In the Kabuki theatre that is a Canadian federal election during the post-modern era, the Conservative Party appears set to play its traditional role as the Party of Fear. The policy positions staked out in the past few days and weeks by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper pretty clearly indicate that "scare the beejeepers out of the audience" is the government's stage direction to the Conservative actors about to play their roles the next federal election."Playing to our darkest fears". But what if our darkest fears are that Stephen Harper gets another mandate? Or our biggest fear of all, that he gets a majority?
... in virtually every way, the definitive sounding positions put forward by the prime minister in various venues, including what sounded suspiciously like a campaign kick-off interview with a tame Postmedia News interviewer on Wednesday, are profoundly negative, designed to play to the darkest fears of Canadians.
And while he is instilling fear, hoping to draw voters to him, he is also using terror within his own government, and with those who might critique it. Says Linda Diebel in the Star:
It’s no secret Harper runs a tight ship with little room for dissension. In the months leading up to his first minority government’s five-year anniversary on Feb. 6, I interviewed about 30 politicians, public servants, consultants and academics about his style and brand on Parliament. Some requested anonymity because they fear repercussions.Those being terrified, are too terrified to even complain about it.
For the most part, what emerged is a portrait of a highly intelligent, skilled and super-partisan politician whose style has created a mood of fear and loathing on Parliament Hill. He hasn’t shied away from stoking an “us versus them” dynamic in the country. Critics use words like “control freak” and “mean-spirited.”
The challenge for opposition members, will be to cut through that word 'fear', and replace it with another four letter word: 'Hope'.
And I know that the word 'hope' has become like the word 'freedom'. Overused to the point where for many it is losing it's meaning. But I have to hold onto the word, because this is the first time I am hearing from Canadians that they are frightened.
If they protest they are beaten. If academics speak out, their careers are threatened. When Dr. O'Connor sounded the alarm on the rise of a specific cancer in communities downstream of the tar sands, this family doctor had to leave Alberta, after numerous personal attacks.
There is no safe place to challenge this government, so the only thing we have left is hope that we can vote them out.
Fear and George Bush
Fear kept George Bush in office for eight years, as he capitalized on 9/11. And during those eight years, he threw his country into two devastating wars and almost bankrupted the nation.
Rabbi Michael Lerner discusses the power of fear in politics:
When the paradigm of fear is dominant, people look at all their experiences through that framework. At such times, politicians who speak the language of fear sound realistic, even profound, while those who talk about hope seem foolish and out of touch. These dynamics have been particularly evident in the post-9/11 world of American politics, in which the fear of terrorism has been used to manipulate the public into supporting politicians who seem to be the toughest militarists and are thus able to reassure the population that they can handle the seemingly ever-present threat. (1)In the past five years we have definitely moved toward militarization. Fear of terrorists, fear of Russians, fear of Israel's enemies. But fear is also used in other areas. Fear of losing your job or not finding one, if we cancel more corporate tax cuts. Fear of job loss if we don't buy the malfunctioning F-35s. Fear of "pirates" if we accept a coalition government.
All discourse presented within a framework of fear.
And as Lerner says:
If we think of a continuum between two poles—the pole of hope and the pole of fear—then we can imagine that at any specific moment each of us is situated at some place on that continuum. In times when a large number of people feel their attention being drawn more toward the pole of fear, we can talk metaphorically about a flow of social energy moving in that direction. And we can experience in ourselves how frequently the voices of fear pop up precisely at the moment when our energies are moving toward hope. (1)So how do we keep Canadians' energies flowing toward hope? It won't be easy. But Rabbi Lerner suggests that we focus on the positive things in our history, something I tried to do with this short film. One of the neoconservative principles, as outlined by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, is to tap into national symbols. The flag, the anthem, hockey. And then exploit the heck out them.
We need to reclaim those things for the common good. Canada was built as a nation for all Canadians. Not for a chosen few. But the new right-wing is about muscular things, dividing and conquering.
Throughout the world the right wing is the political voice for toughness, for using power to dominate others, for striking at others before they can strike at you. This analysis also explains why some of those men who are part of the spiritual and religious world would be attracted to a muscular Christianity. That muscular quality prevents men from being seen as weak or powerless and attracts women who feel they lack strength and want it in some other form. (2)Canadian women are not weak and Canadian men do not need muscle to be heard. We have built a just society through the strength of our convictions, and we will use that strength to fight this government's contrived fear.
1. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right, By: Michael Lerner, Harper-Collins, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-06084247-5, Pg. 78-79
2. Lerner, 2006, Pg. 157