Summing Up the Republicans

Good discussion about the current state of the GOP with respect to the primary race and hypothetical outcomes should a Republican become president, featuring David “Axis of Evil” Frum, New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait and National Review editor Kevin Williamson.

Towards the end of the conversation, Paiken wheels out this priceless quote from Mike Lofgren, a former GOP operative who quit the party last year in horrified disgust:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

I highly recommend reading Lofgren’s farewell in its entirety. Aside from being incredibly amusing, it’s an affirmation of Thomas Frank’s thesis as set out in his previous book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.

Nation Maker

Richard Gwyn talks about his new book Nation Maker, the second volume about the life and times of Sir. John A. Macdonald covering the period from Confederation until his death in 1891.

Not that they likely give much thought to the matter, but I wonder how present-day “conservatives” regard Sir. John A. as a political figure, given his views differ so radically in many respects from that of his modern counterparts. Perhaps many of them don’t even realize that their ideological sentiments with respect to economics (especially those concerning our relationship with the United States) would have been a complete anathema to the “old man”…

Debating the Debate

Not sure that anyone gives a toss, but here’s a panel of “experts” TVO rounded up to discuss who “won” and “lost” last night’s leadership debate.

If nothing else, it’s always somewhat fascinating to witness how the impressions of people operating in these kinds of political “spin zones” are affected by their own predispositions and sentiments. Especially so if one doesn’t have a dog in the fight and therefore can presumably view the event with a greater degree of objective detachment.

Ontario Election: Economic Realities

Another fascinating TVO discussion about the Ontario election, this time pivoting off some disparaging comments made several weeks ago by former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge in regards to political leadership with respect to prospects for the province’s economy…

Dodge slammed all three Ontario political leaders. Each, he warned, is promoting “impossible” economic plans that unrealistically promise lower taxes and improved services for a province that he believes is facing a shrinking tax revenue base.

“Whoever wins will be seen to have lied to the public,” he told the Globe.

As a former Ontarian occasionally tuning in to the election from another province, it’s interesting to contrast thoughtful discussions such as this at the “macro” level of things with the barking mad rhetoric and petty sniping of bloggers more closely invested with the political contest.

Paul Martin on the Economy

Some sober reflections on the present state of the global economy by the former Prime Minister.

Not a lot of insight beyond the obvious, but Martin does provide some sound advice regarding the current sovereign debt crisis in Europe (that he correctly surmises would be politically untenable).

As for the inevitable “what would you do if you were PM today?” question, I totally agree with Martin’s position that the government should be investing more in the “things that really count” and will make the country more globally competitive in the future (e.g., transportation infrastructure, education, and so on).


TVO’s Steve Paiken talks to “Harperland” author and Globe & Mail columnist Lawrence Martin about the impending election and how present events factor into the essential premise of his critical biography of Stephen Harper.

I’m inclined to agree with Martin’s conclusions about the budget as being an ostensibly innocuous, yet thoroughly disingenuous political vehicle calculated to provoke an election by stealth, even though the timing of events as things have worked out might possibly argue against such a conclusion.

That said, there’s no denying the observations made about many of the budget’s particulars having been meticulously crafted with no other purpose than to precisely target key electoral demographics with a host of largely symbolic rebates and paltry handouts tailored to the particular interests or activities of swing voters (e.g., “What can we do for folks whose kids play the violin… or for snowmobilers in Quebec?”). It’s quite a brilliant, albeit completely cynical, strategy aimed at the significant number of people that are disengaged from politics for the most part, but whose votes can be easily bought with their own money.

The Rich Get…

Quite a good discussion on taxation policy and its effect on the economy in a global environment.

Chrystia Freeland defends the growing degree of fantastic income disparity in our new Gilded Age on the grounds that today’s plutocrats are, unlike the frivolous aristocrats of bygone eras, “economic meritocrats” preoccupied just as much with the creation of wealth as with its conspicuous consumption.

Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives makes a great point about structural changes in the economic environment that have upset the rules of the game in terms of the “social contract” average workers may once have imagined they were entitled to reasonably benefit from (and also how the whole “culture of entitlement” can be inverted with respect to wealthy beneficiaries of the current tax regime).

Funny that at the end, Partha Mohanram ends up channelling Thomas Frank…

The Trouble with Gairdner … Still!

William Gairdner talks with TVO’s Steve Paikin about the new version of his “classic” book The Trouble with Canada. (He cleverly added the word “…Still” to the title for this revamped edition.)

I haven’t read the new book, so I can’t comment on it (notwithstanding my foregoing snark, I understand it’s “thoroughly updated”), but the original was a reactionary jeremiad against what Gairdner viewed as a radical leftward shift in the political landscape over the past 50 years or so that had effectively destroyed Canada in his estimation.

Basically, it was a litany of institutional grievances that will now be entirely familiar to readers of the National Post or other so-called “Conservative” outlets concerning just about any right-wing hobby horse one can imagine: bilingualism, welfare parasitism, foreign aid scamming, judicial activism, radical feminism, multiculturalism, etc.

Unfortunately, whatever reasonable points Gairdener makes – some of which are quite legitimate; the unsustainability of deficit financing, for example – are vastly outweighed by his retrograde opinions concerning a range of social justice issues. For instance, his take on homosexuals and gay marriage is particularly egregious in this respect, believing as he does that it’s an aberrant “lifestyle” that can be “cured” back into normalcy.

On more “meta” issues such as his take on federalism – i.e., a return to the jurisdictional construct of the BNA in terms of the restoration of a more decentralized, pre-Trudeau government – Gairdner’s ideas would seem to do more to promote regional factionalism, inefficiency, and chaotic disunity than the freedom and individual liberties he espouses.

Lament for a Nation

Fascinating discussion from TVO’s Agenda program about the current state of Canadian nationalism within the framework of political philosopher George Grant’s ideas and particularly his seminal essay Lament for a Nation, written in the wake of the 1963 election that toppled the Diefenbaker government.

Just as an irrelevant aside, I had no idea that David Warren was once editor of The Idler… That was such a wonderful magazine! I must have been one of its (evidently too) few subscribers back in the day.