Thursday, May 5, 2011

Orange Crush, Blue Balls, Red Retreat

Margaret Wente is insightful as ever this morning. While I don’t know that I agree with her overall assessment, I find it difficult to quibble with most of her points. If you enjoy good political analysis, give this morning’s column a spin:

While she does not dismiss outright the notion that Harper’s pre-campaign attack ads played a prominent role in Ignatieff’s demise, she points to several other factors that proved useful to the Tories’ success. As biting and well-informed as her analysis is, I believe it falls short, and I will tell you why.

She correctly cites several examples of the Grits’ unwillingness to engage in the hard work of base-building, especially among minority constituencies. No one among the Liberals, she said, had the stamina to go out and drink 15,000 cups of tea. The muted and impotent Liberal appeals to minority ridings and groups was seen as insincere. Liberals gave up on ridings and ideas that had been their strong suit many years ago. I think she is spot on here, especially since her words are mirrored by a party insider, Robert Silver, who also presented a sterling analysis of Liberal deficiencies in the last election:

Ms. Wente invokes the obvious, that the Cowtown Wrangler was able to assemble a two-pronged political alliance centred in his stronghold of southern Alberta, but with a now entrenched eastern hub centred in central and southern Ontario. So strong is this continent-spanning coalition of political diversity finding room under the very generous Tory umbrella, Harper’s Posse was able to cede Québec and still manage a comfortable win.

The question for the political analyst, though, is WHY, and it is in this regard that both Ms. Wente and Mr. Silver fall short. I think Douglas Bell comes closest to nailing the analysis. He cites a simple, powerful, 60-second clip from The West Wing as the underlying reason for the destruction of the party of Laurier, Pearson, and Trudeau:

Here’s the Youtube citation:

I agree with the assessment of Bruno Gianelli (portrayed by actor Ron Silver, no relation to Robert Silver), and I believe it comes closest to explaining the reason for the diverse failures catalogued in both the Wente and Silver analyses. Democrats in the United States long ago caved into the notion that the L word was so damaging to political aspirations that it could never be invoked. Traditional liberal concerns—care for the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged, the sick—had to be abandoned because Americans would not stomach the financial obligations imposed by these social responsibilities. The problem is that Trudeau’s Just Society does not work without an emphasis on providing for the dignity of all people as essential precursor to the establishment of rights for all Canadians. I believe it is the LPC’s abandonment of traditional liberal principles, more than anything else, that has left the party in ruins, and will inevitably lead to the complete disintegration of the party.

The young Mr. Trudeau of Papineau, who will almost certainly become the party’s leading voice, and probably also its formal leader, has his work cut out for him. If he wishes to breathe life back into this fearful, quivering mass, he’s going to have to demonstrate backbone. Trudeaumania did not begin with the playboy and his convertible. It began with the man of political integrity and doctrinal authenticity, who had no fear of standing up to the political titans of his day. The LPC will gain back its voice only when it decides that Liberal is not a dirty word, and that the Just Society is not only something achievable, but that it is, in fact, the stuff upon which Canada is properly founded.

May 5, 2011

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