The Day Conservatism Died

April 19, 2011

Does anyone know the exact date when conservatism ceased operations as a productive, positive contributor to society? At what point of time in its supposed illustrious history did it stop offering up ideas and solutions that consisted of more complex notions than could fit perfectly on a placard, bumper sticker or that a two year-old could remember and recite? Was it a sudden jolt like a meteor strike that made the post-Enlightenment air toxic to the more progressives in their movement or did they just gradually rid themselves of reason, rational thought and a belief in the common good?

Was the last true conservative of the Burkian mold in the plane with Buddy Holly that fateful night in February 1959?

We know traditional political conservatism has been under attack in the U.S. since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It was put on the endangered list under Richard Nixon and the last species spotted during the Reagan Revolution. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents’ conservatism went extinct when George W. Bush move into the Oval Office in January 2001.

But here in Canada, conservatism survived a little longer, dying a slower death. Perhaps it was fatally infected with the 1988 Free Trade Deal and our closer integration with the United States. The ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism began to rub off on us. With the rise of western alienation, the Reform Party and Alberta with its U.S. style conservatism as an oil producing, economic force. The progressive in the Progressive Conservative leaked away, lapped up by the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberals, eager to bolster their right flank.

Ontario dipped its toe into the new conservative waters when it embraced Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution in the mid-90s, rejecting and ultimately putting a bullet in the head of the red Toryism that had ruled the land for over 40 years until 1985. After 8 years, the province return to its traditional progressive conservative roots when it elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The actual Progressive Conservative now exists in name only.

Unlike their neo-conservative soul mates at the federal level who, with the PC-Canadian Alliance/Reform Party amalgamation, jettisoned any last vestige of progressive thought or policy. Finally, it’s Morning in Canada. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Science is bad. Peacekeeping is for pussies. In-depth gathering of data in order to more thoroughly define and guide public policy is an invasion of privacy and must be eliminated. An added bonus if you’re planning to build more prisons and get tougher on crime in the face of evidence pointing to dropping rates of criminal behaviour.

Statistics and facts be damned when we’ve got naked ideology to propel us forward back to the 17-century!

It wasn’t too long ago that kind of political thinking would’ve relegated you to the fringes. Yet now the Conservatives are within serious striking distance of securing a majority victory, able to count on a third of the electorate for steadfast support for what can only be described as an antediluvian outlook. Hell, in the so-called liberal hotbed of Toronto, nearly 50% of the voters rallied behind Rob Ford – the poster child for narrow-minded, anti-government, pithy slogans as policy platforms politicians — as their choice for mayor last fall. We are now in the process of witnessing up close and personal just much how respect we taxpayers should expect from neo-conservative politicians.

Which, judging by the craziness going on to the south of us at the hands of the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, should be next to nil. The thing is, when conservatives abandoned their core principle as stated by Glen Worthington, “…the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society”, the day traditional conservatism died, all bets were off. Neo-conservatives bear no responsibility to anyone aside from themselves. What’s good for them as individuals is good for society. End stop. Edmund Burke and the like deposed by Ayn Rand. Ask not what your country can do for you because it’s going to do fuck all. And certainly don’t ask what you can do for your country as, well, that would just be an imposition, an impingement of my individual freedom and liberty.

And those of us not sharing that particularly libertarian worldview have much blame to shoulder for the current conservative-less situation. By accepting any tenets of the faith, from its creeping anti-governmentalism to the bogus trickle-down economic theory, we lent it credibility and gave it traction. We helped make the lunatic acceptable and now find ourselves having to defend against what is essentially an alternate reality where up is down, black is white and tax cuts generate increased revenue for the public purse.

An alternate reality where the likes of Ezra Levant are considered worthy of having a spot on television to discuss politics. Yes, as a matter of fact, he did compare the CBC to a North Korean state run broadcast. With a straight face!

Watching what I could stomach of yesterday’s launch of Sun TV, two words immediately sprung to mind: cable access. Back when honest to god conservatism was still alive and well, that’s where crackpots like Mr. Levant et al would’ve been relegated if they wanted to air their fetid, malignant views out in public. Or a soapbox in the corner of a park.While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is traditional conservatism died, I think we can officially call time of death. It was April 18th 2011, 4:30pm EDT.

sympathetically submitted by Cityslikr


Running On Empty

October 16, 2010

Sitting alone (again, naturally) on a Saturday morning in the office, my 2nd cup of tea still refusing to warm me up. I will not turn on the electric baseboard heating and give our landlord the satisfaction or the cash. I will not!

I am pondering the rightward tilt the race for mayor seems bound and determined to follow and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. OK, so people are angry. I get it. The recession lingers on like the first autumn cold that will not quit regardless of what you throw at it. (My suggestion? Plenty of booze and cigarettes. Take it out for an all-night bender. Show it just how unwelcome a host you really can be.) We’re told that we’ve weathered the blow but that the turnaround is going to be painfully slow and drawn out. There’s still some bloodletting to be done in order to get us back to fighting weight.

We’re looking for somebody to blame for this mess and who better than government? There is an orderly process in place for us to make our displeasure known: voting. The alternative is dicier and slightly more involved as it would mean gathering together in groups and tearing some shit up. But, judging by the reaction to things in June during the G8 meeting here, such recourse is frowned upon in official circles.

For us in Ontario, the first crack we’re getting at expressing ourselves at the ballot box is at the municipal level, by-elections aside and who really counts those? The thing that’s baffling me about how it’s all playing out, at least in Toronto, is why are people reacting so, well, reactionarily? We’ve been down this road before, people. Remember?

That hapless and spendthrift Bob Rae government at Queen’s Park in the mid-90s? We ushered in the fiscally austere and oh-so competent Mike Harris Conservatives to clean up the mess. They didn’t. Or how about the corrupt and profligate Jean Chretien/Paul Martin team up there in Ottawa, blowing through all our hard earned dollars on pet projects like… what was it called again? Shawinigate? Time to bring in the restrained and prudent sensibilities of the conservative Harperites to restore order. Except, ooops, they didn’t.

Modern day conservatives never solve problems. They only exacerbate them, deepen them and create ones where none existed. It is a bankrupt ideological movement that successfully achieves two objectives, and two objectives only. One, to roll back any and all social and economic gains made over the last 80 years or so. Two, to dismantle the mechanisms of government in order to render it inoperable for society as a whole so they can turn around and parrot the empty words of their patron saint, Ronald Reagan. “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

After that? They’ve got nothing but a dog whistle to call forth the furies of outrage and resentment lurking just below the surface.

Rather than spend time and space today running down the shortcomings, lies and delusions of the anti brigade vying to retake City Hall for us here come October 25th, let’s take a glance south of the border to our American neighbours who are taking neoconservative/libertarian thinking to its illogical extreme.

Watching the last couple episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher, we encountered 3 cases in point. There was P.J. O’Rourke, the satirical lion of Reagan era libertarianism now simply looking old and tired, stating emphatically that ‘governments don’t create jobs’. When questioned by co-panelist Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big To Fail, an account of the economic meltdown of 2008, that if by choosing to build, say, a bridge, wasn’t government creating jobs? O’Rourke’s response? Don’t get him started on bridge safety. He was all for bridge safety. Aren’t we all, P.J.? Now, would you please answer Mr. Sorkin’s question.

Next up on the same show was one S.E. Cupp, a shiny-faced conservative pundit star on the internet. In the midst of a discussion about America’s need to start investing more fully in developing alternative sources of energy, she declared that alternative energy solutions were a rich country’s concerns. Again, somewhat flummoxed, Sorkin pointed out that China had surpassed America in pursuing alternative energy solutions which only seemed to prove Cupp’s point. For her, China is now a rich country because it owns a big chunk of U.S. debt and it was the U.S. that was broke. So no alternative energy for America. By reducing a complex economic system to one single factor, this conservative mind believed China was rich and the United States poor. O’Rourke then piped in with the view that we couldn’t do anything about climate change anyway because everyone in China ‘wanted a Buick’. Seriously, kids. He used to be funny.

Last night’s episode featured another conservative internet star, radio show host and proud member of the Tea Party party, Dana Loesch, “… the sweet Midwestern goth version of Laura Ingraham.” Railing against the bailouts and stimulus spending as un-American, she was unimpressed by the notion that the move probably helped staunch the bleeding and ward off another Great Depression. “Why does the government get to decide who succeeds and who doesn’t?” she responded. Uhhh… well, I guess since the private sector was collapsing in on itself, somebody had to step up and try to avoid long breadlines and overcrowded soup kitchens. When Dan Neil, a Wall Street Journal writer, corrected her earlier assertion that more money was spent on the bailout and stimulus then on the war in Iraq, she countered that ‘there are a lot of figures out there that dispute that’.

Ah, yes. Those mystical, magical ‘figures out there’ used to dispute whatever needs disputing in order to keep the belief system going. Or what rational people call, clutching at straws. Because that’s all modern conservatism is capable of anymore. Clutching at straws.

And yet, we keep turning back to it attempting to solve our problems. Our delusion seems to be mutual.

consternatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The PM At The FCM

June 1, 2010

Sitting watching the video of Prime Minister Harper’s speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities from last Friday and I think it safe to say without fear of contradiction that I have not seen such a perfunctory public performance since paying $17 000 to witness the Eagles play Hotel California during their Hell Freezes Over For A Third Time reunion tour.

The man so didn’t want to be there. (Just like Don Henley.) He had nothing but contempt for those he had deigned to speak to. (Just like Timothy B. Schmit.) He chanted the phrase ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’ relentlessly as if to ward off evil spirits. (Just like Joe Walsh.)

Our Prime Minister couldn’t so much as muster up the pretense of graciousness to try and appear that he gave even a passing shit about the speech or who it was he was talking to. With the whole G20 meeting heat swirling around him, he put in an appearance and left the stage without taking any questions from the audience. Thank you and good night! Actually, it was less of a rote performance and more of a sound check.

And Conservatives wonder why they can’t make an electoral breakthrough in the country’s biggest cities? Even just a little love from Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto would put them securely into majority territory but somehow they are simply unable to reach out. Toronto should fuck off, we were told by Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird in the midst of the biggest economic downturn in decades.

While Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn’t exactly blow the roof off the place, he gave the impression that he’d at least put some thought into what he was going to say rather than slapping something together in the limo ride from the hotel. Ignatieff talked about the future, with cities being offered a more equal partnership. He talked about a national public transit strategy. An affordable housing strategy. A national infrastructure bank. To his mind, cities weren’t merely a “delivery system for the federal government’s stimulus program…” but “… ladders of opportunity.”

Hokum? Quite possibly. There is little question that many of the problems cities face currently can be traced back to a federal Liberal government’s budgetary slashing and burning in the early-to-mid-90s. A wrong they never even thought of righting until Paul Martin’s minority situation more than 10 years later almost, a cynic might argue, as a ploy to shore up their urban base.

Still, it’s preferable to a prime minister who steps in front of an audience of municipal leaders and refers to them as pothole fillers. That’s a level of smug self-importance and lack of awareness that is nothing short of staggering. Or maybe in Harper’s case, it’s completely calculated.

Like their eagerness to be seen dissing the “experts”, “academics” and “eggheads” in order to play to their perceived Sarah Palin base, maybe the idea of coming into Toronto and calling its mayor a filler of potholes went exactly as planned. This might also explain their whole lack of concern about the G20 controversy. Knowing how you can never not score points from coast to coast to coast by being seen sticking it to Toronto, it is very possible for this very political prime minister that he’s using the event to mark his territory as the top dog, alpha male boss. We’re bringing the G20 meeting here, see. We’re not even going to ask your permission, got it. We’re putting it on where we want with complete disregard for any suggestions you may have about where would work best. Because I’m the Prime Minister of Canada and you’re just a pothole filler.

If you’re a believer that the building of strong, sustainable cities is the future of building a strong, sustainable country, there is nothing our current Prime Minister says or does that can fill you with any confidence whatsoever. He clearly doesn’t share that view. To him the future is little more than balanced budgets and low, low corporate taxes. Cities aren’t even on his radar. They’re an after-thought, places to host international gatherings where he can sit beside other world leaders, basking in significance. Cities are just somewhere we live, where there are pot holes to be filled by lesser politicians than he.

submitted by Cityslikr