Wednesday, 17 June 2009

"When Hacks Attack!": Part One

I think it is now safe to say that the CPC's "Just Visiting" anti-Ignatieff ad campaign has become the most obsessively scrutinised shitzkrieg* ever mounted by a Dominion party in our history. Launched over a month ago, it haunts us still. It has certainly surpassed the P.C. Party's "Is This a Prime Minister" anti-Chrétien sally in '93 as an object of pundit-driven fascination as to its motivation, generation, and effect on voter intention.

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.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

"Out of the Depths, Have I Sought Even Deeper Depths, O Lord!": Stephen Harper's De Profundis, Part Two

No "Conservative" activist has provided higher multi-fuck-up value for dollar than Ottawa mayor and former temp-agency CEO Larry O'Brien. This man's plunge from the twin Everests of his massive ego and colossal managerial incapability has been painful to witness, especially as so much goodwill is owed someone who has advanced so far in life despite the handicap of looking like he's been indifferently cross-assembled from the physiognomic fragments of Lex Luthor, Daddy Warbucks, and Stalin's most brutish-looking Byelorussian NKVD Commissar.

Now, most of the major national media outlets that have been watching his bribery trial have assumed that O'Brien fully intended to prove himself not guilty of the Crown's charges. That is, after all, conventional. Sadly, things have not gone well for the mayor.

For weeks, the court has been treated to testimony placing O'Brien at the heart of the "Conservative" machine in Ottawa. In fact, he was recruited and groomed personally by John Reynolds, ex-CPC M.P., influential party bag-man and rain-maker, and trusted Stephen Harper confidante. Reynolds wanted O'Brien to run federally, but O'Brien decided to carry the CPC flag in the 2006 mayoralty race instead--selflessly--just to bring a little of the Harper magic to us socialist, Northern European Ottawan barbarians. According to testimony, the O'Brien network is a Who's Who of the CPC's Ottawa nomenklatura: Baird operatives, Poilievre aides--they're all there, brokering (allegedly) some sort of deal between O'Brien and Terry Kilrea, the potentially vote-splitting right-wing candidate whom O'Brien is accused of buying off with an appointment to the Parole Board.

On Monday, after watching witness after witness effectively corroborate Kilrea's damning version of events, O'Brien's defence team performed a stunning volte face; it asked the presiding judge to render a directed verdict, something normally brought down in order to dismiss a Crown case for lack of evidence but which would, in this case, dismiss the charges for not fitting into the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code. In effect, the defence is arguing that O'Brien's alleged offence is not covered by the law and is thus perfectly legal.

Specifically, the defence contends that the law is meant to criminalise only the act of promising a monetary reward for doing someone a political favour; the promise of a political reward, they argue, is lawful. Thus, it would have been corrupt of O'Brien to have tempted Kilrea with an envelope full of cash, but, since he sought to have Kilrea whore himself for a seat on the Parole Board, O'Brien's in the clear. Lost in this mincing quibbling, apparently, is the obvious fact that a lucrative Parole Board position is, collaterally, a monetary reward.

Ottawa scribe Randall Denley puts the situation in perspective quite lucidly, I think:

According to the defence, offering someone a federal job as an inducement to drop out of a mayoral race is legally acceptable behaviour. The Crown contends that it's not, despite politicians' history of using Senate and cabinet appointments to politically benefit the party in power...If [the judge] determines that there is nothing illegal about what O'Brien is alleged to have done, he is putting a judicial stamp of approval on conduct that stinks...The political culture of senior levels of government has played a dominant role in what is actually a municipal issue...The defence is relying on Canadians' deep cynicism about the honesty of politicians...In the world described in court, unethical behaviour and even stuff that is technically illegal is the everyday fare of what is rather grandly referred to as "political discourse"...Our standards of political behaviour are certainly low. If his defence is successful, O'Brien will have done his bit to help move the bar even lower.

Stephen Harper's "Conservative" party has finally effected a profound reform of Canada's culture of governance, one entirely consistent with its tradition of grotesque political perversity. This party, that strode and swaggered across this country in strident presumed possession of a total monopoly of political integrity, that vowed to extinguish corruption and maintain the highest ethical standards of conduct, that made the "Accountability Act" the key element of its legislative agenda and the heart of the party's moral bona fides, has now outdone the mere passive betrayal of its ideals.

This party has requested, through its loyal Ottawa agent, that political bribery--the most egregious of all the forms of corruption that appal Canadians--be enshrined in Canadian case law as an acceptable, lawful practice. This precedent having been set, the "Conservative" Party will have succeeded in legally institutionalising the worst, most ignoble manifestation of the very corruption the eradication of which is ostensibly their raison d'etre.

The CPC has become the most avidly concupiscent carrier of the venereal disease that has been chancering our body politic for decades. The "Conservative" pretence to be anything else but the defalcating exploiters and enablers of what is worst about our society is the most offensive and least convincing piece of political quackery to be inflicted upon this country in living memory. This earnest appeal on behalf of the élite's right to scoff at the natural law, by the way, comes right on the heels of the CPC's attempt to force judges to impose harsh prison time on people caught growing a quantity of marijuana carrying an intoxicating effect roughly equal to that of a bottle of wine. Bribe an ideological co-militant to slime into City Hall, and walk away with the prize; grow some grass, and go to jail. That's "justice" in Stephen Harper's Canada.

In order to rinse out the bitter taste this case leaves in my mouth, I read this piece about Alex Munter, the young, bright and capable man whose mayoral aspirations were crushed by the demagogic smears of the smiling CPC simian who now begs us to shrug away his flippant debasement of normative civic standards. I read that Munter is not bitter; he seeks no vengeance; he is happy doing productive, necessary work with at-risk youth.

I reflect that, in Stephen Harper's Canada, it seems to be the doom of the good, the honest, and the virtuous to lose, and the fate of the scum to rise to the top. If legally codifying that civic dysfunction is not a crime against humanity, I don't know what is.

Friday, 5 June 2009

"Out of the Depths, Have I Sought Even Deeper Depths, O Lord!": Stephen Harper's De Profundis, Part One

One of the drollest of neo-conservative follies is the belief that government can and should be run "like a business". This formula--often taken seriously even by those alive to the futility of trying to run a train like a yacht--presupposes the notion that the ethos of selling as dearly as possible what one has made as cheaply as possible is both the key to sound national stewardship and the very essence of ministerial integrity.

This notion totally inverts the facts, of course, as does every article of neo-con faith: the optimal way for a government to pursue its rational self-interest (defined by maximising its return and minimising its costs) is to do precisely nothing on behalf of the electors it ostensibly serves: according to pure market values, it is illogical for a federal government to waste its four-year span of electoral impunity working on behalf of a people whose assent it no longer requires and who haven't the power to penalise the incumbents no matter how wasteful, arrogant, or inefficient they are; instead, the logic of pure self-interest requires government caucus members to use their four-year executive monopoly to enjoy and invest whatever personal equity they can extract from their position, particularly by cultivating the kinds of corporate contacts that will enrich them after their legislative mandate elapses or is withdrawn.

If this sounds uncomfortably close to the way Canadian governments actually operate, it is only because governments from across the ideological spectrum all do tend to behave like businesses, as will any human system that confers instant privilege, power and wealth upon ambitious social climbers with weak or expired commitments to any notion of civic responsibility.

"Running a government like a business" means producing as much wealth as possible for the party's shareholders (i.e. M.P.'s , party members and camp followers) whilst doing as little on behalf of tax-payers as possible--in other words, doing precisely what causes Canadians to throw out governments in disgust every eight years or so. This is not a formula for "efficiency" or "accountability"; it is a formula for the sad, dreadful status quo, and its dreary consequences are not the result of political "failure" in the strict sense but of an intentionally elaborated programme.

We need to keep all of this in mind when assessing the performance of Stephen Harper's regime: what appear to be its failures and scandals are actually the perfectly normal and predictable output of the CPC's business model of governance. In fact, it is on this most fundamental level that the CPC has arguably performed at its best, at its most creative, and at its most inspired.

Honest analyses of "Conservative" crises will reveal all the symptoms of an aggressive, disciplined approach to the "government-as-business" model: not content with safe, narrow, low-yield disasters, Harper's government has always sought functional depth in its flagrancies and has been content only when its wretched incompetence and venalities have achieved synergistic cross-platform interoperability.

The Lisa Raitt fiasco serves as a recent example. A Liberal version of this scandal would have seen the offending minister misplace a binder full of classified documents, resign in disgrace, and then quietly reappear in cabinet later when the smoke cleared; the typical Liberal inability to innovate, improvise and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances would have allowed this event to pass by without having its full potential exploited.

In sharp contrast, the CPC recognised the polyvalence of the Raitt affair and acted decisively to make sure that Canadians were exposed to the full wattage of its surreal brilliance. First, we heard that the binder was lost; then we heard that its information was classified not because it was dangerous to the state, but because it was dangerous to the party--revealing as it does that the cost of funding Atomic Energy of Canada will likely cost tens of millions more dollars than the government said it would in its January budget. Then we heard that the government fired Raitt's 26-year-old assistant for the misdeed without even bothering to establish that it was she, not her boss, who actually committed the misdeed.

Now, that is how incompetence is done when you really mean it: never be satisfied with the force of just the most obvious dimension of your stupidity; always strive to add value and layered functionality to it. In this case, we have a party caught withholding information the public deserves to have while misusing a classification protocol designed to protect the state while being caught in an act of colossal budgetary ineptitude while betraying ignominious cowardice in its invertebrate refusal to respect the tradition of ministerial responsibility, by which heads of departments have always held themselves accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

Astonishing. That's a four-part invention of uselessness; a tetra-fuck-up. That's the kind of pioneering drive CPC shareholders expect from their party, and, in our increasingly competitive global market environment, it's the kind of drive they deserve.