Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Politics as War: the new political reality in Ottawa

By Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail, December 16, 2011
The blending of sport and the military, with the government as the marching band, is part of the new nationalism the Conservatives are trying to instill. It is another example of how the state, under Stephen Harper’s governance, is becoming all-intrusive. … State controls are now at a highpoint in our modern history. There is every indication they will extend further. (From Lawrence Martin's column in the Globe and Mail.)

The University of Ottawa's Ralph Heintzman, who created and headed the federal Public Service Office of Values and Ethics, provides an important insight into what’s happening here: There is a “lack of sense of inner self-restraint on the part of the prime minister, a sense that it is some kind of war and therefore anything is legitimate, that it's quite acceptable for a prime minister to lie, for example, about how our parliamentary democracy works.”
Politics as war is exactly what former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has long advocated. A Globe piece by Mr. Flanagan before the 2011 election was actually titled “An election is war by other means.” Mr. Flanagan also chose to compare the 2008 campaign to ancient wars in which Rome, the Conservatives, defeated Carthage, the Liberals, and “razed the city to the ground and sowed salt in the fields so nothing would grow there again”.
As Alan Whitehorn of the Royal Military College of Canada wrote: “This suggests a paradigm not of civil rivalry between fellow citizens of the same state, but all-out extended war to destroy and obliterate the opponent. This kind of malevolent vision and hostile tone seems antithetical to the democratic spirit, not to mention peace and stability.”
In fact like Mr. Harper, Prof. Flanagan seems to get a kick out of “destroying and obliterating” those he’s not fond of. When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was making news, Prof. Flanagan commented: “Well, I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something. … I would not feel unhappy if Assange ‘disappeared’.”
To a woman who e-mailed him objecting to his (presumed) flippancy, Prof. Flanagan responded: “Better be careful, we know where you live.” What would Freud have made of such kibitzing, I wonder? After all, the good professor has cited Machiavelli's odious comment that “fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.”
Ironically, if you want to hear from the other Canada, the former Canada, the one so much admired by the world, you should (and still can) listen to last Sunday’s interview on CBC radio’s Sunday Edition between host Michael Enright and Iceland’s President, Olafur Grimmson. There, in Mr. Grimmson, was the voice of humanity, thoughtfulness, pragmatism and commonsense. He is the perfect Canadian and would make the perfect Canadian prime minister. No wonder the masterminds of Harperland want to disappear the CBC.
Thanks to Gerald Caplan and to Alan Whitehorn from RMC, for their blistering and accurate observations about the Harper government's perspective of "all-out-war" as the game in which they are involved. It is war on the Liberal party, so targeted, vicious and unrelenting that even the Liberals have not yet recovered from the onslaught. It is war on the environment, on the collaborative role established by decades of Canadian governments in foreign policy. It is war on the social policy files of the federal government, as an integral part of their view that in order to win successive elections, the Harper government has to be "teflon-clean" from any smirch of public opinion that would cast them as meddlers in federal provincial relations. Just tell the provinces how the funding, for example, of health care is going to work for the next decade, and stay out of the ensuing debate, by covering ourselves with the argument that "we have provided clear direction and stability" so that the provinces can plan, and let the chips fall where they may.
It is war on the facts, since engaging in war, as Sun Tsu put it so elegantly in his book, The Art of War, is primarily deception and bringing real empirical facts into the calculation is a distraction from the whole point of the exercise, winning at all costs.
However, one has to wonder out loud about the obvious incompatibility of military conflict and political conflict within a democracy, and just how long such a "game plan" will serve any political instrument that casts its eyes on the retention of power for the long term.
Hard edges to foreign policy, withdrawal from Kyoto, active engagements in both Afghanistan and Libya, foreign relations based primarily on an expression of "self-interest"....these are signs of a national narcissism that has frown from the hotbed of individual and corporate narcissism and greed that so infects the corporate culture, whose models and methods can be summed up in the absolutely un-Canadian clip of Kevin O'Leary in a PSA for his CBC program "Lang and O'Leary"..."All this stuff about a nanny state where the state looks after its old and its're going to have to forget about that; that's over!" which Amanda Lang replies: "You don't know what you are talking about!"
Frighteningly, just maybe he DOES know where this government is taking the country...and it is not where Canadians want to go.
Sewing salt in the ground so nothing can grow there again is hardly a metaphor for any evolved, insightful, compassionate and collaborative democracy of the twenty-first century.

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