The consensus seems to be that it is vile and unprecedented. That it is vile is arguable. That it is unprecedented is even more arguable. If it is unprecedented, it is only so in its timing and in its authorship.
For one may be surprised (and disappointed) to see such a thing occur outside of an election, and one cannot help but be surprised to see the battle-axe of populist class war taken out of the hands of the NDP, its traditional wielder, by the political helots of our affluent continentalist élite, but one cannot be surprised by the campaign's abject meanness, for, as I've been strangely delighted to discover (or re-discover, really), corrosive vitriol on the Canadian hustings is a venerable part of our electoral heritage that an aberrant three generations of relative civility have served to wipe from Canada's collective memory. We Canadians have nothing as famous and widely quoted as the Lincoln-Douglas debates to remind us that we were political beings before the invention of the refrigerator. If we did, we would realise that the rank partisan vindictiveness of the last four years has been not a cultural departure for Canadians as much as a recrudescence.
As part of my summer reading program, I've been delving into S.F. Wise's God's Peculiar People, a collection of essays concerning the political culture of pre-rebellion Upper Canada, specifically its surprising degree of chauvinistic messianism (something we naturally tend to think of as being inherently anti-Canadian). I suppose we should all be grateful that Canada's early 19th-century historical record is dominated by the contest between reformers and Tories, for the accounts of their murderously bitter reciprocal rhetorical eviscerations can be a joy to read and serve as some of the most genuinely compelling sparks of real life amid a record that is often (ignorantly) accused of being soporifically dry.
In one essay, Wise describes an 1834 by-election in Kingston, in which Tory community pillar Christopher Hagerman, expecting to walk into the seat unopposed, ended up being challenged by a quickly drafted Reform candidate from Toronto, one William O'Grady, suspended priest and editor of radical newspaper the Canadian Correspondent. The phrase, "Send in the clowns," doesn't even begin to approximate an adequate invocation for the circus that ensued.
The reform-minded defrocked preacher was apparently no media darling in the heart of Loyalist country. The Tory Coburg Star warned its readers:
"O'Grady, of the Correspondent, has been skulking about here for the last two or three days, by way, we suppose, of trying his sophistry among the Catholics; but it's a no go. The 'Gentleman in Black' can neither hide his tail nor his hoof".And CPC acolytes whine about "media bias". Talk to me when the Globe and Mail equates Harper with Satan, guys.
O'Grady retaliated against this press persecution with a suitable though perhaps not focus-group-refined performance. He addressed a meeting, and, "holding a copy of the [Tory] Kingston Chronicle in his hand, [excoriated] 'this mean, low, pitiful and grovelling rag,' run by a Yankee editor who is 'an infamous liar and a despicable miscreant'". Goodness me. I think we've just found the patron saint of the blogosphere.
Anyways, once the campaign began in earnest, things really got ugly. At a public debate, O'Grady expounded upon his anti-Tory agenda in defiant and apocalyptic terms:
"It is a glorious thing to commence in this hot-bed of toryism the battle of reform...and though the Reformers may not, for the present, be able to slay the Goliath, is it not a glorious thing, that on examining the materials of the pedestal on which [Hagerman] stands and discovering their rottenness...we may anticipate the not far distant day...when public opinion will dash the proud Colossus in the dust?"Note to Ignatieff: that, my loving patriot, is how to tell a guy you're going to mess with him until you're done.
* Shitzkrieg: a neologistic portmanteau Dred Toryism, composed of a truncated form of "bullshit" (i.e. "nonsense", "gibberish") and "krieg" (i.e. "assault"); it denotes any political "communications" campaign designed to flood the media with trivia as a way of distracting the public’s attention from issues that matter.