liberals.

The reality is, if the NDP are going to get more votes, they're going to get them from former Lib supporters. It makes electoral sense for the NDP to go after the Grits harder than the Cons, because that is where their votes are going to come from.

You are quite fond of baseless rhetoric: "The reality is..."

Well, the actual reality is that in many parts of the country the NDP competes directly with the Conservatives, not the Liberals per se. This is true throughout rural and parts of suburban BC (eg. Surrey, Fraser Valley, the Island, Interior), parts of the Prairies, and in Nova Scotia, where one often finds three-way races. The notion that the NDP necessarily competes only with the Liberal left is at odds with the existence of many three-way races in this country (or two-way with the Liberals a marginal player) and is, in a word, Ontario-centric. In fact, about the only areas where competition between the Liberals and the NDP becomes more of a zero-sum game is in urban/industrial/Northern Ontario where, I'd say, criticism of the Liberals is wholly appropriate.

Justin Socie said...

Straw man, back it up. I don't know anyone with an NDP persuasion who believes this.

Well,this and this took me all of two seconds to find.


Well, the actual reality is that in many parts of the country the NDP competes directly with the Conservatives, not the Liberals per se.

I see that reading comprehension isn't a skill of yours. I didn't say that they need to beat Liberals to get in; I said that they need to gain votes from the Liberals. This is true in ridings in which they are competing with Conservatives as well.

catherine said...

I recall this one seemed almost like the NDP sloganeers were doing a caricature of their style. You can almost imagine them getting a chuckle out of the double-entendre, smearing Dion and anyone stupid enough to vote Liberal all at once. They replaced the NDP/Conservative Dion not-a-leader banner with the banner:

WARNING
LIBERALS DON'T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING

[Red and black capital letters, with black hapless, shrugging silhouette of Stephane Dion]

Anyone who has lived in the US, has heard this phrase a lot, but it comes from the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter types, rather than from Jack Layton. Harper uses a similar style. I haven't seen anything approaching this low a level from either Dion or May.

I am sure a lot of NDP supporters don't condone this style, but Layton must.

catherine said...

Layton's style

Last fall, the NDP had the visual on their front page, but I found a cached page with it at the top.

Josh Gould said...

Tell me, Catherine, just what *do* Liberals believe in? Because I can't say I have any idea at this point.

Anonymous (3:31pm) above would have us believe the Liberals are in favour of withdrawing from the combat mission in Afghanistan. Whoops.

Meanwhile, where do the Liberals stand (i.e. how are they going to vote?) on the immigration reforms proposed by the government? Where were the Liberals Bill C-484?

As of only a week and a half ago, Liberals were still blaming the NDP for their defeat by the Conservatives.

Let me ask the question again - if the Conservatives are so bad that the NDP should be criticized for ostensibly putting them in power, then why for fuck's sake are the Liberals continuing to avoid bringing down the government?

It is clear to anyone capable of seeing without partisan blinkers that the NDP is criticizing the Harper government extensively, while also criticizing the Liberals for (a) not living up to their past promises, (b) abstaining from confidence measures, (c) supporting aspects of Harper's agenda (see Afghanistan), and (d) ultimately, failing to do their job as the official opposition to oppose the increasingly irresponsible and damaging agenda of the Harper government.

catherine said...

Here is Stephen Taylor's interview of Jack Layton

Layton's tory better than a liberal

where Layton starts off by saying a Conservative is better than a Liberal. I didn't watch the rest -- who needs dribble like this? Doesn't this sum it up the topic at hand? I don't think the NDP used to be like this under Broadbent, and it took me a while to see the change under Layton.

TheIronist said...

"Layton's style

Last fall, the NDP had the visual on their front page, but I found a cached page with it at the top."

I very much applaud your rather valiant efforts, IP, to challenge the double standard by which so-called progressives judge the NDP. These are people who will—and do—forgive the Liberal Party of just about everything, but who seem always to be poised to find a reason—any reason—to jump ship on the New Democrats.

I say I applaud your efforts because I suspect that you have by and large wasted them on the very people who stand to gain from them. But alas, such people will believe what they choose to believe, and no amount of logic or data will convince them otherwise. You could list in graphic detail all the lies, broken promises, crass opportunism, gross misrepresentations, endemic corruption of the Liberal Party and it just won’t matter. So long as its perceived to be marginally better than the Conservative Party, its just fine. Meanwhile, every perceived misstep committed by Jack Layton is noted, and used as a pretext to attack the NDP.

What I find most annoying is how said people will generally launch into an attack on the NDP by first claiming to have at one time been a supporter (in this, it’s quite similar to the rhetorical style by which Americans begin an attack on Ralph Nader). We all know this is bullsh**, however, precisely because of the lengths to which such people are willing to go to forgive the LPC of its many transgressions. If the individuals really connected their expressed values to their politics, there would be no way for them to minimize the misdeeds of the Liberal Party so effectively.

When I came to this country I jumped at the chance to become part of a party like the NDP, as we have no such organization in the states. It doesn’t matter if I love or hate Jack Layton: the NDP represents my values, my politics, and I support it, Jack or no Jack. That’s how it is with real supporters, who base their politics on real values. Everything else is armchair strategizing of the most amateurish sort.

By the way, Layton’s warning that Liberals don’t believe in anything is spot on. The Liberal Party is a brokerage party. Such entities are designed to mediate between power structures as they exist within a given society (such as unions, government and big business). They are not built around values or principles, which is why they are such formidable opponents to those parties that are. When the political centre shifts right, so do they. When it shifts left, so do they.

Recent history in Canada demonstrates this reality quite well. When a pro-business ethos becomes dominant in Canada in the mid-eighties, well, voila! the LPC is pro-business. When the tide turns against business, and people began taking a serious look at the trade treaties being negotiated in their name, voila! the LPC became, publicly at least, a leftist party. The ran on the Red Book, and then once elected began governing like nastier elements of the Progressive Conservative Party.

It is hardly worth saying that people who support that kind of politics pretty much get what they deserve.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Justin,

I do appreciate the explanation. It seems quite likely that what you describe is in fact what a lot of Liberal supporters are thinking.

Thanks also for the honest, level-headed conversation. It's appreciated.

catherine,

All right, enough. The last handful of comments you've made on this post are nothing but you picking out things about the NDP that have made you angry. They aren't contributing to the conversation or providing data to back up any assertions you've made--they're just sitting there. Frankly, this is just plain rude. The comments section of my blog is not the place for your personal attacks on the NDP. If you really need to do that so desperately, I'd ask you to please get your own blog. There are plenty of blogs like that out there already--you'd fit in quite well.

The whole point of this post is to say that if you pick and choose examples rather than looking at a comprehensive data set, you'll only end up confirming your biases. I find it terribly ironic that you've ended up doing nothing but that. QED, I suppose.

catherine said...

Okay, IP, point taken. I thought those examples were pretty extreme and show that numbers can't capture stuff like that and the effect it has. However, it is your blog, and you do a very good blog, so I'll simply accept that you don't see it as I do. I'm sorry it offended you.

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