Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Post-budget puzzlement

I'm finding myself a little bit...puzzled by grassroots Liberals these days. I'm hoping maybe somebody out there can help me out.

Before Flaherty announced the Conservatives' 2008 budget, the common wisdom among many grassroots Liberals was that this was going to be the Liberals' chance to prove that they had the fortitude to handle an election. The matter was a simple one: if Dion was a real leader, he'd oppose the budget, and if he wasn't willing to oppose the budget, then, well, that must mean he wasn't a real leader.

Then, the budget was announced, and shortly thereafter, Dion announced his party's support for it. The frustration was palpable among those very same grassroots Liberals: after all, their leader had just proven that he wasn't a real leader. Because the only reason why he could possibly have been willing to vote for the budget was because he didn't have the balls for the election. Right?

But what if there's another explanation? What if Dion is supporting the budget not because he's Not A Leader, but because he and his caucus actually...*gasp* the budget?

Don't believe me? Have a look at the official party line. This Conservative budget is a "watered-down Liberal budget" that "adopts many measures the Liberals have championed." I don't know about you, but to me that sounds less like Not A Leader and more like a leader with ideas that--at least when it comes to how to run the country's finances (not to mention Afghanistan)--are so similar to the Conservatives' own ideas that the two parties are virtually indistinguishable these days. I mean, über-Liberal Jason Cherniak's biggest criticism is that the Conservatives' last two budgets weren't conservative enough. This isn't just the strategic ranting of a partisan New Democrat, this is how things are.

Don't get me wrong, I get why the Liberals would be upset by the actions of their party these days. Believe me, I do. What I'm not getting, though, is why they're angry at their leader for supposedly being cowardly when the real issue is that he and his caucus are simply out of step with what they stand for.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Shameful, offensive fear-mongering"

It seems that the Clinton campaign has been distributing a photograph of Obama in African dress, playing into the (false) rumour that Obama is a Muslim. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, described this as "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

In other words, implying your opponent is a Muslim is a worse thing to do than saying your opponent has a secret love child, or a wife who's either a drug addict or a supporter of puppy-killing? Uh-huh.

Far be it from me to condone dirty tricks, but is what this implies about modern-day U.S. culture not a lot more horrific than the offending photo?

[Update: Naomi Klein agrees.]

An alternative for would-be Nader voters

I've never voted for Ralph Nader, but I absolutely understand the mindset of those Americans who do. It's not because they believed that there was literally no difference beween Bush and Gore in 2000, or that there's literally no difference between McCain and either Clinton or Obama in 2008. It's because they recognize that there's a lot more political diversity out there than they're seeing represented in their available choices, and so they're opting to use their votes not to vote for president, but to say: "hey, we deserve a broader spectrum of choice than we're getting."

There are those who call these kinds of votes "protest votes," but really, that's too simplistic a description of the thought process behind them. What it's really about is how, when your Political Compass score is way down in the lower left quadrant, the differences between any of the multitudes of candidates in the upper right one just don't look that major to you. They certainly seem a lot less important than working toward a more diverse political spectrum that might actually stand a chance of someday encompassing your own views.

The problem, though, is that any hope of increasing that diversity is a vain one. The combination of direct voting for president and the first-past-the-post electoral system does an excellent job of decreasing the chances of any third-party emerging in the U.S. from "not very likely" to "no chance in hell." It just ain't gonna happen, ever. And there's the rub: if voting for Nader has no chance of changing anything, that means that the effect of voting for Nader is zero. In the short term, and in the long term as well. Anyone voting for Nader is essentially opting out.

If you're already opting out, then, why not really opt out? And no, I don't mean "don't vote," I mean "leave the U.S. behind in favour of a country that already runs political candiates who represent your views." The bureaucracy of such a move is maddening, but trust me, the relief at regularly having more choices than "right-wing" and "righter-wing" is worth any amount of paperwork. You've already reached the conclusion that you don't fit into the political and cultural mainstream of your country, so isn't emigration the logical next step?
And for that matter, if what you're really interested in is sending a message, just imagine the message that would be sent by masses of lefty Americans stampeding across the border! It'd be a sight to behold.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The plot thickens

Okay, remember when I pointed out the similarities between the West Wing's 2006 presidential race and the current, real-life one? Well, it's actually much weirder than that: it turns out that the West Wing writers actually based their original conception of Santos on Obama, way back when. Which means they wrote their story about Faux-Obama (Fauxbama?)...and then, a couple of years later, it started coming true.

As the article says, "a bizarre case of art imitating life - only for life to imitate art back again."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Alberta election, from my idyllic little corner of the province

I haven't been talking much about the Alberta provincial election, although not because I haven't been thinking about it. In fact, I've been working (though I'm sure many would say not hard enough!) on the campaign to elect Rachel Notley in Edmonton-Strathcona. See, although I'm far more interested in federal politics than I am in provincial politics, for Rachel I'll make an exception.

Edmonton-Strathcona is a damn fine constituency to live in for an Alberta New Democrat. Since 1997, it's been held by Raj Pannu, the provincial NDP's beloved former leader. Just how beloved is he? Well, in 2004, he was reelected with more than sixty percent of the vote (his nearest rival got 18%). When Raj announced his decision to retire, you could practically hear the keening. Shortly thereafter, though, the questions started flying: who could possibly replace Raj in the NDP's most reliable Alberta stronghold? And then Rachel stepped up to the plate.

Much hay has been made in the media about the fact that Rachel is the daughter of Grant Notley, the Alberta NDP's most successful leader. Having known her for a number of years, though, I can assure you that this is the least interesting thing about her. Rachel's one of us--a political geek--but she goes beyond that to be one of the most creative and imaginative political minds I have ever run into. She's also down-to-earth, incredibly genuine, and she's got more energy in her left toenail than the rest of us have in our whole bodies. When I heard that she was going to be running to replace Raj, I instantly stopped worrying. I honestly can't think of anyone else I'd rather see representing me in the legislature. And she hasn't been coasting on Strathcona's "they always vote NDP" image: she's been going door-to-door to meet voters at least once a week, no matter what the weather, since she started her campaign in June of 2006.

Last night I went to the Strathcona All-Candidates' Forum, where I had a great time watching Rachel clean up. Now, I've already told you my biases, so you have no reason to believe me on that front, so I'll instead turn you over to Ian from terahertz, hardly a partisan New Democrat, who took some really detailed notes. I do disagree with Ian on one point: I had low expectations of the last-minute-appointment of a Tory candidate, which he then exceeded handily (in fact, I'll go so far as to say that if his party has any sense, they'll give him a winnable constituency next time). I was honestly expecting a lot more than we got out of the Liberal candidate, though, especially considering the fact that he's been endorsed by daveberta. (To tell you the truth, that only confirms my suspicions that Mr. Berta has gotten a lot more indiscriminately partisan in recent years, which is disappointing.)

In any case, in an election where the polls have been discouraging (neither the Liberals nor the NDP have managed to capitalize on the province's generalized annoyance with the current government), and the knowledge that we're likely going to be stuck with this guy for another four or five years is settling in, the Edmonton-Strathcona race has been a real bright spot. And when it's all over and the votes have been cast, we here in Strathcona will at least be able to be excited about our newly-elected NDP MLA Rachel Notley, who's going to kick some Tory ass in the legislature.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Canadian F-Word Blog Awards

Well, I'll be damned.

I didn't talk about being nominated for a Canadian F-Word Blog Award (in the Best Political Blog category) because although I appreciated being nominated, I didn't think there was really a chance I'd make it any further than that. You know, what with being so sporadic a poster over the past, oh, four or five months. But apparently I have made it to the finals anyway.

Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me, and special thanks to skdadl for nominating me. (Confidential to her: Yes, I do consider myself a feminist, despite the fact that I once said I'd never win any awards as one.)

Anyway, I only vote for myself in these things if I think I deserve them, so I'm still not sure how my vote's going to go in that category. But if you read feminist blogs and/or blogs written by women, get thee hence! The final round of voting begins on February 22nd and ends on February 23rd. And there are lots of other categories as well, some of which are far more interesting than Best Political Blog (I particularly like that there are categories for comments!).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quirky 'Edmonton' has own voting patterns, culture

Remember that old Onion article "Perky 'Canada' has own government, laws"? Well, there's something reminiscent of that in this unintentionally hilarious Calgary Herald article about how shockingly different Edmonton is from Calgary.

My favourite bit:

Yes, this is a very different town. In fact, New Democrats aren't just a known species here. People like Rachel Notley, taking over for Raj Pannu in Edmonton-Strathcona, have even been described as, wait for it, "Shoe-ins." Not surprisingly then, they do indeed have different concerns and areas of focus than those cowboy-hatted, naval-gazing urbanites 275 kilometres down the QE2.
I suspect they meant "shoo-ins" and "navel-gazing" (does the Herald no longer use human beings for proofreading?), but it's funny enough even without the spelling errors. "You mean, there are entire constituencies in this province where voting NDP is commonplace? Can that actually be true??? Gasp!!!"

While that bit may be funny, though, the Calgarian driving around town and marvelling that we actually have variety in our election signs is just plain tragic. Lesson learned: my God, living in Calgary would suck.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An open response to Chantal Hébert

The other day, I went to go see Chantal Hébert speak at the University of Alberta. It was a terrific hour and a half; she was as insightful as ever and quite funny in a very human way. But when she started going on again about how another Conservative government should trigger talks about uniting the Liberals and the NDP in happy harmony, I had to challenge that in the question period. The response was predictable: the NDP is in a "sorry state" because they've never formed a federal government, and they have to give up their "holy war on the Liberals" because they're not going to kill them off no matter what Jack Layton thinks. And since we're not going to have proportional representation anytime soon, the NDP should stand aside and let the Liberals kill them off.

If it had been just her and me in the room, there are so many ways I would have wanted to respond to that. I would have talked to her about what it's really like to live under a two-party system where only a tiny fraction of the political spectrum gets represented. I would have made her a list of all the ways the NDP has influenced politics in this country without ever seeing power on the federal level, some of which have been extremely profound (I mean, health care springs to mind just immediately). I would have brought up how the NDP represents between fifteen and twenty percent of the Canadian people, and how no one in, say, Germany would even think to say that the Greens (at 8%) or the Free Democrats (at 10%) are in a "sorry state" and should give up the ghost. I would have detailed how it was the feeling of disenfranchisement resulting from choosing between a centre-right and a right-wing party too many times that drove me to come to Canada in the first place, and how if too many people like her make my beloved Canadian political diversity go away, I'm up and moving to New Zealand. But the next guy with his hand up was shooting daggers at me with his eyes, so I just agreed with her that the NDP should quit trying to kill off the Liberals, and shut up.

Now, I've written this post one too many times for even my comfort, so I won't go on and on. But Blogging Horse made a terrific point a couple of weeks back that I think deserves a little bit more attention: the fact that the entire reason political parties exist is to "aggregate interests." Big-tent parties are by necessity unable to actually aggregate all of the interests of their membership (or even all of the interests of the mainstream of their membership!) due to those interests being so broad, which means that they aren't serving the sole purpose of political parties. BH used that point to tweak the Liberals, but I'd argue that it applies equally to the Conservatives these days. (Ask any Canadian right-winger whether they actually feel represented by the current government's policies. I suspect they'll either start ranting or give you a sad look and talk about how there's no other choice.)

No, fewer parties isn't the answer. And that would be true no matter which side were to end up victorious in the great battle to gain sole control over centre-left voters.

Realistically, I suspect there's no reasoning with Hébert on this one. She's enough of a product of the political culture she grew up in that she's not going to be giving up on the prediction that continued Conservative governments will force an amalgamation of left-wing and centre-left parties. My prediction, though, is that continued minority governments (of whichever colour) will eventually force the existing parties to learn to work together in true multiparty coalition governments in Parliament, after the voters get their pick among a series of real choices.

It's going to happen.

With or without electoral reform.

(Like it or not.)

Another game!

Remember the game we played a couple years back of "Joe Lieberman or Chuck Cadman"? Well, how about a game of "Reality or West Wing"?

On the Republican side, a relatively early winner, but still a dark horse candidate whom no one expected to actually be able to pull it off. A comparative outsider to his own party, loathed and mistrusted by the old guard, but a crossover hit with independents. Aging, but still fiesty. Someone known for "telling it like it is." Someone who has to pick a social conservative he can't stand--a former opponent in the primaries--as his running mate in order to win his own party's trust.

On the Democratic side, a bitterly fought nomination that ends up lasting a lot longer than anybody expected. After Super Tuesday, people start speculating that it could actually last all the way to a brokered convention, which makes political junkies everywhere pee themselves with excitement. The convention itself is a circus, but in the end, the inspirational young guy with no real foreign policy experience prevails against all expectations and goes on to become the first candidate of his ethnicity to win the nomination. And in the general election, it ends up being spun as youth vs. age, and as experience vs. new blood.

All right, all right, this one's a little more obvious than the last one: so far it's just West Wing. But it could be, who knows?

(If a nuclear accident in California ends up giving Obama the push he needs to win, though, I'm outta here.)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Edmonton Journal speculates electionly

Hmm. I've been thinking Albertans might resist the idea of a federal election right now because we've already got our hands full with the ongoing provincial one. But the Edmonton Journal's editorial writers, at least, are ready.

As you might expect, by the way, this is my favourite part of that editorial:

If another minority were chosen, as polls suggest is the most likely outcome, another vote would surely be politically unacceptable for two or three more years. MPs would have no choice but to work together in good faith cobbling together policies a majority of Canadians could feel comfortable with.

(Come on, don't laugh! It could happen! In Europe they do it all the time, thanks to systems of proportional representation we'll have to consider seriously if our politicians can't learn to play together more constructively.)
I've been making this argument for literally years. Plenty of people used to laugh at me back then--it's not often you hear people saying that we need proportional representation to make things more stable--but I guess this many years of a minority government has brought at least a few more people around.

Anyway, what do you folks think? Election yay this time, or election nay? And if so, then when?