Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And I Thought *I* Was Cynical

Shorter John Ibbitson, from the Globe,
"The Conservative platform is stupid, but because the middle class is stupid and selfish they will vote for it, so it is a political winner."

You think I'm exaggerating but I'm not. Let me demonstrate.

Says Ibbitson,
"The government will cut the GST because Liberal income-tax cuts, while more efficient, appear illusory"

"Toughening penalties on gun crimes may be counterproductive at a time when overall crime rates are in decline, but in the face of impotence on the part of politicians, judges and police to curb the rise in gang violence, any action looks better than no action at all"

"Banning corporate donations to political parties and slashing limits to personal contributions, while proscribing lobbying by former government employees, may well be inefficient and excessive"

"Finally, sending parents money for child care, while encouraging employers to create daycare spaces, will not lead to a coherent national daycare program"

"the experts may shake their heads at the impracticality or uselessness of what has been promised"

So I think that pretty much covers the 'Conservative policies are stupid' part of my summary.

The idea that middle class voters are stupid is pretty much implicit in the argument that they will support stupid policies but John spells it out, just to be clear,
"Bureaucrats, academics and analysts warn that these issues are complex, that these fears are generally unfounded, and that change must accommodate competing interests.

But that's not what middle-class voters want to hear."

Ibbitson suggests that policies which help the poor or address aboriginal issues are pointless (politically) because "the poor don't vote", and "there aren't that many middle-class, voting, aboriginal Canadians." The assumption that the middle class is unconcerned with issues which don't affect them directly or with the problems faced by minority groups is an assumption that they are selfish.

As for stupid policies aimed at middle-class fears being a political winner, Ibbitson makes this claim explicitly in the first paragraph,
"Stephen Harper has offered a Speech from the Throne that, barring the truly unforeseen, will lead to the re-election of the Conservative government in 2007, because he understands what his critics do not understand: the hidden fears of the middle class."

So, is John Ibbitson right? Is a platform of stupid policies (none of which will do anything to benefit the nation) targeted to address the fear and greed of a stupid and selfish middle class, the road to success in Canadian politics? I guess time will tell, but I sincerely hope not.


  • I wonder which class John Ibitson considers himself to a part of

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 PM  

  • I'm getting a headache trying to picture Harper as a populist -- which is the essence of Ibbitson's claim.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 2:48 PM  

  • "I'm getting a headache trying to picture Harper as a populist -- which is the essence of Ibbitson's claim."

    Well, he was a founding member of the Reform party. And if Alberta seperatism isn't a populist notion, I'm not sure where else such a bone-headed idea could come from.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 AM  

  • Ibbitson is reliving the "glory days" of the Harris government in Ontario. That was the Harris formula --push the fear button among the middle class and demonize the poor. It does work (or at least it did) for a while, until the middle class saw the society Harris was building was way worse than the problems he was supposedly solving.

    By Blogger Greg, at 4:12 AM  

  • Tom Flanagan's Waiting for the Wave did note that Harper was often at adds with the populist instinct in the old Reform Party. To hear Flanagan tell it, Harper was one of those early Reformers who found the Mulroney government insufficiently conservative for his liking, and saw Reform as a purer option. Manning was a fan of "grassroots" policy building, referenda, and so on, while Harper argued that this produced crude and half-baked policies. This led to a lot of clashes with Manning, leading to Harper quitting Parliament for the NCC. Seems plausioble to me.

    (This may also explain why the Tories have lost several seats in BC since Harper took over; I've long thought that BCers were more attracted to populism than conservative dogma.)

    But I think that Ibbitson makes a good point that the Tories have decided to go with policies that test will with middle-class (and play to their anxieties and fears of things under the bed), regardless of whether they're actually effective.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 11:53 AM  

  • Doug - the pundit class of course - the ones who, in John Crosbie's words, live in fanciful-land.

    Kevin (& famousringo) - Ian has said what I was going to. I also agree about the Conservatives losing seats in B.C. as they abandon their populist ways. The Emerson defection may hurt them more here than I think many people not from B.C. realize.

    Greg - Of course Harris had the benefit of taking power just as economic conditions were turning in Ontario's favour. The federal conservatives don't have that luxury. Things have probably been about as good as they're going to get over the last decade or so, nationally. Hopefully that makes a difference.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:39 PM  

  • Ian and Declan-

    Yes, that's precisely why trying to picture Harper as a populist was giving me a headache. That and the incongruity between his personality and a populist outlook. Pragmatist for sure but populist?

    He has modified his ideological outlook a lot over the last 2 years and especially just prior to and during the last election but I don't think Ibbitson's argument is correct but perhaps his conclusion is.

    Tough penalties

    This is just run of the mill conservative policy. Whether it's good for the country or not can be debated forever. It also oversimplifies Harper's actual position which includes social programs and better border control and more policing as well as tougher penalties. I don't think it fits the bad for Canada but easy to sell criteria.

    Poltical Contributions

    Banning corp donations and limiting personal donations probably has nothing to do with policy at all. It's a tactic to cripple liberal fund raising and IMO is the single biggest problem the Liberal face: no grass roots support or infrastructure. He has to find some reason other than telling voters this is to screw the Liberals so he might as well pick one that seems ( or is ) ideologically consistent. Does that meet the bad for Canada criteria? I suppose it depends on your political affiliations and to a certain extent how you feel about level playing field arguments.

    Child Care

    Creating a coherent national day care program was never the goal of Harper's $1200 present to parents. He needed some program to compete with the Liberals. Remember, this came out during the time when Harper was pledging to honor, match or better any Liberal program that came out. He created one that was ideologically palatable to the conservative base.

    The point of all that is to say that not all of the policies he points to are stupid. Some are not even policy ( political donations ) they're political tactics so measuring their policy value is moot. Others are arguably not bad ( I don't advocate for them but others do ).

    Harper hasn't transformed into a populist but he has become a politician -- a better politician than many give him credit for I think.

    To that extent, sure, he's learned how to pitch it so that middle class voters can catch it.

    Do negative ads and fear work? Of course they do. IIs he using them? Sure, but not exclusively.

    Are voters short sighted and self-interested? Of course they are.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 11:01 AM  

  • When has Ibbitson ever been right? He's among the worst of the Mop 'n Pail opinionists. Fact free and fancy free, that's John Ibbitson.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 PM  

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