I have a very hard time taking the Ford team at face value in their explanation that Rob Ford posing with a fascist “consultant,” dressed in full regalia, at the New Year’s levee and his later meeting with the man to discuss “transit” was a simply a matter of courtesy. Furthermore, for a politician with a penchant for slandering anyone from right-of-centre to the progressive left as a “socialist” and expressing crypto-fascist viewpoints with abandon, standing next to a bona-fide fascist leaves Ford especially vulnerable to political attacks. As it should.
To give you some perspective on the gravity of this photo, it would be like the leftist David Miller being photographed with an insurrectionary anarchist, decked out in full Black Bloc gear. The juxtaposition implies that there’s nothing separating a “mainstream” exponent of a particular ideology from its extremists.
When you’re a politician, it’s part your staff’s job to make sure that no one “funny looking” ends up in the same room as you, let alone posing for a photograph with you smiling next to them. This should be of the utmost concern to any political handler in an age when just about everyone carries a mobile device that shoots photos and can disseminate them in an instant. Especially those working for a politician who is hopelessly stuck on campaign-mode. Furthermore, even inexperienced handlers know that uncontrolled public events need to be stage managed more heavily than controlled ones, especially when your boss is so polarizing, because of their potential to invite, shall we say, vociferous critics.
When the federal Tories were “creeping” suspected Liberal supporters in order to keep them out of their rallies and making sure that only party militants figured into their stump stops, amid all of the justified indignation, someone forgot to mention that similar tactics are standard practice amongst all parties. Try wearing business attire to an NDP rally and see how close you’re able to get to the lectern, that is if you even manage to get in at all.
Proving once again that he’s still punk to the very core of his being, it was long-time Liberal operative Warren Kinsella who uncovered the photo. Kinsella has been around the dark arts side of politics long enough to recognize that, in not springing into action at the sight of a man in such atypical dress, either by stopping the photo line or having security remove the man, he was somewhat familiar to Ford’s people. Whether or not they knew about his political activities is another matter altogether. Either way, Ford will pay dearly for this.
Firstly, every time he uses his most favoured (counter-)attack of slandering an opponent or critic as a “socialist,” the subject can now invoke Ford’s history of “palin’ ‘round” with fascists.” Earlier this year Ford forced an apology from the leftish Adam Vaughan, who described the Ford coalition as “black shirts.” Had this photo been in circulation then, Vaughan could have nicely told Ford to pound sand instead of having to submit to what is now an undue apology.
Secondly, the photo and the association that it implies puts a simple frame around Ford’s policy trajectory that can be easily exploited by his opponents on both sides of the ideological spectrum, but he should only be concerned with how those on the Right leverage it.
Despite some dissension that was ultimately played out in the form of too many right-of-centre candidates running on pretty much the same platform, Toronto’s right-wing political class took a huge risk in backing Rob Ford. They knew that he could put conservatives back in control of city hall by mobilizing reactionary, “low information” voters who know the Rob Ford brand but little else about politics, but they seriously overestimated his ability to effectively govern a heterogeneous urban population. The Right’s chief concern right now is that diffuse animosity towards Ford will be organized by a resurgent Left or sour Toronto voters on conservatives altogether. This latter hazard is precisely why prime minister Harper, who campaigned with Ford as his “fishing buddy”, has made pains to distance himself from Ford as part of his long-term goal of making inroads into Liberal and NDP held “Fortress Toronto”.
For most Torontonians, conservativism is synonymous with pure evil. However, when presented with “conservative” ideas, like wage restraint in the public sector, government that doesn’t get involved in and divests itself of enterprise, lower property taxes, privatization of public services and so on, Torontonian voters are very supportive of them. It’s just that they’re offended by all of the regressive posturing that goes along with the conservative brand. In hindsight, Toronto’s right-wing political class realizes that they made a huge mistake in not putting their differences aside and fielding a single candidate who could grow their prospects instead of harming them. A mayor who meets with neo-nazis, that’s something harmful to the cause.
In case you’re one of the many who are still hopelessly under the misapprehension that John Tory will ride in to save the day, you’re dead wrong. We’ve already seen this movie and it was called the Commonsense Revolution. As successful as his time as premier was (two majorities and his key policy planks, save for “workfare,” remain to this very day), the bombastic market libertarian Mike Harris incensed the provincial electorate so much that it has resulted in three consecutive Liberal governments that govern as if they’re bullet-proof, and a rudderless Conservative opposition. The provincial Conservatives tried the “moderate” John Tory as a means of reconciling with voters who felt burned by Harris and that didn’t work.
The Toronto conservative political class is an intelligent lot with more resources than everyone else combined, so I can guarantee you that they’re already grooming multiple prospects with the aim of selecting just one and that he or she is going to be the consummate red tory. A big part of their campaign will be making certain that every identified group who ever felt even the slightest bit alienated by Ford feels confident about the candidate. In a play for the support of artists and cyclists, we should expect to see the “Ford pals around with neo-nazis” salvo entered.
The photo of Barack Obama smiling next to the outspoken revolutionary theology preacher Jeremiah Wright is a photo that dogs Obama to this very day, because it suggests that he is an exponent of the radical political views and conspiracy theories expressed by Wright. Yet, without similar public statements made by Obama himself, this is a connection that has to be invented and then taken on faith. Its “stickiness” is to be attributed to the partisan desire to believe it uncritically. Rob’s predicament is different in that his views were widely documented prior to the circulation of this photo, and the connection between the two, while just circumstantial, made very easy sense.
If politicians can draw one important lesson of this story, it’s this. If you’re going to ruthlessly play the politics of division and maintain what many regard as repugnant views, be mindful of the company that you keep and be ready to shoulder the consequences.
Time to Scrap “Eastern Europe” (the Economist newspaper)
The Economist gets one thing right, the term Eastern Europe is an anachronism. However, like the anachronism in question, all other suggested terms are rife with presumptive ideological meaning. Even my preferred term, “the European Market-States,” which I took in part from economist Laura Neapoliani, does this.
Despite having a severed foot sent to them by, an alleged, narcissistic sociopath turned sex murdered, the Conservatives were the biggest beneficiaries of the reportage of this grisly act. If there are anymore contentious laws that the government would like to pass, or ministers who would like to admit to malfeasance, early next will be the most opportune time to do so. Here’s a quick overview of big three stories that were effectively buried by this mostly salacious and speculative coverage.
Parliament passes a motion forcing striking CP workers back to work: Back-to-work legislation is quickly becoming the favoured implement in the Conservative attack on workers’ rights, the use of which has again been tarted up as a difficult move needed to buffer a weak economic recovery from turbulence. The government couldn’t have asked for a better story to displace what could have been a nasty row between the Left and the Right that might have prompted some wider debate. Should the government – especially one informed by an activist liberal tendency — be interfering in labour negotiations within the private sector? What other unsavory and possibility unconstitutional acts of government intervention should be undertaken in the name of shoring up the recovery/taking the country out of recession? These are things that won’t be discussed because those pages and that time would have been afforded this story were filled by the Luka Magnotta story.
Thomas Mulcair in Alberta: After going all in on a complex and risky play to assert himself as a learned and capable economic manager, and losing, Mulcair finally visited the tar sands development in Alberta. Even if Mulcair had had a James Cameron-esq apostasy and emerged from the West as a booster for so-called “ethical oil”, aka. “dirty oil,” these reports would have never held a candle to those about a homosexual porn star, kitten torturer, pretty boy. Now the government can continue to lash Mulcair over his divisive stance on the oil sands for months to come, because little coverage was devoted to the junket.
GM Halves Production At It’s Oshawa, Ontario Plant: Speaking of doing something for the good for the economy, remember a few years back when scads of public money was use to bailout this manufacturer of gas-guzzling, clunkers in the name of saving the domestic economy? Yeah, neither do I, but the handshake deal was that a government-unwritten GM wouldn’t cut any jobs. (Wages were another thing altogether.) Last week the CAW announced, well in advance of GM doing so, that one of the last two lines at it’s Oshawa plant would be gradually scaled to zero, ultimately leaving nearly two-thousand people without a job and rendering harm to the economy. Instead of feeling taken, Canadians were wondering what kind of sicko would rape, torture and dismember a human being and what kind of lesser sickos — if only slightly — would actively seek out the, still, publicly accessible video of this crime. While the federal government wasn’t the only level of government involved in the deal, this could have been a black-eye for federal finance minister Jim Flaherty because, in addition to being Mr.Economy, his riding (Whitby-Oshawa) is immediately West of the Oshawa plant and it goes without saying that many in his riding are in some way employed because of the GM plant. The public perception of a finance minister who can’t even look out for the well being of his riding’s economy can be damaging. That is, if people aren’t already transfixed by something more gruesome and upsetting.
This is the first in what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog, in which I critically examine news stories within a political economic, discourse and narrative analysis framework.
Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s weekly, cum bi-weekly, Cut the Waist weigh-ins were nothing more than a transparent means of keeping the mayor in the media without putting him in the line of fire and the Toronto media blithely took the bait. However, the efficacy of the campy sideshow was just as resilient as Ford’s resolve, which is why Ford officially jettisoned the project this past Sunday. The optics of this public capitulation demands some consideration.
Unlike trials that have seen Ford bested in council, the only person who could have fouled this ploy was Ford himself. His failure cannot be blamed on “socialists”, the Toronto Star or turncoats, and he can’t call upon one of his loyalists to lose weight on his behalf. Taken with his recent loses, it implies that he can’t be taken on his word and that he lacks the tenacity to put ambitious plans into action. Simply put, this is an allegory for a mayoralty where big, ill-conceived goals are declared with little forethought towards what it takes to achieve them.
Don’t expect this story to grow legs, but you can expect it to become a lasting touchstone. This will be especially true if, in three weeks time, Ford falls well short of his original goal.
Anxious to ride it out until the end of the week, Ford’s people would like to spin this as another instance of Ford’s everyman charm. He, “like so many of you,” struggles with his weight, is the preferred framing. However, they know that Ford’s weight is a political liability that they can’t control by limiting his public exposure.
In politics, being obese is like being a woman; it unjustly narrows a politician’s credibility by providing fodder for partisan attacks. Such attacks will only be redoubled at a time when Ford needs to win broader support.
It seems unlikely that Ford has the support on council to enact any more of the disruptive policy initiatives that he had originally promised to his base. The people who put Ford in the mayor’s chair were mostly first time, “low information”, voters who didn’t know that being the mayor of Toronto is mostly a ceremonial position with little power. Without tangible results this constituency is likely to become disillusioned and simply abstain from voting in two years time.
If Ford wants to stay in office, he’ll have to do more than promise Scarborough voters subways that will never arrive. Specifically, he’ll need to assemble the support of a still fractious liberal (by which I mean “right-of-centre”) majority, both in and out of council, before someone else does. Ford can count his blessing that none of the “Centrists” on council are kilometers from electable form, but he would be remiss to think that the city’s influence class isn’t already scouting a contender.
“Billionaire socialists”… Really? I’m guessing that they made all of that wealth putting screen doors on submarines, eh.
That’s the dumbest epithet I’ve heard in a very long time. Also, using it to describe one of the most dogged and virulent anti-socialists in history is completely ridiculous. Way to discredit yourself, Joe Oliver. Sure, promote your agenda, just don’t be an idiot.
In a political theatre that’s so meticulously stage-managed, with a social media communications strategy increasingly tailored to match, Pat Martin’s salty budget tweet goes beyond reproach. That’s precisely why he made that incensed tweet after the government closed debate on the budget, which is something that they’ve made a habit of since securing a majority. As uncouth as the tirade may seem, Martin’s aim was to shatter the self-defeating code of decorum and express precisely what the government’s — and the larger schema of Canadian (partisan) politics for that matter — harshest critics have been thinking for a very longtime. It was also a calculated ploy to light a fire under the rump of an NDP that is rudderlessly going into what, by all indications, is going be a dog and pony show of a leadership race.
In a field of wishy-washy politicians, hopelessly stuck on campaign mode, Martin is to be commended for both his refusal to retract his visceral statement and his return of the libelous and threatening barbs that militant partisans are able hurl both in the legislature and with zeal via social media, knowing that the target’s own whipped code of decorum protects them from retaliating at the same level of discourse.
His critics are of a schoolyard mentality, itching to tattle on anyone who so much as mouths a profanity, even while challenging bullies and those who abuse their authority. By that same token, these kids can take their ball home if they wish, but Martin is wise not to play by the one-sided rules that they’ve set for those other than themselves and their friends. Politics isn’t a game for children anyways.
Moreover, those who are warming the coals for the raking of Martin ought to carefully consider the power imbalances and the nuances of the technologically mediated relationship between politicians and those who directly attack and insult them via social media. Would those who attacked and subsequently tattled on Martin made the same remarks to his face? The correct answer is no,
Talking heads with even a modicum of critical thinking skills recognize the outrage over this peccadillo as a partisan attack, and are instead taking Martin to task for his choice to run counter to the NDP’s self-imposed code of civility. They see a hypocrite in Martin, who regularly tests, and in this instance breached, the bounds of a policy that’s more about retailing politicking than engaging with the harsh realities of political discourse.
Martin’s tweet was also an open challenge to the NDP to use the leadership race, which by no coincidence began today, as an opportunity to move away from the smug, “politically correct”, centrist Layton-era and towards a more muscular leftism, better attuned to the discourse and politics of the resurgent economic justice movement. This is something that the New Politics Initiative was supposed to have achieved in securing the election of Layton as leader in 2004, but ultimately failed to realize when Layton took the party into a strafe-left-run-down-the-middle direction.
Unlike the rest of his party, Martin is realistic enough to realize that the Canadian Occupy franchises wouldn’t exist if these dissident voices were actually represented by a political party. While I don’t think that he wants to integrate the Occupy movement with the NDP, I do believe that he wants to make his party aware of the fact that the party has gotten so preoccupied with securing mass support that it failed to recognize that the base has abandoned it. If the Dippers clue in, expect to see more discussion like this in the coming months. Who knows, someone might even swear at someone else,
"Our misplaced romanticizing of small business is lousy public policy. We chronically misallocate taxpayer resources to subsidize with tax breaks and other largesse the lifestyle choice of folks who prefer to be their own boss. Most small businesspeople are not interested in growing their firms and increasing their workforces. Or so a majority of small-business owners canvassed by Erik Hurst and Ben Pugsley of the University of Chicago said. They’re just in it for the flexibility and freedom. … time to think about scrapping misdirected “small-business” assistance that goes to doctors, accountants, travel and real estate agents, beauticians, the trusts of wealthy families, and recipients of rental income on vacation homes and commercial real estate. None of those are risk-taking job creators. Yet they’re classified as small businesses for purposes of tax breaks and other public largesse."
It was only a matter time before the vaunted “end of history” thesis faced more than a conceptual challenge from theorists and political economists. Have no illusions, the greater capitalist system is currently embroiled in a struggle for its continued legitimacy, and unless the system’s most energized and prosperous militants and beneficiaries concede some meaningful measure of political and economic territory, they run the risk of upsetting capitalism to the benefit of no one.
Let me begin by taking the wind/hot air out of the sails of radicals who, for better or for worse, foresee an end to capitalism. That’s not going to happen. The capitalist mode of production is to entrenched and productive to simply be jettisoned in favour of something else. However, the expansive framework that grew and was consciously built around it will undoubtedly see parts of it shaken to their very foundations.
Things like the idea of corporate personhood, regulatory panopticism (the so-called night watchman state and self-regulation) and anti-regulation (regulations that enshrine an opposition to regulation), runaway spending on state force, and government and state action that intervenes in society for the benefit of promoting the interests of the so-called 1%. These and similar “neo-liberal” ideological strongholds will face highly disruptive challenges, and not because of the direct influence of the Occupy movement.
Save for crypto-plutocrats, the “vanishing middle-class” is a common point of contention across all ideological lines. Once dismissed as a baseless tin-foil hat preoccupation of post-marxism socialists and social democrats, today not one single electable political party can afford to ignore this now mainstream concern. However, all commonalities begin and end here when we start to consider the different levers proposed by these parties.
The Economist is right to warn against populism, but we mustn’t conflate populism with deepening democracy, as the newspaper’s anonymous editors so often do.
It light of everything that is happening in the world, before you start running your mouth about “democracy”, read this book.
David Held is a great writer who presents some very complex and expansive ideas in a manner that’s accessible and doesn’t insult the reader by weighing it down with the “see it my way” polemics that are typical of hard line Marxists, liberals and crypto-plutocrats who have also attempted to write similar books.