Political Discourse in America

Mindlessly chanting “USA, USA, USA!” the audience at CPAC shouts down a handful of “Occupy” protesters that were attempting to disrupt a speech by former political celebrity Sarah Palin with inane chants of their own.

Evidently, the CPAC attendees “won” the contest.

Update: Another example of lofty debate from the CPAC event… In this instance, conservative provocateur Andrew Brietbart repeatedly commands a noisy group of “Occupy” protesters to “behave” themselves, then goes on to call them “filthy freaks and animals” before angrily demanding they stop raping and murdering people.

30 Replies to “Political Discourse in America”

  1. One thing that really struck out at me – and made me think it was kind of “childish” – was Ms Palin’s chant along with the rest of the CPAC attendees at those Occupiers…

  2. Of course, at Canadian political ralles, we chant things like “Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for the decriminalization, although not necessarily the legalization, of marijuana posession in small quantities within a regulatory framewok that balances the need for individual choice with the need to protect children!!”

    Bit sniffy, aren’t we?

  3. While poo-pooing the U.S.A is quite facile, Canada is not immune to the same batshit crazy stupidity where Harpercons will week out the undesirables at their campaign rallies and only answer 3 pre-selected questions…

  4. Peter
    Sorry to appear argumentative but, Canadian political rallies… really? We have party conferences and they are all about the bar after. The biggest controversy we’ve had in recent years is Harper refusing to let anyone who scared him in. (That was pretty much anyone he didn’t know or who wore a sweater whilest holding a kitten.)
    One of the many things I do love about Canada is that the people do have an attention span greater than the last news cycle, Ezra viewers excepted of course. People will point out when you are a lying pos, (Obviously not using those terms, we are Canadian after all.) The lying FNN is trying to change that but their ratings show US BS doesn’t transfer here as a given.
    Being sniffy when you are looking at the idea of entering the shit up to your neck is not necessarily a bad thing.

  5. harebell:

    If you are talking about hooplah, marching bands and bunting, yes, the Americans get quite carried away with it. We don’t have a national reputation for reserve and politeness for nothing. But I don’t agree with your suggestion that this translates into more intellectual inquiry and rigour on policy. The Americans (and others) outshine us on the intellectual side of politics with all their foundations, universities, publications and even some Congressmen. True, these debates are often carried on in a tone that sounds like another civil war is looming, and I’m not really all that envious of them, but the conceit that we take a more intellectual approach to politics is just that. How many Canadian politicians (and bloggers) get by on ittle more than daily anti-Harper rants without feeling any obligation to say what they would do if they were in charge?

  6. How’s this:

    * I would use our comparative advantage in Natural Resources to leverage a whole new host of trade deals to the betterment of Canada.

    * I would negotiate a deal with the Provinces to create a National Securities Regulator with the quasi-Police powers.

    * I would resinstate Capital Punishment for the most heinous crimes against society – Capital Murder, Sexual Assault, Treason, and High Financial Malfeasance.

    * I would make it illegal to be a dual-citizen of anything but a Crown Commonwealth Nation.

    * I would increase Military Spending and encourage enlistment with the Forces to held reduce unemployment and provide more vocational traning – and as a means of asserting our sovereignty in the North.

    * I would abrogate FTA with the United States, and attempt to negotiate a new Trade Deal that is not so one-sided.

    * I would enter into meaningful Trade Talks with the EEC and Australia and New Zealand.

    * I would sign a Trade Deal with China on Natural Resources at a Premium to our national interest and be confident that they would pay the premium.

    *Any trade deals entered into moving forward would be with nations that share a similar cost-structure to ours and with comparative advantages that could be traded.

    * I would consider granting access to ourdeomstic market only in a Company made some of it’s product in Canada.

    * I would make it illegal for any Defence Contractor to not at least have Domestic presence, and preferably be a Canadian Company.

    * I would enforce and toughen the Competition Act, so that oligopolies and monopolies are understood and regulated to the common good. I would leave the market free and open only where there is sufficient competition to allow for a public good.

    * I would outlaw Hedge Funds and lobby the members of the IMF and G-20 to do the same.

    * I would not allow the distinction between Retail and Investment Banking to blur.

    * I would raise the GST. I would more heavily tax Natural Resources that leave the country.

    * I would encourage the Provinces to encourage the construction of more Refineries. If they do not create incentives to encourage this, I would Nationalize a major OilCo and have them build the Refineries.

    * I would make it illegal to harvest Timber from Crown lands in order to export raw timber. Only finished lumber could leave legally and without surcharges levied.

    How’s that for a start ?

  7. The Americans (and others) outshine us on the intellectual side of politics.

    I fear you are confusing ideological vehemence with “intellectual inquiry and rigour” (who are these “and others”, by the way; the Australians?).

    True, U.S. agenda-setting “foundations” and institutes spew forth vast amounts of “policy” verbiage, virtually all of it the product of elite group-think; upon a closer inspection which I have neither time nor inclination to perform, it may even total more than 10 times the eggheaded verbiage we Canadians produce (and may thus slightly outpace our population differentials); I doubt, however, that the quality chasm as regards “intellectual rigour” would be found to be as wide as you suppose. Take some typical Brookings product and compare it to typical Centre for Policy Alternatives or COC product, and I think you will find passable parity–miraculously so, as the Canadian foundations work within drastically smaller budgets. Naturally, such a comparative experiment would need to subtract the Canadian contributions to the American organisations at issue, taking a heavy toll of indigenous U.S. “intellectual rigour”, I think: remove David Frum from the institutes for which he toils (mental mediocrity though he undoubtedly is), for instance, and their collective IQ would probably be halved. Nor is this a recent phenomenon; the Canadian John Kenneth Galbraith was an almost one-man cerebral cortex for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party from the New Deal era to the Kennedy administration, and Albertan Isabel Paterson more or less invented modern American right-libertarianism (to our shame, of course).

    You’re also defining existence as publicity: there are many fine Canadian scholars doing very “intellectually rigorous” work indeed, whose work, lacking the sponsorship of “think-tanks”, fails to appear regularly in the mainstream media or reach the upper echelons of Canadian policy making (a space that is, at all events, becoming the exclusive property of the decidedly unscholarly Charles VcVetys of the nation). Those unfamiliar with the work of Shadia Drury are so not because she’s not been rigorous and provocative but because she’s not been delivered to them on a silver salver by the National Post. The same are invited to browse a bookstore once in a while.

    Additionally, I would be fascinated to see a quantitative calculation of the objective value of the “intellectually rigorous” logorrhea sluicing out of the U.S. nostrum factories–particularly as regards their diagnostic/prognostic value. How many U.S. think-tanks foresaw the domestically engineered global 2008 meltdown, for instance? My guess is none, roughly the same number who appear to have a clue of how to climb out of it.

  8. Peter: Yes, I guess I was being “a bit sniffy” here, but my observation wasn’t necessarily intended to suggest that favourable comparison be made to Canadian political discourse – which, to be quite honest, generally bores me to death. It was more in the way of a passing comment on the madness of crowds, mob mentality and the reductio ad absurdum of political rhetoric.

  9. Yes, Sir Francis, I should have said intellectual activity rather than rigour. Of course I can’t quantify or assess it comparatively, and I hardly meant to suggest Canada was bereft of it. I was responding to a suggestion that American political discourse was marked largely by monosyllabic chants.

    Years ago, I was involved in various governmental and non-governmental positions dealing with the Arctic and national policies with respect thereto. They put me on the conference circuit and I became familiar with the cream of Canada’s academic expertise. Good times, but it was very predictable that the reigning authority on this or that matter would present a paper outlining the horrible confused mess we were making up there and concluding with a stirring call for something like “a comprehensive, integrated national policy balancing competing national, regional and local interests with the full and meaningful participation of the various stakeholders.” The need was urgent—always urgent. They always seemed to be met with warm applause and few questions.

    By chance I was invited to a major American conference on Arctic policy in Washington. Not only was I impressed by the fierce take-no-prisoners debates, the challenges from the floor and the close connections between government and academia (and, yes, the military) was striking. There had been a lot of professional interchange among them through sabbaticals, etc. In Canada at the time, enticing an academic critic into government was often a way to muzzle him or her, and bitter disappointment was common.

    No, not Australia (although their reputation for comparative legal rigour and excellence on their judiciary was widespread), more Europe. Discussing this issue with the Canadian ambassador to Norway, I was told than whenever a northern issue arose there, one could expect competing op-eds by nationally recognized experts in the papers very quickly, and a consequent spirited debate that went beyond bromides.

    I’ll take your word that my anecdotes are unrepresentative and that, as with the Olympics, we are becoming an international cerebral powerhouse, but the really interesting question is the one you conclude with—where does all this intellectual acuity get them? At least part of our traditions can perhaps be attributed to the premium we put on getting along and not offending rather than being right. Much to be said for that.

  10. BTW, is that “Improve Your Brain” ad I’m seeing under this post viewable by everybody? Truly the Internet is a scary marvel.

  11. The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

  12. I’ll happily concede that Americans are better at theatrical contention in the context of a fundamental clubbiness than we are, though the situation you describe reminds me of the intellectual atmosphere in the Quebec of my youth, when debates among federalists and nationalists, conservatives and progressives, and the Jesuit- and Dominican-educated were matters of grave and abiding public concern; water-cooler talk was just as likely to be about Claude Ryan’s latest two-page editorial in Le Devoir as about last night’s Habs game.

    I maintain, though, that you’re underselling the Anglo-Canadian intellectual tradition, whose placidity might be deceptive. For instance, the upstart League for Social Reconstruction, the avowedly socialist Depression-era pressure group staffed by academics and blue-collar intellectuals, would have been unthinkable in the United States. It certainly could never have generated enough public interest, elite buy-in, and general respectability to morph into a major national party, as it did fairly quickly (with the help of the Gingers, of course). Keep in mind that, just ten years before, key personnel like Woodsworth had been denounced as Bolshevist thugs by Canada’s elites and had spent a fair deal of time in jail after having inspired various acts of civil disturbance.

    In fact, the crazy, pied patch-work of dissenting Canadian politics (Progressive, United Farmer, Labour, Socialist, Social Credit, BQ, Reform, etc.) presents an ideological heterogeneity unknown, and perhaps impossible, at the federal level in the United States. We had a Socialist MP in 1911, for God’s sake, and a Communist MP (an Albertan, if you please), in the 1930’s. I think our much-vaunted “tolerance” provided the clubbiness (the cultural “sabbatical”) you see in the Americans, which allowed dissenters to feel safe in advocating for things deeply repugnant to the status quo and to its bien pensant guardians. This is perfectly consistent with conservative values (if I may narcissistically add); the great Tory historian W.L. Morton once wrote approvingly that “there is no Canadian way of life”: we are not told how to live or think by commissars or republican demagogues (not yet, at least)

    I do think there’s been a general falling-off of that kind of intensity in both English and French Canada, in some ways echoing America’s free-fall into abyssal anti-intellectualism (generations in the making). You’ll not be surprised to learn that I attribute much of this to a neo-colonial self-loathing that has homogenised both our self-perception and our discourse, leading us complacently to espouse a smug, generic “North American” perspective in which we have invested little and over which we have negligible authority (as Americans happily and routinely remind us). But that’s another debate.

    …is that “Improve Your Brain” ad I’m seeing under this post viewable by everybody?

    I’ve never seen it. It appears to be targeted on an as-needed basis. ; )

  13. The self-loathing is obvious to anyone with an memory of the intellectual and political history of Canadian Culture.

    When we were Canadian we were great. When we became Consumers of the American Imperium, we walked away from that rich past.

  14. You’ll not be surprised to learn that I attribute much of this to a neo-colonial self-loathing

    That’s what I don’t get about you, SF. We live in an era when a Twitter exchange counts as a serious policy debate, even among journalists and MPs, when kids are glued to video games, social-netwoking and non-stop crap music, when Wikipedia and Youtube (Sorry, RT) are the primary research sources of choice and when educated adults can’t grasp abstract thought without the aid of PowerPoint. Serious intellectual nourishment is more accessible in theory, but in reality buried under layers of ultra-sweet cerebral cotton candy, But you put it all down to Canadian self-loathing and Taco Bell envy. When you are PM, do you intend to throw up virtual tariff walls?

  15. ATY:

    I neglected to point out yet another symptom of Anglo Canada’s intellectual richness and versatility (and something else virtually unthinkable in the United States, especially today’s incarnation): the fairly common intermingling of disparate and apparently incompatible perspectives in the same person, as seen in the socialist Tory Eugene Forsey (yay!), the socialist pro-American continentalist Frank Underhill (boo!), the pro-Empire anti-imperialist Harold Adams Innis (yay!), and the free-market nationalists Walter Gordon and Eric Kierans (yay and yay!).

  16. Peter:

    You are dimissing the net effect of the universalizing technological power of liberalism (classical), which has detached the bonds of citizenship and replaced them with a globalist consumerism. Within the power of the technology lay the very means which makes citizenship secondary to being a consumer in this modern world.

    Grant applied Ellul to make the diagnosis in the 1950 and 1960s. Hirschman postulated in the 1970s that this could be of great benefit to humankind as it was likely – in his view – to replace nationalist passion with rational self- interest. Somewhat true from a American neo-liberal perpsective, but as always one has to ask – AT WHAT COST ? And which nations pay that cost …?

  17. When you are PM, do you intend to throw up virtual tariff walls?

    Ideally, I and Pat Buchanan would be elected concurrently, and we would collaborate on that wall across the border he proposed some years ago, supplemented by a virtual extension of it, of course.

    Seriously, all the data access accelerators you list are available to and used by, say, the Swedes and the French, yet it’s safe to say that few conservative Swedes would be tempted to lard their discourse with quotations from Ann Coulter. Why is that? Is it just because she’s less compelling in translation?

  18. Sir Francis and I see the new dialectic as being between Citizenship and Consumerism. Those who still frame the debate in terms of Right/Left are at least 15 years behind reality. THAT is the problem with the debate in the United States – and THAT is why their intellectual environment is so insipid. Clinging to ideology and screaming over one another is not a sign of intellectual exchange or a high commitment to rationality.

    I choose Ctizenship and my Country over Consumerism. But then again, I “got it” around 1986 ….

  19. A Swedish Ann Coulter? The mind boggles. Perhaps more comely, but her speeches would be three times as long with twice the gloomy purposefulness and nary a joke. The only thing more gruesome would be a Norwegian Michael Moore.

    The Euros aren’t quite the sophisticates they pretend to be (have you ever watched a Eurovision Song Contest?), but I know what you mean. What can one say except only in America? After all, their President most revered for literacy and intellectual prowess grew up in a log cabin.

  20. “We can hold in our minds the enormous benefits of a technological society, but we cannot so easily hold the ways it may have deprived us, because technique is ourselves … ” George Parkin Grant

  21. ” … their President most revered for literacy and intellectual prowess grew up in a log cabin.”

    Huh? I thought Lincoln was revered for other things.

    But smug Canadians know best. (I know this this because they say so.)

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