Friday, October 24, 2008

A retrospective as unecessary as the election that prompted it... Plus news... And disco...

The Canadian election received almost no time from me because its outcome was easy to foresee. When it became evident that none of the players involved could muster any inertia then stagnation would inevitably become the end result. In retrospect however it stands to illuminate the shortcomings of each and every party, which at the very least is what you want a pointless election to provide.

Stephen Harper gathered his forces, marshaled all of his considerable resources, selected the time of his ascendancy, and still could not move the country to a majority. You can’t even pretend there will be a better next time because there is not a single excuse to explain why he was held back or why the winds weren’t in his favour. He set the stage, this was a drama of his making, and still we weren’t collectively convinced. It’s clearly not about the vagaries of the situation but the inabilities of the man. I would be surprised if Harper stuck around for any great length of time. His value to the Conservatives at this point is being a relative success story, for thrashing the Liberals in a couple elections and raising the identity of his party as high as he personally could. To stay on is to invite eventual defeat and since total victory seems impossible to reach then why risk the legacy built? The Conservatives are back though, now their task is to find a likable figurehead, something made all the more difficult due to Harper’s authoritarian style. It is hard for a leader to emerge from a regime of followers.

St├ęphane Dion of course is absolutely finished and so are the Liberals so long as they coddle him. Dion ushered in the weakest Liberal party in a hundred years they say. Had he done this while combating a power house then an excuse for him might be made but no, he lost to a chronically uncharismatic opponent. He should never have been there in the first place. St├ęphane glad-handing his way to Liberal leadership undermines what’s wrong with the party entire. Politics, it really does change people, it changes how they view the world and how one interacts with others. Negotiation is key in life but when it perpetuates itself overmuch then personal potential gets left behind. The Liberal party, through its constant internal manoeuvring, stopped being a meritocracy and instead became a mediocrity. The politicians who have stuck to it the longest rise to the top and they do so in such a way where all the rest have a comfy place secured for them so long as they fall in line. I’ve heard it being called The Peter Principle. Such a formula purges the greatness from their ranks. Barack Obama, who at 47 years of age stands poised to become the next President would have never had the opportunity to emerge in the current Liberal party environment. He achieving his potential would have hurt too many feelings and upset their perceived natural order. This is still a lingering effect of the so-called Culture of Entitlement. Political parties need to be built so that the exceptional can break away from the herd and make history with their blessing.

Jack Layton and the N.D.P. never had more of the spotlight, had never before spent that much money, but they ignored their ground game in hopes of loftier ideals. This is evident when you seen that they secured nearly twice as many votes as the Bloc but earned fewer seats. Sure the people voted for them across the board but they didn’t win elections. They were the ultimate vote-splitter and that happens not by chance, but by party failing. In a political race you need first and foremost a good list, you need a census. You need to find out where you’re strong, where you’re weak, and where you’re the big maybe. The N.D.P. could have won quite a few more seats if they identified where they had a half-decent chance and then campaigned like hell in those places. Had Jack done this in Toronto he might have taken the city whole, rather than hold on to a mere two seats. Layton kept it federal, which was pre-mature. Get the seats first, secure the ridings, and then look to the higher heights.

The Bloc is at a crossroads. They shored up Quebec and made good gains but they did this on a platform devoid of separation talk, an age-old pillar of the party. So what does that make them now? As I see it they have two choices. They can play it safe and remain a party that does little but see to the interests of their home province, or they can risk re-branding themselves as a true federal force. If they want to continue making gains they have to explain to the country that the virtues of Quebec and the lessons learned guiding that province can be imported nation-wide. It’s okay for a federal party to have a home province, the Conservatives have Alberta and the Liberals have Ontario to a lesser degree. The difference is a mindset and outlook that expands beyond the provinces. Gilles Duceppe needs to find the spirit of Quebec that lay hidden in other parts of Canada. Perhaps that is a task his successor will attempt.

Elizabeth May orchestrated a serious set-back for her emerging party and probably made herself dizzy in the process. No seats, not even for herself, and that is entirely her fault. There are a couple salient facts that brought about this conclusion. First, she picked a riding where she wouldn’t have had to run against an incumbent Liberal or N.D.P. Better she thought to take a run at the extremely popular and competent Peter McKay. Recall that she also tried to make backroom deals with the Liberals and N.D.P. whereas they wouldn’t run in ridings close to home provided she didn’t field a candidate in their sweet spots. Dion’s Liberals of course accepted this shortcut to democracy, Layton rightly blasted it. When your party compromises itself to that degree right from the get-go you have to question its validity in the first place. The Green Party displayed all the shortcomings of both the Liberals and N.D.P.: Too much political manoeuvring, not enough attention to the ground fight. Now they risk irrelevancy. Elizabeth should have picked a fight she could have won and done it, making no friends in the process. That is how you forge an identity. Alliances come later, when you can bargain from a position of strength and people start to respect - or at least fear - you. The game is still about leadership, you need to be in charge of something to effect change and the first thing you need to master are your own principles. The privilege earned to be apart of the debates was squandered. Now the Greens need to prove themselves all over again.

That is all the rumination of Canadian politics I’m likely to do for a while. I like it not to linger in malaise. Our country’s politics has fallen into a trap that I see cursing generations of peaceful intellectuals throughout history. There is an aversion to bloodshed; there is no thirst for seeking victory from the defeat of others. There is too much accommodation in these races, too much thought for the day after. Such ideas may seem reasonable to the fortunate pacifist but they foster timidity which is like cancer to government. I’m actually content that Harper won it because at least he doesn’t act as if he is fearful over losing his job. We should probably pay all these people less money. Politics should remain a calling, not a career path. The results of the latter are all too uninspiring as we can plainly see.

Too many narratives will blur the image of a candidate.

Thanks to Marc for this article and his thoughts. This one goes over all of the course changes in the McCain campaign and how they have worked against him. By contrast Barack Obama has been an ocean of consistency in his run for the Presidency. He’s had one message, that of change. He has not once discarded it; instead he amazingly broadened yet refined that message to ensure it encompassed all of the topics to have come up over the campaign. The lesson to be learned when comparing these two campaigns is obvious.

Blackwater mercenaries now actually on the water.

This is cool! Blackwater has put together something of a warship that serves as a helicopter platform. They’re going to sell their military services to merchant ships that fear Somali piracy. I’ve been reading Prof. John Keegan’s “A History of Warfare” and it seems the rise of mercenary armies seems to come at the end of a civilization’s life cycle. Using them to help wage a war in Iraq is a sure sign of American decadence. That said the audacity of this business plan; the very American “can-do” mentality is rather appealing.

Pakistan and U.S. to arm tens of thousands of tribesman.

It looks like poor Pakistan is going to be hastened on its way to hell thanks to the desperation of all involved. The Taliban in the north has control over much territory and the solution to this is to arm the other half of the people living there. Arming tribesman in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets is what created the Taliban. This is a classic case of history repeating itself. I wonder then why Pakistan thinks they are going to achieve different results this time.

The 70’s news article that inspired the movie Saturday Night Fever

This is a rare, old gem. With a surprising amount of literary prose and structure a reporter uncovers the youth sub-culture of disco dancing as it first emerged. Reading the article I immediately gained new respect for the movie because it captured the atmosphere of the article perfectly. I always found it interesting that the most colourful and flamboyant street cultures come from the most industrialized, dark, and dirty of places.

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