Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A New Low, and Not the Last: Part II

Time, now, to examine the flip side of Stephen Harper's latest partisan junk-mail campaign, sent, on the tax-payers' dime, in the guise of a local constituency update. Yes, there are two sides to this pamphlet. Of course there are: you can always trust "Prime minister" Harper to get the most out of other people's money.

As the sides aren't marked, who knows which side is "Side One"? It hardly matters: I'm discussing them in order of hilarity--in descending order. That's why I began with the side that showed our proud national hero, Atlas-like, supporting the full weight of our brash new war-cry, "Canada's Back", on his smirkingly confident head while surrounded by a batch of kitsch Canadian signifiers ("Canada" on the name plate, the desk-sized Maple Leaf on the table, and Harper's barely visible Maple Leaf lapel pin).

The photo's sheer desperation is as glaring as its sick irony: Harper's environment needs to represent Canada, because the man cannot. Inanimate objects are asked to provide the patriotism and nationalist conviction that Harper cannot honestly communicate (cannot communicate at all, actually, as he's a terrible liar). Canadians have seen their share of preposterous political slogans (Pierre Trudeau's Maoist "The Land is Strong" counting among the most risible), but Harper's is the first to be delivered by pieces of plastic, rather than by a man (if there is, in this case, a meaningful distinction to be made between the two).

Here is the other side:

It's a slice of good old-fashioned reactionary "law-and-order" tripe, aimed at the sweaty, bug-eyed paranoiacs who sleep with loaded .45's under their pillows and who've watched the country go to hell in a handbasket ever since we started letting the "coloureds" in (that would be since about 1780). Such people represent a hefty proportion of Stephen Harper's core support, and this mail-out is meant to cement their allegiance, to show them that, even though Harper's "Conservatives" haven't yet torched the House of Commons(like they ought to), they are still worth voting for.

The pamphlet succeeds beautifully. My favourite part of it is the main graphic, of a trio of kids in hooded sweaters running away (presumably after having committed some horrible crime).

To be sure, the pamphlet could have shown them running towards the viewer (which would have made the photo so much the more menacing, in fact), but the CPC would certainly have faced a storm of criticism if the kids' faces had been black. Why not hide the faces, and let the viewers use their imaginations? For all we know, the kids may all be white (yeah...sure they are). This is surreptitious, guilt-free race-baiting, not done this expertly since the American Right of the 1960s--realising they could no longer respectably rail against "niggers" and "nigger-lovers", gentrified their hate by championing "states' rights" and "small government".

The photo in question was obviously used for a reason, and it wasn't because it matches the nature of the legislation it is meant to advertise. Most of Harper's "Tough on Crime Omnibus Bill" (Bill C-2) dealt with non-violent issues like impaired driving, bail laws and the age of consent. What are the kids supposed to be running away from? Jail bait?

Given the manipulative mastery we see in that graphic, we find it hard to discern whether what seems idiotic elsewhere in the ad is actually an act of devious genius, or at least of a calculated strategy. For example, when the ad screams "Age is no excuse", are we to take it literally that, for the "Conservatives", age is never an excuse, and that a nine-year-old deserves to have applied to him the legal sanctions we apply to adults? Are the "Conservatives" here implying the mirror-image of their own abnormal psychology? Since they insist upon habitually acting like children, are they convinced that children must be treated like adults? We cannot really know.

Nor can we discern what is terribly new about a fact Harper seems to find quite frightfully urgent: "Young thugs are committing crimes without fear of the consequences", we're informed, leading most of us to recall the evident fact that all crime is committed without any appreciable fear of the consequences (since most criminals do not intend to be caught) and that crimes do not lose their sting even when criminals do fear the consequences. For just those reasons, crime rates are spectacularly higher than are Canada's in places where fear of many kinds--fear of execution, fear of government, of the law, of one's neighbours--reigns supreme. Yet, where there is little fear--Norway, Iceland, Denmark--crime rates are lower even than ours. What's their secret? Note to "Conservatives": it's called "civility"; look it up, and actually earn your ministerial wages for the first time in two long years.

Now, think of the language: "young thugs". That choice of words is key.

Some people want their federal leaders to inspire them--to help them engage with causes higher than themselves, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people expect their leaders to touch and arouse what is best in them, to make manifest their latent greatness, to magnify their souls, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people pace their dark, dank basement apartments in tatty t-shirts and punch holes in the walls while swearing oaths against "young thugs", immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews and everybody else who has caused the pain, the mediocrity and the insignificance of their sad little lives. They are Stephen Harper's people, but, sadly, deep down inside, they know perfectly well that the ch√Ętelains who have the gall to tell them that "Nobody is above the law" are just laughing at them.

Those poignant facts spoil the many elements of real, unaffected, almost child-like bits of comedy that abound in the ad--like the ungrammatical nonsense of the phrase, "Keeping dangerous youth criminals off the streets while awaiting trial" (in which it is the government that is awaiting trial, in a nice Freudian slip), and the absurd question, "Who do you think is on the right track on crime?", which equates nicely and tautologically with the question, "Who is the only leader who, as prime minister, has had the opportunity to propose and enact a track on crime?".

Then, the comedy ends, and we get to the meat of the appeal. Those of us who weren't sold by anything in the ad so far are hit with this devastating hortatory salvo: "Real Action; Real Results", the ad brags, its writers having wisely relied on the proven method of using the adjective "real" to conjure an actual reality (call it the "Abracadabra Effect"), a reality whose "results" so far include some of the most horrific murders in Canada's history and our first serious urban riot in over fifteen years.

I feel rather sorry for the CPC Members of Parliament who have had to suffer seeing their names and faces pasted onto this rubbish in order to have it passed off as legitimate riding news. Sure, it allowed them to rob the public purse and keep the CPC party's coffers that much richer for the widely expected fall election, but I cannot believe that it was worth what it cost their souls. And, yes, I persist in the belief that "Conservatives" have souls. Call me an optimist.


Matt said...


Great blog - pithy stuff.

Would you honour me by exchanging links?

I'm at:


I've taken the liberty of posting to your site - hope that's alright!


Ryan said...


They're naming it after Diefenbaker! Looks like the Conservatives didn't only choose to ignore their history books, they decided it was better to throw them out altogether!