Hearts, minds and rhetoric

Hey kids, remember this?:

And this?:

And this?:

Remember how we laughed and laughed and laughed at the feverish teabagger imaginations that produced such lurid spittle-flecked hyperbole? Obama, a nazi?  A Stalinist?  Hahaha!

Yes yes, and you might also remember that while we were leaning over the fence pointing and laughing at the lunatic fringe to our south, in our own back yard progressives just couldn’t seem to catch an electoral break.  Sigh.

Over 4 years and another election since Stephen the Corpulent first waddled to power, resplendent in the Blue Sweater-Vest of Authority and with a death grip on the Kitteh of Don’t Let This Happen to You, the Prime Minister’s chair still creaks and groans beneath his girth, and some days it seems like nothing short of a giant turbocharged Crowbar of Social Justice will pry him out.  Or maybe removing Harper hinges on winning back the hearts and minds of an electorate that’s clearly soured on the concept of left-leaning governance.

Question of the Day:  is this effort helped or hindered by frenzied left-wing rhetoric about Steve the Fascist-Nazi-Totalitarian, or would it be more productive to critique Harper for what he really is:  a sleazy and unprincipled right-wing authoritarian political opportunist who pushes the envelope of power as much as humanly possible within the limits of a democracy?  I’m going with Door #2.

Harper and his sycophantic little crew have earned titles like “bullies”, “toadies”, “douchebags” and “lying slime-ridden weasel shit on toast”.  There are certainly many rational and valid reasons for opposing the Harper government.  But the vapid idea that Harper is a “fascist” and a “totalitarian” — you know, like Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot — might be a hard sell outside the left-wing blogosphere.  The far left-wing blogosphere.  Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little creative license to add impact — I do it myself all the time, and it’s fun.  But to seriously suggest that Stephen Harper is the equivalent of Kim Jong-Il or Hitler is to invite… questions… about your mental stability.  It’s doubtful that such teabaggy-good rhetoric would help make the case against the Harper government anyway, and it might even reinforce Jane and Joe Average Canadian’s shaky support for them.

Which brings me to those average Canadians whose hearts and minds must be won to prevail over Harper, and another troubling trend I’ve noticed among some progressives.  Call it liberal elitism or a misplaced sense of superiority, it’s the attitude that the Canadian middle class is a great monolith of human dumbness that votes Conservative because they’re too stupid or brainwashed to know any better.  (Never mind that once upon a time this same monolith of human dumbness was a large part of the Liberal constituency, delivering them to power with 3 consecutive majorities.)  It’s not a widespread attitude, but it’s a dangerous one, not calculated to win anything but another decade in the political wilderness.

I’ve often wondered why progressive political parties have fallen so badly from favour with the Canadian middle- and working-class, and if it’s possible to win them back.  But I have a feeling that elitism and psycho-talk about fascists and totalitarians not only won’t win them back, it may in fact be counterproductive to the task of ousting Harper and his squalid cabal of criminally-insane, democracy-raping theo-nazis.  (*wink*)

UPDATE: Scathingly reality-based criticism:  Exhibit “A”.

25 Responses to “Hearts, minds and rhetoric”


  1. 1 Brian Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

          All of it always surprises me — histrionics on the left and on the right — inasmuch as politics is usually such a balanced, reasoned pass time.

          I have found little difference in the difficulty encountered in trying to stick to the issues with individuals of any and all persuasions.   All of them (virtually) go primarily with sound bites rather than anything more involved.   Frightening…

          But listen:  Keep trying.   It will bring nothing but good if you are even marginally successful in elevating the level of dialog.

  2. 2 deBeauxOs Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    That’s a valid point, JJ.

    Taking the high road is always the best tactic. It worked well for Stéphane Dion, didn’t it?

  3. 3 JJ Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    deBeauxOs – You of all people, who are capable of turning an entertaining phrase without descending into the realm of hysteria, should know what I mean.

  4. 4 JJ Friday, August 20, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Brian

    inasmuch as politics is usually such a balanced, reasoned pass time.

    Very funny, smartass :lol:

    What I’m expressing here is my dismay at what appears to be a dumbing down of progressives, when we used to have an intellectual, or at least a rational, edge. I think we may have spent so much time observing and ridiculing wingnuttery that the Virus may have jumped the species :shock: because every day I’m startled by the dumbness I see from my own side. Startled and depressed.

  5. 5 Dr.Dawg Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 7:10 am

    I wonder how many Germans in the late ‘twenties, observing all the signs, stayed in complete denial? Called their more aware fellow-citizens alarmist?

    The important point to make is that “they only do what we let them do.” The unspoken assertion is that it can’t happen here, because we won’t let it. But I see little evidence that we are doing anything but “letting it.”

    As Harrison Salisbury noted: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'” If fascism comes to Canada, it will come wrapped in the Canadian flag and whistling the unamended “O Canada.” It’s not inevitable, nor is it necessary to see in Harper a secret Hitler. But a considerable cultural and political shift is taking place in the country that all of us should be rightly alarmed about.

    Two examples: 1) a major Canadian newspaper has called for the slaughter of Tamil refugees; and 2) a major Canadian TV network recently mainstreamed neo-Nazi Paul Fromm. Unthinkable, even five years ago.

    All very well to question the “mental stability” of those of us who don’t want to see history repeated. Maybe it won’t be, precisely because we alarmists have raised the possibility and we collectively pull back from the brink. But what we do know at present is that Harper dislikes democracy and is actively chipping away at it on a number of fronts. It’s foolhardy, I suggest, to wish the dangers away.

  6. 6 JJ Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Dr. Dawg

    But a considerable cultural and political shift is taking place in the country that all of us should be rightly alarmed about.

    I don’t deny that at all, nor am I suggesting that we should all just STFU about it. We should in fact be shouting from the rooftops (or blogtops, whatever the case may be) about the daily assaults on our democracy and civil liberties.

    What I’m trying to say here is that if the time to get serious (election) is almost upon us, we might not be doing ourselves any favours by making the case against Harper in a way that’s hard to take seriously. It’s a fine rhetorical line, and some people walk it well (you do it, and Montreal Simon also comes to mind), but increasingly I’m seeing progressives cross that line into wingnut territory. It’s good to raise the alarm that Harper uses some strategies that are similar to those used in totalitarianism, but IMO it’s going too far to claim the Harper government is therefore a totalitarian regime. I mean, come on.

    I guess in a nutshell what I’m saying is, one can sound the warning without alienating those we wish to alarm.

  7. 7 Niles Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

    If Harper fits the checklists set up to point out fascism/totalitarianism, then so be it. He is what he is and he can wear it. I don’t feel like being co-operative and polite to someone who only uses it against me. If Altemeyer’s study means anything, Rightwing authoritarian leader is just a kinder, gentler way of saying sociopathic totalitarian a**hole anyway.

    Still, given the general awareness of history in today’s Canadian population, I doubt a lot of people could ID Hitler or Stalin, let alone Kim, let alone as to WHY they were bad people. Names like that are useful only between informed people as shorthand and they’re the ones going well, he’s not *that* bad. I suspect words like dictator, despot, selfish, bully boy, tyrant, by divine right king are still going to mean more to people than the poli-sci categories.

    Ironically, using actual political science and historical research to point out what Harper’s tactics represent for the political future of the country, is an appeal to reason. Appeals to reason don’t work with rightwing authoritarian followers all too well. Harper’s done a hearty job of upping noise to signal ratio in declaring elites and science as a bad source for truth, to make sure his core isn’t listening.

    So, what’s that leave Harper’s political opponents?

    All the shorthand name-calling in the world won’t matter until enough people have a NIMBY smoking in the ground near them and they’re rattled by the impact, but can still read Harper’s signature on the casing.

  8. 8 balbulican Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Welcome back, you’ve been missed.

  9. 9 Dr.Dawg Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Of course Canada isn’t a totalitarian state. But I’d like to keep it that way, and the signs and portents are not exactly reassuring.

    But I think we’re on the same wavelength here. I had thought you were referring to a post of mine earlier this week.

  10. 10 Boris Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    There’s a plurality of voices on the left-progressive side delivering essentially the same message. Some are further from shore than others (some of my own posts are a little out there) but they’ll all find audiences somewhere. That great mean of voters that everybody is worried about influencing will go one way or another; and to an extent there might be little we can do about about it. At this point removing Harper has as more to do I think with the Opposition mobilising like they mean it than voices from the great public wilderness.

    On the other hand, it’s a truism that people often learn best by [hard] experience. It might take Niles’ NIMBY round; and even then who knows whether people will find it easier to move their Overton window to the right than take a stand for themselves or others.

  11. 11 JJ Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Niles – I’m not saying the Harper government poses no threat to civil liberties etc, and we should all cool our jets about it — obviously the threat exists and should be taken seriously. But geez, do we really have to go all freaking batshit Godwin’s Law about it? That trend really unnerves me.

  12. 12 JJ Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    balb – ♥ Thank you ♥ “Welcome” is not a word I’d use to describe the vibe I’ve been getting from the proggiesphere lately, so that’s nice to see.

  13. 13 JJ Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Dr.D

    I had thought you were referring to a post of mine earlier this week.

    No no no, nothing to do with you. Actually none of my favourites have been plumbing the depths of hysterical dumbness. But it’s out there :shock:

  14. 14 JJ Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Boris – First of all, thanks for writing such a great post. It’s perfect: all the urgency without the batshit.

    Some are further from shore than others (some of my own posts are a little out there) but they’ll all find audiences somewhere.

    We all use creative license to varying degrees and there’s nothing wrong with it… I do it all the time, and extravagant hyperbole is fun. But when we use terms like “the Harpernazis” or whatever, I think most of us are pretty clear that the CPC government is not, in fact, a nazi regime. Shrill, shrieky bullshitting used to be the domain of the irrational, ie. not progressives, but no more.

    You know, this wouldn’t have concerned me 4 years ago. But as political blogging is increasingly mainstreamed, credibility is more important.

  15. 15 Niles Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

    JJ, blathering on as I do, what I meant is, if Harper deserves a true label of fascist, he can wear it, but that the nazi etc labels -even-if-they-are-accurate-, just pre-crapalooza rather than post-crapalooza, don’t mean much to most people of this generation beyond a vague intent of evildoing, and that it’s actually more productive to call him things like selfish preening self-absorbed despot.

    Even calling him a poster boy for rightwing authoritarian leader means nothing to a lot of people not on the ‘in’ track with their readings. The people who dislike Harper being compared to Y, are the ones who actually have some idea of who Y was and how far Y and fellow travellers got dictating disaster.

    The ones who underpin getting rid of Harper will likely react faster to being damaged by his policies rather than him being associated with historical megalomaniacs, but how to get them to realize they have some arterial gouting going on?

  16. 16 JJ Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Niles – Ahh, okay. That’s what happens when I post in that braindead zone between getting home from a long night at work and collapsing into bed. It’s not you, it’s me ;)

    I agree that if the shoe fits, he should wear it. I guess my argument is that it isn’t a perfect fit — not even close, really. The odd Hitlerian tactic does not a nazi regime make. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the alarming fact that the Harper gov’t occasionally borrows from Goebbels, but I think it’s a mistake to articulate it as “He’s a Nazi!!!11!” which I’m seeing more progressives do.

    Maybe this comes from frustration: I certainly didn’t expect Harper to still be in power 4.5 years after he was first elected. I definitely didn’t expect him to have spent most of that time in a minority but governing as if he had a majority because the opposition were such spineless wimps.

    how to get them to realize they have some arterial gouting going on?

    I don’t know, but my feeling is that getting all shrill and bug-eyed will give progressives all the credibility of the guy standing on the street corner yelling about One World Government and the impending apocalypse.

  17. 17 Peter Monday, August 23, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Well, JJ, in some ways the left today are the new old-fogey conservatives, desperately trying to keep the glory days of the seventies alive in the face of those new-fangled rightists calling for change. They are circling wagons and lurching with epithets more and more, and they remind me of the con types from the sixties who tried to meet arguments about pre-marital sex with loud screechings about communism, orgies and abandoned children. I do realize the BTs provide endless fodder for progressive outrage and indignation, but we are talking about the same few dozen people we were talking about three years ago, and they are a lot less relevant than they think they are. Nobody…and I do mean nobody…in Middle Canada is going to buy things like Harper is a Christianist/fundamentalist/fascist, the government wants to ban non-white immigrants or the long-form census fuss was about reversing the Enlightenment and undoing the ship of state.

    The left is spending far, far too much time with their “Harper as bogeyman” scenarios. All they are accomplishing is making folks who voted against him in ’06 hate him even more–not exactly a good vote-snagging strategy– and they can’t seem to get their heads around the notion that there are actually lots of folks who respect him who aren’t emotionally warped or mentally ill. I don’t know how long it is going to take before the left figures out they are actually going to have to propose and debate ideas rather than just insult putative yahoos and assure one another how smart they are, but there aren’t too many signs of that yet. Also, I am really struck by how little discussion there is in the blogosphere about the lives and perspectives of modern youth. They ain’t the Woodstock generation.

    One thing that strikes me is that in four years of Harper, not one of the other four parties has been able to attract one big name to join them. One would have thought there would be at least one courageous, well-known partisan of democracy and social justice who would sacrifice himself or herself to stop a slide into fascism or a return to the Dark Ages.

  18. 18 Cornelius T. Zen Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Good morrow, all!
    Getting anything done in Canada is like mating elephants:
    It’s carried out on a very high level, with a great deal of noise, and it takes two years to see any results.
    “I would do anything to restore my youth, except get up early, take exercise or become respectable.” – Oscar Wilde.
    We are marching stalwartly into the 50’s – the 1850’s. Harper has clued into the essential complacency in Canada, and has enabled it with…well, I won’t say gusto, it’s not like the man gets up early, takes exercise or even knows what being respectable looks like.
    Everytime I see the man smile, I want to offer him Pepto-Bismol. He has become the Mackenzie King of the 21st Century. Nobody likes him, and nobody can get rid of him.
    For your own peace of mind, JJ, ignore him. It appears that charisma in leadership died with Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
    Sociopathy is best disguised in mediocrity – CTZen

  19. 19 Janus Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

    “One would have thought there would be at least one courageous, well-known partisan of democracy and social justice who would sacrifice himself or herself to stop a slide into fascism or a return to the Dark Ages.”

    Well, Peter, on the face of it, that’s a very good thought. However, this is Canada. Self-sacrifice is discouraged as being entirely too radical (read: American). And, too, we don’t exactly have a democracy here. Witness the Anti-HST fight in BC — immediately after crowing that “this is a great victory for democracy,” Campbell went right back to putting roadblocks in the way of it. Now, that’s on a provincial level, but it translates to all levels of politics and government in this country — top down. Vox populi need not apply.

  20. 20 JJ Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Hi Peter

    I was kind of hoping you’d weigh in… thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

    in some ways the left today are the new old-fogey conservatives, desperately trying to keep the glory days of the seventies alive in the face of those new-fangled rightists calling for change

    LOL, really. Recently I’ve read things that made me think just that: “Are you serious? The 70s are over.”

    For sure many on this side view that era as some kind of societal pinnacle: decent cost of living, massive entitlements for everyone, an employee’s job market, etc. So I understand the resistance to the idea of adapting to more austere economic realities, even if I don’t think it’s particularly realistic. But the culture of entitlement isn’t sustainable ad infinitum, and the sooner people realize it, the less painful it will be all the way around.

    I do realize the BTs provide endless fodder for progressive outrage and indignation, but we are talking about the same few dozen people we were talking about three years ago, and they are a lot less relevant than they think they are.

    The fringes on both sides seem to be getting shriller and crazier, as the center retreats in disgust. I wonder how many others have had that Moment of Clarity when they realize that there are mock-worthy bloggers on both sides of the aisle, and if the phrase “look into the abyss” floated across their minds when they did. But you’re probably right that outside of the blogosphere, the influence of the crazy on political reality is limited. At least I hope so.

    Nobody…and I do mean nobody…in Middle Canada is going to buy things like Harper is a Christianist/fundamentalist/fascist

    It’s funny — some of these claims might originate with a kernel of truth, but it seems to me that what starts out as a valid point is undermined when it’s exaggerated. By all accounts, Harper isn’t any of those things, and maintaining that he is takes away from some very valid points such as that too many people like Charles McVety are too close to government these days.

    The left is spending far, far too much time with their “Harper as bogeyman” scenarios.

    Totally agree. I always try to imagine what the average Canadian sees when they look at Harper, and I suspect they see a mild-mannered, somewhat nerdy, pretty typical Canadian politician who indulges in the usual hypocrisy, pandering and control-freaking, pushes his luck sometimes but in general seems like not a bad guy overall. They do not see the 2nd coming of Stalin, and turning up the volume won’t change their minds.

    there are actually lots of folks who respect him who aren’t emotionally warped or mentally ill.

    LOL, that’s true! My brother votes conservative and probably respects Harper about as much as he could respect any politician, and he’s not a bit warped or mentally ill or any of those other things conservatives are routinely accused of.

    The idea that someone from the “other side” could be a perfectly okay normal person seems to be anathema to some people. I’ve had commenters come on here and say some bumper sticker slogan like “Conservatism is a mental illness”, and I have to remind them that although I’m mostly what you’d call “liberal”, there are some things I lean right on, so lay off the broad brush.

    I am really struck by how little discussion there is in the blogosphere about the lives and perspectives of modern youth.

    Good point. There are some interesting young bloggers, but I think their issues are overwhelmed by the boomers who still command so much attention and drive so much of the politics. No wonder they can’t wait for us to shuffle off.

    One thing that strikes me is that in four years of Harper, not one of the other four parties has been able to attract one big name to join them.

    The other 4 parties just aren’t very attractive, it’s that simple.

  21. 21 JJ Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:43 am

    CTZen

    Nobody likes him, and nobody can get rid of him.

    Well, somebody out there must like him: he’s been elected twice.

    I can remember the last days of PET’s prime ministership (or whatever it’s called), when he was extremely unpopular with just about everyone. When he finally stepped down (84 or 85), even I, who loved the guy, pinned the front page of the Province to my office wall — a ginormous headline that said, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

    Not that I compare Harper to Trudeau (which Harper probably wouldn’t appreciate anyway), but we’ve had our share of PMs that were seemingly impossible to get rid of. The question is Why.

  22. 22 JJ Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Janus – Maybe what Peter means is, where is our new Trudeau? Where’s that popular and famous progressive leader to step in and wow the nation with his (or her) irresistible charisma? The progressive left seems to not attract such people anymore.

    Although Harper’s not it, I think such a phenomenon is far more likely to happen on the right, and woe to progressives when it does. Remember how popular Bill Vander Zalm was? And he was practically a Nazi! (Said with tongue in cheek, at least partially.) But his backstory was impressive (immigrant makes good & becomes gazillionaire small business owner in Canada) and his charisma was overwhelming. “FAAAAAAANTASTIC!”

  23. 24 JJ Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    JAB – Thanks for the info. There’s something bizarre about this story — it sounds like the perp is a young kid and a lefty, and a member of a peace group that supports the Islamic Center(!!). But he just got back from Afghanistan, and he was drunk, so I suspect PTSD.

    Can’t wait to see what the wingnuts are saying.

    The world has spun a bearing. Time to go off the grid.


  1. 1 Gund 18-Inch Brighton Bear « bartonseek.com Trackback on Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

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