Must-reads: Dan Gardner on the end of capitalism; Don Martin and Janet Bagnall on gender politics.
The long and winding road
From racial politics to gender politics to regional politics to carbon taxation to the resurrection of the Liberal party.
Why, George Jonas asks in the National Post, would Barack Obama declare himself honoured and humbled at the support of Colin Powell when, “in theory, [he] stands against everything Powell has stood for, from party affiliation to policy”? Because “these days descent trumps ideas,” he answers—yes, he’s going there, and unencumbered by any evidence we can detect. “In periods of tribal reversion it matters less, say, that Powell, a Republican, has been pivotal to an Iraq policy that Obama, a Democrat, has been running and railing against, than that they’re both African-Americans.” Actually, scratch that, he does have evidence—only it’s to the contrary, namely his “fascination” with John McCain’s loss of momentum among women even after he brought Sarah Palin aboard.
Janet Bagnall‘s latest philippic in the Montreal Gazette against the Palin phenomenon is one of the more coherent arguments we’ve read that her selection wasn’t just an isolated and regrettable political incident but an actual step backwards for women in politics. If, as has been suggested, “her real appeal was her malleability”—if she offered herself to the GOP as “an empty vessel into which America’s most right-wing conservatives have poured their tired old policies”—then her candidacy can legitimately be seen as a victory for “unreconstructed tokenism.” If she didn’t, of course, then the whole argument kind of falls apart. And, frankly, we still don’t see any logical reason Palin should impact the fortunes of accomplished, capable women in politics.
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin suggests a non-logical reason, namely, that “disastrous performance[s]” by female politicians “stick to” the gender as a whole in a way they don’t to “males of the species, who screw up regularly.” (We’ll take his word for it, but we can’t say we’ve ever noticed this phenomenon.) On the bright side, however, Martin believes we’re about to finally see a cabinet whose female contingent won’t have been unfairly boosted “to meet some undefined fairer-sex quota.” Gail Shea’s “scandal-free performance as a P.E.I. cabinet minister,” Leona Aglukkaq’s “roots in a variety of public service roles,” Lisa Raitt’s time as CEO of the Toronto Port Authority and Shelley Glover’s “media experience as a [Winnipeg police] force spokeswoman” legitimately qualify them for ministerial consideration, he argues, and we’re sure he’s right. We have to say, though, that the idea of Glover getting “bonus marks for being Métis” runs counter to this whole meritocracy theme.
Back in the Post, L. Ian MacDonald looks at the task ahead for Stephen Harper in rejiggering his cabinet’s Quebec contingent to reflect the absence of a Montrealer and Quebeckers’ annoyance with Josée Verner and Jean-Pierre Blackburn. Lawrence Cannon and—”don’t laugh”—Maxime Bernier both have “networks” in Montreal, he notes, but Harper doesn’t have a lot of options with Verner and Blackburn. Then, apparently with space to fill, MacDonald takes issue with Bernier’s purported assertion, as quoted by Julie Couillard, that “Harper is an overweight junk-food addict who drinks Pepsi” by the gallon. “Actually, it’s Coke,” he responds, “and Harper has since shed about 35 pounds.” Fantastic.
If the Democrats win the presidency as expected, then The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson urges Harper, the noted incrementalist, to capitalize on Obama’s popularity in Canada and “do something big.” Ready for this? He should propose “a continental carbon market,” a huge investment in cleaning up the oil sands “in exchange for guarantees that the U.S. gets all the oil,” harmonization of tariffs and immigration standards, eliminating all barriers to “the free flow of goods, services and citizens between the two countries” and the wholesale abandonment of protectionism in all its forms. And this is all doable, we’re supposed to believe, because Canadians trust Obama more than McCain? Seems to us Harper might as well just hand over the keys to the Liberals.
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson files his post-mortem for carbon taxation in Canada—time of death, approximately 10pm, Oct. 14, 2008—and suggests it’s proof Canadians simply “want the cheapest possible prices for gasoline, heating oil, electricity and other forms of energy,” and global warming be damned. “Sure,” he concedes, “Mr. Dion wasn’t the world’s most gifted political salesman and, yes, the Conservatives ran attack ads against the carbon tax.” Ooh, can we play? Sure, the proposal exempted gasoline, thus undermining the internal coherence that was its greatest asset, and yes, promising to use the revenue to fight poverty made it needlessly complicated and called into question the environmental purity of its motivations, and okay, Dion is a terrible salesman… oh, hang on, we’ve covered that. In any case, with all this election nonsense out of the way and with oil prices back in sane territory, Simpson says “now would be the right time for a calmer discussion.” Neither he nor we are optimistic.
In the Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald suggests the Green Shift “was a strategy born of desperation when [Dion] had failed at all his other tasks,” namely, uniting the party and raising great heaps of cash. And it’s those failures, he argues, not any Tory skulduggery, that Dion should be blaming for last Tuesday’s disastrous result. It’s true, of course, that the Tories successfully branded him “not a leader” with their attack ads, but if he’d managed to raise a buck or two he could have better stood up for himself.
In the Post, Lorne Gunter explains for the 99th time just how terminally screwed the Liberals’ finances really are, and suggests Dion’s hanging onto his job by his fingernails because “without the prestige of the opposition leader’s office, he has little chance of raising” enough to pay off his leadership debts—whereas, we are left to assume, donors will stand on line to retroactively bankroll the disastrous 2006 convention as long as Dion keeps the same office.
The Post‘s John Ivison explores the possibility that one of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae might play Gordon Brown to the other’s Tony Blair—i.e., swallow his leadership ambitions for the good of the party in exchange for a plum role in any future cabinet (and later, presumably, accept an undemocratic handover of power and then lead his party to all-but-certain defeat at the hands of the Conservatives, led by some as-yet undetermined analogue of David Cameron). The leadership is “theirs to lose,” says Ivison, and with the “Dion precedent” emboldening any number of inferior Liberal MPs’ leadership ambitions, it would make all kinds of sense. Indeed it would, we agree, if only the Brown analogue wouldn’t be 70 when he took over from the Blair analogue.
One way or the other, Andrew Cohen writes in the Toronto Star, “history suggests [the Liberals] will recover. They always do.” And while much as changed in the half-century since Lester Pearson’s leadership, Cohen believes that era has much to teach the modern Grits. “As Pearson well knew, leadership isn’t enough. It takes ideas, people, organization, resources and innovation,” he writes. But on each of these scores, Cohen seems to distance the 2008 Liberal nadir from the 1958 version, or else he offers nothing but platitudes: Pearson “veered left,” but Dion’s successor “will probably have to straddle the middle”; Cohen lists Pearson’s all-star recruits but doesn’t suggest who’s in the wings for today’s Liberals; and as for the state of the accounts, he simply says they “need someone of [Walter Gordon’s] ingenuity” to raise money. In short, we’re not all that taken with the 1958-2008 analogy.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Ian Mulgrew understands that a decision needs to be made whether to charge the RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death before the Braidwood Inquiry can proceed, but doesn’t understand why the Crown is taking so long to make that decision. It’s been more than a year since Dziekanski died, he notes, suggesting the RCMP’s and the B.C. justice system’s reputation have been “tarnished” in the meantime. “What are prosecutors waiting for—some statute of limitations on public outrage to run out?” Umm… we’ll go ahead and answer yes.
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno and the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford check in from the murder trial of Johnson Aziga, who’s accused of knowingly exposing multiple sexual partners to the AIDS virus. They’re both pretty straight-up reports; we’ll let you know when the opinionating begins.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner surveys the many overheated headlines portending the collapse of the free market and the end of American capitalism and suggests “what we are actually witnessing is the crushing stupidity of the stereotypes and labels we use when discussing grand-scale economics.” The United States has the “second-highest corporate tax rates in the developed world,” he notes, while Denmark—”tax-crazed, welfare-loving, nanny-state Denmark”—”ranks third (out of 134) on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index” thanks to far lower corporate tax rates and “the world-leading ease with which employers in this country can hire and fire workers.” Generalizations just don’t work, in other words, and Gardner says the foundations of western economics—”liberal democracy and regulated markets” remain “unchallenged.”