Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Left and Liberal Hypocrisy

ᅠLiberals get blamed for a lot these days, at least in the circles I frequent. Conservatives, of course, have never been fans of l/Liberals. That is why they are c/Conservatives in the first place. We might expect, then, conservative ideologues, thinkers, politicians, etc., to unleash a continual stream of anti-liberal vendictive. This tendency is, of course, magnified by the fact that the Conservative Party has a well-stocked war chest. They can afford to take out anti-Liberal adverts whenever they perceive a slight shift in the polls.

Neither is NDP vindictive particularly surprising either. What is, of course, surprising, at least a little bit is the degree to which the NDP leadership seems to have decided that their best course of action is to be the Official Opposition's self-declared Official Opposition. The NDP leadership seems to spend more time attacking the Liberals than the Conservatives. In fact, at times -- as in the last federal election when the NDP helped to bring down the Liberal government of Paul Martin -- the NDP seemed almost blindly unconcerned with the Conservative policies. An example is seeming NDP shock that a Conservative government has abandoned the federal commitment to aboriginal rights enshrined in the Kelowna Accord, environmentalist commitments indicated by the Kyoto Accord, and the semblance of a national day-care programme worked out by the Liberals. Only a leadership unconcerned with Conservatism could be shocked by what the Conservatives have done. The NDP's lack of concern seems to relate to a political tactic: displace the Liberals as the national alternative to Conservatism. It appears that the NDP perspective is that only by taking down the Liberals will they be able to mobilize opposition to Conservatism "under their banner", as it were, and have a chance of attaining power. I'm not certain this is a good strategy and here is why.

First, in order to fulfill its plan, the NDP has adopted a Conservative anti-Liberal discourse: "by nature Liberals are hypocrites and incompetent." This discourse works well with Conservatives because it is how they see the world. They ascribe to Liberalism a series of moral weaknesses that have opened to the door to such supposedly nasty things as gay rights, de-criminalized pot, strong anti-harassment laws, a commitment to equality of opportunity through national child care, and the like. By contrast, the NDP actually does not see support for child care and gay rights, etc., as signs of moral weakness. On all these policy areas they much closer to the Liberals than the Conservatives. Like the Liberals, the NDP supports equality for gays, national child care, equality of opportunity for women, as well as gun control, regional economic development strategies, and a host of other things. There are -- or there should be -- points of opposition between NDPers (as socialists) and Liberals (as liberals). The NDP needs to spell these out. It hasn't done that. Instead, it has justified and rationalized a Conservative discourse that only ends up strengthening Conservativism in Canada. The first big problem with the NDP's anti-Liberal rhetoric, then, is that it ends up sounding very Conservative and, as such, ends up rationalizing a Conservative perspective.

Going along with this, NDP anti-Liberal discourse also misses the point. Listening to it, or reading it, one would get the feeling that the Liberals were a bunch of thieves and liars, morally decrepit people who can't do anything right. Again, this is the Conservative perspective but it should not be the NDP's perspective. It should not be the NDP's perspective because it fails to engage policy. What the NDP are saying, through their discourse, is, in effect, don't vote for them because they are morally bankrupt. Vote for us because we are honest and upright. Perhaps, but what is missing from this discourse is any reference to policy. In fact, the whole discourse of "vote for us because we are honest" is politically neutral. I'm a socialist politically but I have no illusions that socialists are any more honest then anyone else. Many of my friends are Liberals and Conservatives and they are good, well-meaning, hard-working and honest people. My concerns with Conservativism do not relate to any belief on my part that Stephen Harper is somehow dishonest. I don't think he is. (I do think he is a politician, which is something I will address in a future blog.) By focusing attention, then, on honesty, the NDP's discourse actually misses a chance to differentiate itself from Liberalism on key policy issues.

My point is this: the NDP's on-going war against Liberalism will necessarily fail to accomplish its ends. Its ends seem to be to displace the Liberals as the national official opposition to Conservatism and, from there one assumes, to make a run at becoming a governing party. It can't work because it ends up re-inforcing Conservatism and because it misses opportunities to actually do something that would allow Canadians to understand what voting NDP actually means. By adopting a Conservative rhetoric, what the NDP does is actually help Conservatives maintain power. This is a problem for the NDP -- regardless of what goes on electorally with regard to the Liberals -- because Conservative policies are antithetical to NDP policies. By re-inforcing Conservatism, the NDP actually succeeds in making Canada into precisely the type of country they do not want it to be. Likewise, it casts support for the NDP into the politically neutral realm of honesty that actually has nothing to do with policy or with our visions of what the future might should look like. In this regard, the NDP misses a chance to actually displace the Liberals through policy differentiation.

I'd suggest that the NDP has to follow a different route. It is supposed to be a different type of political party. It needs to take seriously the idea that political education is a fundamental aspect of a political party's work and that education is much more then saying "vote for me." It seems to engage society and articulate a different vision of the future. It cannot content itself with talking about Liberal hypocrisy and incompetence. It has to talk about society, political-economy, and itself. If it doesn't do that ... well ... its future will end up being more of the same old third party status, the very thing the party is now trying to desperately (but in such a misdirected way) to escape.


Matt said...

Nice post Andrew. Unfortunately, this perspective is not well-understood on the Hill. Many people I know who work for the NDP actually do believe in the fact they are more morally upright than the Liberals, and thus deserve a chance in power, according to some moralistic code.

Alternatively, a number of others are wrapping themselves in the (also) politically neutral issue of parliamentary reform, which again doesn't speak to concrete social/fiscal/foreign policy issues. A party that wants to change the way MPs are elected, and hold them to a higher moral standard once elected has little to offer me as a swing voter. The policy issues you note here hold much more appeal.

Anonymous said...

What about David Emerson?

That sideshow dominated the NDP's focus for the first several weeks of the transition as goons like Gordon O'Connor got a free ride into cabinet.

I thought they had backed away a bit - especially since they decided to call for the removal of Cdn troops from Afghanistan. I guess the moral line - "they're assholes, therefore we will win one day", still prevails.

Plagiarism, or I did not know I was cheating ....

I began teaching at university over two decades ago and in that time one (well, more than one but this is the one about which I am blogging ...