And I’m back!
You can fool some of the people all of the time. This old adage describes the situation of anyone taken in by politicians of all stripes – not once but continuously. Yet, who is really being fooled and about what? As we enter the interminable election campaign of 2015, it is clear that fewer people are willing to be permanently fooled. Indeed, the base of all parties have shrunk considerably over the last twenty years and few parties can rely on more than 15 to 25% of reliable hard-core supporters; those who will vote for their party no matter what happens.
Party loyalists are not, of course, fools, at least not most of them. Many genuinely believe in the stated values of their respective teams while holding fast to core Canadian values like tolerance and respect.
But others hope for more. One of the hardest things for most Canadians to believe – entranced by our own mythology of moderation – is that there are those among us who eagerly embrace the tenets of both the far right and the far left, people who are quite happy (or would be if they had the chance) to impose their own world view even if it meant the sacrifice of both democracy and individual freedoms.
But even they are fooled by the political leaders in whom they place their faith. I recall my days in the NDP – a party that in the seventies was constantly playing a game of cat and mouse with those on the far left, sometimes welcoming them in and sometimes holding them at arm’s length. It finally culminated in the formation of the Waffle and subsequently an abandonment of the party by left ideologues. Or was it a purge?
The Conservative party under Stephen Harper plays a similar game with the far right – sometimes welcoming their rabid support but never being quite willing to fully embrace their values. So, they actively court the pro-life movement, appearing at their rallies and speaking to their membership with vague promises of support. Yet, Harper refuses to ‘open the abortion debate’ and orders his cabinet to vote against private member’s bills that even hint at any control on reproductive rights. Of course, they do what they can to appease this frustrated base – instituting an international women’s health initiative that explicitly refuses to allow abortion to be discussed or offered.
They impose a tougher process for the treatment of refugees while at the same time welcoming with open arms immigrants who meet their standards of acceptance (hint: they have a lot of money) – trying to be all things to all people by courting both immigrants with ‘conservative’ social values and the far right whose values oppose all immigration. They abandon the gun registry and the long form census as too intrusive and then adopt the privacy destroying Bill C-51.
All of this is tactically brilliant and has, in the past, allowed the Conservatives to attract those far outside of their base. But it is the base that remains most fooled by Harper, being told to wait for some more fundamental change before their dark dreams can be fulfilled and they can impose their harsh values across Canadian society.
But we, the broader population, can be fooled, too – fooled into thinking that these creeping reactionaries are not part of a long term campaign – fooled into thinking there is no hidden agenda, and that the Conservative party is just another shade of beige in the Canadian spectrum.
But can we be fooled all of the time? October 19th may answer that question. Or not.
And that’s a bit more than ten minutes. But I’m a little rusty.