Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We've Been Neo-Conned When We Should Have Been Punked

Much of the success of the neo-conservative movement in Canada is because we never took it seriously. The Reformers hit Parliament Hill enmasse in 1993, and we just shook our heads. Who were these yokels? They want to cane people? They want ten-year-olds to go to jail? Are we being punked?

We saw Reformer Darrel Stinson march across the floor with his fists in the air asking an opposition member if he had the 'gonads' to take him on, during a debate, and we laughed. That scene played over and over on our television sets, and while it was hilarious, we had to remind ourselves that this guy was a Member of Parliament. What just happened here?

Not believing they would last, the media mostly ignored them, every now and then repeating an outrageous remark they made, but c'mon. These guys were fools and we knew it. So how did these 'fools' end up forming a government?

It was because we weren't paying attention, in the same way that we're not paying attention now. Stephen Harper may keep them muzzled, but the fact that he has to should be our wake up call.

Not that Harper himself doesn't have a dark side he is taking great pains to conceal. As Linda McQuaig recently stated for the Toronto Star "If, as polls suggest, Stephen Harper is poised to win a majority, it's largely due to the media notion that his past reputation for extremism no longer holds."

The video above relates to Leo Strauss, the father of this neo-conservative movement and it's not too difficult to see how that relates to Harper's Reformers. The three basic principles are deception, religious fervour and unbridled patriotism through perpetual war, but an important strategy is to identify and exploit 'hot button' issues. We've been neo-conned! OUCH! But we can't say we weren't warned.

Following are excerpts from Hard Right Turn, by political science professor and author, Brooke Jeffrey.

Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada
Brooke Jeffrey
Harper-Collins, 1999
ISBN: 0-00 255762-2

Sins of Omission

Canada's neo-conservatives have relied heavily on their ability to manipulate a disgruntled and fearful middle class. The brilliance of their strategy, as former Ontario premier Bob Rae has noted, has been their ability "to convince the working majority that their fate lies with the wealthy and not with the vulnerable." Overturning the liberal ethic of community and collective responsibility, they have persuaded the middle class that they can survive only by saving themselves and throwing in their lot with the best interests of corporate Canada and the global business elite.

This argument in turn has only been successful because of the widespread and mistaken presumption of much of the middle class - in other Western liberal democracies as well as Canada - that they have been responsible for their own success. As Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith has described in painful detail in The Culture of Contentment, successive generations of middle-class voters have become too removed from the origins of the liberal consensus. Smug in their accomplishments and sublimely unaware that their success has been possible only due to state-sponsored education, health-care and labour programs from which they, of all citizens have benefited the most, they have lost their attachment to the social contract and the welfare state, a development which liberal politicians failed to recognize and correct in time.

Instead, with each generation more removed from the perils of the free market than the last, they prospered sufficiently to create their own reality, building suburban and exurban communities with private education, private medical care and, as American society in particular deteriorated, private security forces. When globalization took it's toll, many of the middle class sank into poverty and lost faith in the system, while those who survived not only prospered, but continued to believe it was due to their own foresight and ability. Either way, the state became less important in their lives.

"...the growing gap (between rich and poor)... described by noted economist and former (U.S.) Secretary of Labour Robert Reich is potentially even more dangerous to liberal democracy ...

"In Canada, with it's even more advanced commitment to the welfare state, the result has been the willingness of the suburban middle-class to allow the deterioration of the social safety net - in order to maintain their standard of living.

"All of these developments, of course, were only possible because of the abject failure of the liberal political elites to recognize the very real threat of the New Right and respond to it appropriately. Convinced that the liberal values and beliefs they had struggled to establish were now firmly entrenched for all time, they first ridiculed and then dismissed early neo-conservative efforts to modify or discredit them. As Canadian writer Michael Ignatieff warned in a speech delivered early in 1998 at the University of Toronto, 'Nothing has done the electoral and moral credibility of liberalism more harm than the failure to take this attack seriously.'

Astute as Canada's neo-conservatives have been, however, they have also been greatly aided by another factor which demonstrates the frailty of liberal democracy in the late twentieth century, particularly in Canada. Voter apathy, and voter ignorance, are phenomena that have boosted the fortunes of all three of Canada's leading new Right politicians immeasurably. (Like convincing Canadians that the coalition was a coup) Like Ronald Reagan, Canada's neo-conservatives were aware of the fact that they could seize power on the basis of a minority coalition of voters. The failure of some citizens to vote, and the failure of others to understand the consequences of the New Right's political agenda, played into the hands of those politicians counting on the 'deliberate ambiguity' of their message to attract sufficient voters.

"For Preston Manning this meant becoming the federal Opposition solely on the strength of his Western rural support. For Klein and Harris, it meant riding to victory on the coat-tails of the rural ridings and their provincial fundamentalist, social-conservative minorities (Strauss's 'religious fervour') For all three it meant appealing to a disgruntled and fearful middle-class, ignorant of the long-term consequences of the right-wing game plan.

In short, the success of the neo-conservative agenda in Canada must be attributed in part to the failure of the liberal politicians, the media and the educational system to perform the vital function of the political education. As Joe Pammet and Jean-Luc Pepin noted in their symposium on this subject more than a decade ago, the widespread absence of civic classes in the public school system, the failure of most politicians to recognize the importance of their role as educators, and the increasingly superficial coverage of political issues accorded by the unequipped media - emphasizing entertainment over information - have all contributed to this disturbing state of affairs."

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