Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why does the Harper government do what it does? Sit down Mr. Malloy. We Need to Talk.

Jonathan Malloy, professor of political science at Carleton University, wrote a commentary for the Globe and Mail, in which he asks the question: Why does the Harper government do what it does?

The short answer would be that they are insane.

But the fact of the matter is, they know exactly what they're doing.

The problem for pundits and the politically engaged, is that Harper's carefully laid out plans are alien to this country, so they are still trying to view them through a traditional lens.

And even more erroneously, through a traditional conservative lens.

My advice to those people. Break the lens. You will never find what you're looking for in there.

The Harper government is neoconservative, which is neither "new" nor "conservative".

So please sit down Mr. Malloy. We need to talk. This is how you will explain the Harper government to your students.

1. Brokerage Party: You are right to suggest that this term does not apply to the Harper government. There has never been a time, nor will there ever be a time, when Stephen Harper, or anyone else from the neoconservative/Reform movement, would ever be consensus builders.

They might read Storming Babylon by Sydney Sharper and Don Braid (Key Porter Books, 1992), or Political Realignment, written in 1967 by Ernest and Preston Manning. They are the "us against them" government who exploit roughly 1/3 of the population, in order to dictate how the other 2/3 must live. And only Anglo, male Christians can belong to the ruling class. Women are allowed so long as they abide by those rules.

2. Ideological Party: "The traditional opposite of a brokerage party is an ideological party, and they rarely win power without a lot of watering down (observe NDP governments)."

An astute observation.

In 2002, Laurence Putnam prepared a paper for the Fraser Institute: An Analysis On The Differences Between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada & The Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, and he too compares the similarities between the Reform Party of Harper/Manning, and the NDP.
The NDP has suffered in recent years as it has been a party of too many contradicting left-wing factions. There is the traditional unionist faction. Then there is the ecologist faction. Unionist forestry-workers do not often agree with ecologists. There is a gay and lesbian rights faction. There is a feminist faction. There is the socialist academic faction.

Basically, the NDP is a conglomerate of various left-wing causes, many of which contradict one another. Like the NDP, the Reform party emerged as a conglomerate of ideological right-wing factions. There was a prominent group of Western separatists. There was and remains a libertarian faction. A republican faction. A populist faction. A religious-fundamentalist faction.
And in many ways the NDP was also an "us against them" party, playing on Western grievances, and what they perceived as the "corruption" of Ottawa and "power" of the East. Who can forget Tommy Douglas's Mouseland? (If you haven't heard it, I've posted a video from the movie below, because I love Tommy Douglas.)

Not that their grievances weren't justified, but many were also contrived for political gain.

The difference is that the NDP have moderated their base, and while still a party of ideals, also represents mainstream thought. On the other hand, the Reformers have done no such thing. Their philosophy is to hold on to their ideology, while trying to simply give the illusion of a moderate centrist party. Or what early member Ted Byfield asked "How do we fool the world into thinking we're moving to the left when we're not?"

This is why Harper's MPs are kept muzzled and all communication is directed by the PMO. Message is everything. So while they may say that they are not going to reopen the abortion debate, caucus members know otherwise. Wink, wink.

I mean look at how many women's groups that they've defunded, not to mention severe cuts to planned parenthood. They do everything incrementally, and Stephen Harper is absolutely right. He will not end abortion, he will starve it, and nothing will be open to debate.

3. Secret Agenda: No longer secret and Stephen Harper has proven that he does not need a majority. He just suspends democracy and does as he pleases.

4. Forty Per Cent: I think that Stephen Harper knows that he will never be able to garner 40% so instead he will just try to extend his power for as long as possible, using threats, fear and intimidation.

The father of Neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, did not really suggest how a party should govern. His doctrine was more about obtaining and holding onto power. Having lived under the Weimar Republic, he distrusted liberal democracies.

He had an intellectual relationship with Nazi Karl Schmitt, and in fact once tried to join the Nazi Party himself, but was turned down because he was Jewish. Strauss was not of the Nazi mindset that created the Holocaust obviously, but simply believed that an authoritarian, one party state, was necessary to keep a country's people in line. And we are definitely moving toward an authoritarian one-party state. Where is the line between the Government of Canada and the Conservative Party?

We are now simply known as the Harper government or in the report about the build-up of arms in the North, "The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper." Canada the country or the Canadian people, are no longer relevant.

5. Lack of Adult Supervision: This one can be credited to Morton Blackwell and the Leadership Institute, and of course their spin-off the Manning Centre for Democracy. They actually teach this stuff. Many a young neo-con from both sides of the border, have passed through these places, where they learn how to never answer a question, or become engaged in a little "controlled controversy". It picks up where Leo Strauss left off.

In the end, no one seems to have a clear explanation that makes sense of the Harper government. The one agreed attribute is that this is a stubborn government that refuses to admit mistakes or back down. Of course, no government likes to do so. But most choose their battles carefully – especially in a minority situation – and appear to follow some sort of coherent strategy, even if it’s the traditional brokerage attempt to be all things to all people. Not this government. And so as a new season begins, we are likely to be baffled even more by this unique government that seems intent on breaking all existing moulds.

Excellent piece Mr. Malloy. It should get people thinking. Just don't tell Harper. He hates it when people think. How else do you explain Fox News North?