The Republicanization of Canadian political culture

Watching the sickening performances of the Harperites in the House of Commons this week – out right lying, bullying, slander, contempt for the public and parliament, and a stunning disregard for the public good – brings home a hard reality: we are witnessing the Republicanization of our political culture. And it’s not just the torture issue – it’s the Conservative labeling of Liberals as anti-Semitic – a kind of shit-house rat politics virtually unknown in Canadian political history. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that Karl Rove is on the PMO’s payroll; his disciples certainly are.

This is storm trooper politics and the most alarming and depressing part of it is that it actually works. In a poll done by the CBC (though on Afghanistan the CBC and its polls can’t be entirely trusted) only 50% of Canadians believed the testimony of Richard Colvin. The rest, presumably, believed a politician, Peter Mackay, who has repeatedly demonstrated a total lack of character – most notably his self-serving lie to David Orchard about handing the Progressive Conservative Party to the barbarians of the Reform/Alliance. Colvin – a man of extraordinary courage, knowing that his testimony would effectively end his career – told the truth simply because it was the right thing to do

But in the new Republican world of Canadian politics viciousness can win out – just as it did in the US with the Swift Boat attack ads going after decorated soldier/politician John Kerry. In a political universe where there are no rules of civilized behaviour, the most ruthless can win because the side that plays by the rules just isn’t mean enough.

There is no obvious way to deal with overt and unapologetic political thuggery. Fighting back in the same manner actually plays into the thugs’ hands because part of their broader objective is to poison the well of public discourse. The ferocious partisanship of the Harper Conservatives – who should really be called the Libertarian Party as there is nothing conservative about them – is designed to drive ordinary citizens away from politics. I can barely stand to watch and listen to the vitriol and lies and I have spent my whole life observing and analyzing politics. I try to imagine what people who have very limited time for it must think when they see this performance. But there is no question that it partly explains the fact that 42% of Canadians didn’t vote in 2008 – a huge advantage for the Libertarians.

Part of the explanation for the weakness of Obama’s administration is the simple fact that the Republicans, even though they are out of power, have so damaged the political culture, so scorched the political landscape, that rational discourse is simply no longer possible in the US. Eight years of George Bush (building on eight years of Ronald Reagan) lives on and will do so for many years to come. Compassion was simply beaten out of US democracy – day after day, week after week, year after year reason was degraded, community destroyed, truth and genuine discourse ridiculed and crushed.

It is impossible to predict whether or not these things are actually dead in the US – or whether the hints of fascism will grow into the real thing before reason and compassion can be rebuilt. The election of Obama suggests that the fight isn’t over – there are millions of progressive Americans who share the best of civic values. But so far they are losing.

We are not there yet in Canada but we are naïve if we think the same destruction can’t happen here. After four years of sociopathic governance by a man full of hate and contempt, Canada is already becoming unrecognizable.

We must stop this man before he literally destroys the country – that is, destroys the core of who and what we are and how we see ourselves. The first step is recognizing that we are in grave danger.

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