Sunday, January 28, 2007

Two more reasons THE WALRUS is my Bible

The Walrus is the only magazine--with the possible an humorous exception of Blender--that I read cover-to-cover. Sometimes I pounce on it and devour it back-to-front with such speed that I am left with a sense of regret that I have not savoured it. Usually I am able to pace myself, to ration out an article or two with breakfast or before bed, the better to last until the next month. As is probably obvious, I am also evangelical about it, thrusting URLs and photocopies of articles upon friends and co-workers and profs. I do not always agree with the writers (indeed, what fun would that be?) but I always see their point and enjoy their argument.

Two articles I read this morning drove home the point (to the extent that I am now blogging them instead of getting ready for work). The first, "Once Upon A Country" by Don Gillmore, is such an astute deconstruction of the current state of Federal politics in Canada that it should be required reading for...well, everyone. On top of that, it is such a delectable piece of writing that the logophile in me actually got shivers at some turns of phrase. As above, the article is available on The Walrus's site, but to illustrate my point:

On Gerard Kennedy:

"Kennedy came as a potential king-maker and as conciliator, mending rifts in the party he hoped to inherit, a diplomat who was treading carefully toward a New Liberalism. Hanging back, he let [Stephane] Dion and Bob Rae tear at front-runner Michael Ignatieff. While campaigning, Kennedy had gone to Ryerson University in Toronto to talk to business students, celebrating his relative youth among the future managers, moguls, and hustlers, who on that day were slouched in low-cut jeans, Tibetan symbols tattooed on their lower backs, checking their BlackBerries and observing Kennedy with a sense of discovery. ...Kennedy was of the West, where money and power were shifting. As he reminded delegates, it was time to stop spotting the Conservatives eighty seats west of Kenora every election."

On Bob Rae:

"In political terms, Rae was reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, a good man who magnified the complexities of governing an ungovernable country and who aged visibly under the burden, frightening Americans, who quickly retreated to the calming void of Ronald Reagan."

On Stephen Harper as a narrator and a narrative:

"His narrative is tightly controlled; he chooses the story and the way to tell it, and to whom it is told. And what of the narrator? Harper is a putative Westerner, his ideas and adult self formed there, though he doesn’t fit the mould of the Western politician, lacking the polished frontier presence of Peter Lougheed certainly or Don Getty’s rugged athleticism or the extended happy hour of Ralph Klein. No, Harper looks distinctly Central Canadian. He looks like the planned community of Don Mills: meticulous, efficient, and sterile. ...He has kept a tight lid on information coming out of his caucus and limited access to the national press, a relationship still marked by pettiness and an air of regency. His story comes out in Barthesian semiotics, a Western story of stolid morality, the new sheriff riding in to clean up the town."

On the Liberals' underestimating of Harper and his party:

"The Liberals are still hoping that Harper’s natural petulance will irk voters, that his fragile alliance will fray, that his evangelical roots will frighten, or that Maurice Vellacott will fall down on the floor of the House of Commons and speak in tongues. But Harper has developed the necessary cynicism to hold onto federal power. Perhaps his decisions have had Shakespearean consequences, the soul tortured by the actions of the man. Maybe Harper has spent nights rereading the Book of Matthew ('For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?') and weeping tears of apostasy. But he is the equal of Jean Chrétien as a street fighter, which makes him dangerous and, on occasion, fascinating."

On Chrétien himself:

"...the purest politician the country has produced in three decades, an instinctive fighter who had delivered three majorities and who looked, in the unflattering, changeable light of the convention room, darkly reptilian, his limbic self revealed as he watched his creation onstage. He had plucked Dion from academia to use him as an attack dog for unity. Dion was not a natural politician, and ten years later he still isn’t. He is the antithesis of Chrétien, a shy, rigorous thinker. A reporter asked Chrétien what a good leader was. 'A good leader,' answered the pragmatist, 'is one who wins elections.'"

On Conservative environmental policy:

"Harper has cancelled Kyoto Protocol initiatives and cut funding to climate-change programs by 80 percent. Alberta, Harper’s political base, is the country’s largest producer of hydrocarbons, and the oil sands are one of the most concentrated sources of global pollution. It was left to Environment Minister Rona Ambrose to explain the government’s isolationist position, and she stayed on message with the tenacity of the early Ronald Reagan; she was vilified by the left for incompetence and by the Liberals for idiocy. In the House, and in tentative trips abroad, she had an air of the sacrificial, like the first to go in a horror film."

Again--vividly--on Chrétien:

"To watch Chrétien is to see the essence of Liberalism, that mixture of voodoo and instinct and machinery that carried them for more than a decade. Consider his gifts: linguistically eclectic, intellectually indifferent, politically astute, a mixture of the sinister and the avuncular. Yet when he spoke, he roused his people. 'Harper was watching earlier. Maybe he is still watching. Stephen, Stephen—can I call you Steve, like George W.?' His appeal is difficult to define. Perhaps voters accepted his sweet, fraudulent mythology, le p’tit gar de Shawinigan, or maybe it was the grudging respect accorded survivors. Or the unknowable alchemy that is the successful politician."

And on the relationships of the left and right:

"There is a Through the Looking Glass aspect to federal politics that goes something like this: The NDP borrows the occasional idea from the Green Party, but feels it is a marginal group (NDP Pat Martin said the Greens functioned primarily as 'big catch basin for wing nuts who would otherwise gravitate to our party' ). The Liberals poach ideas from the NDP (former NDP head David Lewis was called the best policy chairman the Liberals ever had) and feel, in the words of Martha Hall Findlay, that they 'have good ideas but are unable to implement them[...'] The Conservatives have contempt for the Liberals, but strategically Harper can be a Liberal himself...

Canada isn’t the only country where the definitions of liberalism and conservatism are being refined, colliding in a slow-motion car crash. In Spain, the Socialist Party introduced radical social legislation but also embraced freemarket economics and lowered income taxes by 6 percent. In Britain, Tony Blair used a combination of fiscal conservatism and Labour rhetoric to hold onto power for a decade, and now British Conservatives, who have learned from Blair, are championing bicycle paths and the environment. In the US, Bill Clinton was described as the best Republican president since Eisenhower. The Liberals have long been accused of campaigning from the left and governing from the right, and traditional lines continue to blur in the rush for the centre. The NDP is 'tough on crime,' the Conservatives celebrate diversity, Ignatieff favours Canada’s continued military presence in Afghanistan."

Now, how can you fail to be stirred by that? I've hardly even touched on Gillmor's substantive analysis. Go read the article!

T'other I want to talk about is "Good to Go" by Semi Chellas, but that shall have to wait until I, at least, arrive at work.

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