My recent book book Pulpit and Politics has been reviewed in the Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, an on line publication. The reviewer is Ron Dart, a professor in the Department of Philosophy & Politics at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C. You will see that he recommends the book and is pleased that it deals with religion as an authentic force in public life, rather than dismissing it out of hand as is commonly done in secular academic analysis. He criticizes me, though, for being soft on religious progressives while being hard on religious conservatives. Also, he disapproves of my describing the current reality in Canada as one of competing religious ideologies, one progressive and the other conservative. Continue reading Pulpit and Politics, a review by Ron Dart
The House of Commons is poised to vote on the fate of the long gun registry. The Conservatives would scrap the registry and destroy all of its records but most other MPs want to keep it. The showdown in coming and the vote will be close. The Conservatives have orchestrated this issue and are trying to use it as a wedge that they hope will dislodge votes from NDP and Liberal MPs in rural and small town areas. For a long while it looked as though the politics of division was working, but there has been a growing chorus in support of the registry from police chiefs, emergency room physicians, nurses, people who run women’s shelters, labour unions and others. MPs on both sides of the issue are being lobbied furiously.
Continue reading Canada’s long gun registry, facts and fiction
By Dennis Gruending Recently I received an email message urging me to read and then pass it along if I want to save Western civilization. The subject line said: Joys of A Muslim Woman: A MUST READ. Actually, it was not about joy at all but was an alarmist rant against Muslims. It was also an example of a recent fetish about â€œdemographic winterâ€, which has become a favourite preoccupation with the religious right in the United States and to some extent in Canada. The message that I received provides material drawn from an author named Nonie Darwish.Â She is of Egyptian heritage and her father was a senior officer in the Egyptian army until the Israelis killed him in 1956. Nonie moved to the U.S. in 1978 and became an evangelical Christian. She has written several books and has become prominent on the right wing lecture circuit and media. She is also founder of a group called Arabs For Israel and director of another called Former Muslims United.
One of Darwishâ€™s books is called Cruel and Unusual Punishment:The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Her American publisher describes it as â€œa wake up call to the Western world.â€ The book blurb continues as follows: â€œNonie Darwish presents an insider’s look at sharia and examines how radical Muslim laws are destroying the Western world from within . . . Heed this warning: sharia law is attempting to infiltrate Western culture and destroy democracy.â€ The viral message I received contained much the same admonition. Continue reading Demographic winter and the religious right
Canadaâ€™s long gun registry could soon be scrapped thanks to a vote on a Private Memberâ€™s Bill that passed in the House of Commons on November 4th. Candice Hoeppner, a Conservative MP from Manitoba, introduced it with the blessing of the prime minister, who sees it as a timely wedge issue to shore up his base, mainly in rural and northern areas. The bill will now go to a committee for further consideration and it willÂ have to come back before the House for another vote, as well as passing in the Senate prior to becoming law.Â It is ironic, to say the least, that this vote occurred just a few weeks prior to the 20th anniversary of the December 6th Montreal massacre, when Marc Lepine mowed down 14 young women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal with a semi-automatic weapon. Although this bill will not touch the ban on handguns, it will, if it becomes law, eliminate the requirement to register the type of people-hunting firearm that Lepine used in 1989. It was that gruesome killing which prompted the then-Liberal government of Jean Chretien to pass the Firearms Act in 1995, requiring gun owners to obtain permits and to register their guns. The act did not prevent people from owning and using rifles and shotguns, but they were legally bound to register them.
Supporters, including Canadaâ€™s police chiefs, believe the registry is a valuable tool for preventing gun violence, often arising from criminal activity and domestic disputes. Some people can be denied ownership of a gunÂ if they have a record of instability or violence. With a registry, police arriving on the scene of disturbances can find, by running a computer check, if there are registered firearms at the address. In fact, death and injury from firearms have declined by over 40% in Canada during the era of stronger gun laws. The Conservatives opposed the registry vociferously in opposition. In government, they have refused to enforce the registryâ€™s provisions and are now poised to get rid of it altogether.
Opposition to the original registry was centred in the Reform Party led by Preston Manning and among fellow travellers in gun, wildlife and hunting lobbies. Manning was able to turn the issue to his advantage. The registryâ€™s implementation went badly, a saga that involved large cost overruns and expensive computer software that didnâ€™t work â€“ but that wasnâ€™t the main reason for the opposition. As with many issues in the culture wars, the gun registry became a proxy for something much larger.
Guns in the trenches
I have considerable experience in the trenches on the guns issue. I was a candidate in four federal elections in mixed urban-rural constituencies in Saskatchewan and the gun registry featured in every one of those campaigns. In 1997, I was a candidate in Saskatoon-Humboldt, the area where I was born and raised. One day I was campaigning in a small town that was clearly suffering from the rural economic crisis. The rail line had been removed and the two tall grain elevators at the head of Main Street were being dismantled.Â The townâ€™s business buildings were shabby and much of the housing stock was run down. I came upon a man who was backing his truck out of a driveway. He recognized me and said that he knew my sister. â€œI havenâ€™t got much time,â€ he said. â€œI just want to know one thing. What is your position on gun control?â€ I asked him if that issue was more important to him in an election than the fact that his town had lost its rail line and its grain elevator. â€œYou bet it is,â€ he said. I lost that election by 221 votes to the Reform Party candidate.
I have asked myself many times since why people would base their vote on something that has little or nothing to do with their personal well-being and that actually makes their communities more prone to gun violence. Then in 2004, I read a book that provided a good part of the answer. Itâ€™s called Whatâ€™s The Matter with Kansas and was written by Thomas Frank. He says that Kansas has changed. In the early 1900s it was a hotbed of agrarian radicalism. People took on the banks and the railroads and the business and political Establishments who they believed were ripping them off. In this way it was very much like Saskatchewan in the same era, and at least a bit like the Saskatchewan in which I grew up. In Kansas today, the rich vote Republican as they always did, but they are not nearly such fervent supporters of arch-conservatism as are farmers, elements of the middle class and even the poor. How can this be? Frank says these people are angry. They are in backlash mode. And who are they angry with? Not with greedy bankers or industrialists or right wing politicians who lie to them in every election.
Frank writes: â€œThe backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues â€“ summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art â€“ which it them marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshalled to achieve economic ends. And is these economic achievements â€“ not the forgettable skirmishes of the never-ending cultural wars â€“ that are the movementâ€™s greatest monuments.â€
I found this analysis instructive about Saskatchewan. There was a lot of anger among the gun crowd aimed at what they called big government — and the firearms registry was a new government program. These people said they were good, law-abiding citizens and that the government was treating them like criminals. There was anger at bureaucrats, at liberals and anger directed against big city dwellers. The people most opposed to the gun registry were generally from towns, smaller cities, and rural areas. The people most in favour were from larger cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The people against the gun registry did not want a bunch of city slickers telling them what to do. Some also feared that the government wanted information about their guns so that it could take them away, and then do bad things to them. They said they had the right to have guns to protect themselves and their loved ones, a ludicrous argument that sounded as though it may have been imported from a Montana militia.
There was another sombre overtone here. The Reform Party made good mileage in the West by being anti-Quebec and the party also contained anti-feminist elements. My experience in four election campaigns was that you got nowhere with people opposed to the gun registry if you said that the Montreal massacre was a reason why firearms should be registered. That argument left them cold. There was rarely, if ever, any acknowledgement or sympathy expressed for Marc Lepineâ€™s victims.
Guns a symbolic issue
To summarize, the gun registry issue became a symbolic issue, even a metaphorical one. This was no accident because the Canadian right, borrowing from the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby in the United States, framed the debate. They constantly talked about â€œgun controlâ€ by a big, bad government — but the issue was really about registering firearms, and if you had no criminal record or record of violence or instability you could register your gun. We register cars, boats, mortgages, even bicycles and dogs. What is so sinister about registering firearms?Â The right coined the phrase â€œgun controlâ€ and many of us fell into the trap of using their language. When you do that, as American linguist George Lakoff tells us, you have lost the debate.
Lakoff also describes how political conservatives in the United States made a conscious decision in the 1970s to spend the money to build an intellectual culture for the right. For example, wealthy people financed think tanks and set up professorships and scholarships at many universities, including Harvard. â€œThese institutions have done their job very well,â€ Lakoff says. The right deliberately transformed the language of American politics and in Canada the right has borrowed techniques and language on guns and a range of other issues.
The Conservatives talk constantly about safe communities, but what they mostly mean is locking people up. How can they, in good conscience, believe that our communities are safer with unregistered guns, and presumably more of them? This position is simply bankrupt and immoral. A nurturing vision of a safe community is one where women, children and men do not have to fear gun violence, or any other violence. We want to keep our families safe so letâ€™s have fewer guns around, and if we are to have them letâ€™s certify and register them.
I have been curious about where Barack Obama will find theÂ antecedents and inspiration for his inaugural speech on January 20. American writer Kathleen Hall Jamieson is an expert on rhetoric, particularly that of presidents. Jamieson says that while modern speeches may contain some new content, they always draw upon a stock of earlier speeches and existing rhetorical forms. Northrop Frye, the late Canadian literary critic, made much the same point. Inaugural addresses exist as a genre. They are a new presidentâ€™s opportunity to set a tone,Â to think big and to talk in terms of lofty vision.
Delivering an historic speech about what George Bush Sr. called the â€œvision thingâ€ is not easy. Most inaugurals are forgotten almost as soon as they are delivered. Only a few survive the test of time and enter the nationâ€™s literature, to be quoted in generations to come. John F. Kennedyâ€™s speech in the 1960 inaugural is recalled as a classic. â€œAsk not what your country can do for you,â€ he said, â€œbut what you can do for your country.â€ Kennedy was Americaâ€™s first television age president and like Obama, he was elegant and articulate â€“ but Obama is unlikely to draw heavily upon Kennedy in the inaugural speech.
Franklin Delano Rooseveltâ€™s speech in 1933 was another a classic. The Great Depression confronted him when he took office, much as Obama is beset by a raging economic crisis today. When Roosevelt delivered his speech on March 4, people were gripped by fear and anxiety. Roosevelt told them: â€œLet me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear it fear itselfâ€¦â€ He promised decisive action to put people back to work and he launched the New Deal, a massive program of public works â€“ what today we would call infrastructure. Expect some echoes of Rooseveltâ€™s steely determination in what we are going to hear from Obama, but he wonâ€™t be a major source either.
It is clear that, among presidents, Obama has chosen Abraham Lincoln, a man from Illinois and the emancipator of slaves, as his touchstone. Obama and his family took the train on January 17 from Philadelphia to Washington with six stops along the way, just as Lincoln did nearly 150 years ago. ObamaÂ also decided to swear his oath on the same Bible that Lincoln used for his.
The power and cadence of Obamaâ€™s speech, however, will likely owe at least as much to Martin Luther King, someone never elected, but rather a pastor and prophet whose destiny was to speak poetic truth to those in power. Obamaâ€™s focus on Lincoln allows him to complete the great American narrative of race and justice that runs from Lincoln the emancipator, through King the prophet, to Obama in whom the prophecy is fulfilled in almost religious terms. Obama, a black man, has become president in what was an apartheid-like state, but only after Martin Luther King paid with his life for his prophecy to that state and its citizens. I am a fan of Rooseveltâ€™s but somehow his New Deal, as important as it is, does not have the same narrative power as that of the progression from Lincoln to King to Obama.
Lincoln made several speeches that have become deeply embedded in the American psyche and the countryâ€™s narrative. He won the 1860 election and delivered his first inaugural on March 4, 1861 when the storm clouds of secession and civil war were gathering. He opposed slavery but for him the paramount issue was that of national unity. He agreed that the founding fathers had condoned slavery in existing states, but argued that a proper reading of the constitution forbade slavery in the new territories that were opening up. A number of southern states threatened to secede from the union over the issue but in his speech Lincoln insisted on majority rule and said that he would not allow secession. But he ended his speech on a conciliatory note. â€œI am loath close,â€ he said. â€œWe are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.â€ Although slavery has long been banished, Obama has made it a priority to reach out to opponents, much as Lincoln did to his. Listen for that in his speech.
The Southern states did secede and the war was fought. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln made a short speech at the dedication of a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where thousand of soldiers had been slaughtered in several days of intense fighting. Lincolnâ€™s 266-word Gettysburg address is legendary in the United States and elsewhere. He used the consecration of a graveyard to rededicate the nation to its founding principles. â€œâ€¦that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom â€“ and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.â€ Obama is not likely to talk too much about war, but he will echo Lincoln on freedom and democracy.
Lincolnâ€™s second inaugural address occurred on March 4, 1865. The cruel war was still raging and Lincoln wondered aloud if the Almighty was punishing the nation for its offences. Wearily, but firmly, he promised to prosecute the war to its completion but even in its midst he offered a conciliatory gesture that he knew would be needed in the future. â€œWith malice toward none, with charity for all â€¦ let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nationâ€™s wounds, to care for him who will have borne the nationâ€™s battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.â€
In the 150 years since the Civil War, that American promise has been badly, some would say hopelessly, tarnished. The beacon of equality, freedom and democracy lived on in the mind of Martin Luther King and countless others, and it was Kingâ€™s stirring oratory that captured the dream. He spoke on August 23, 1963, appropriately from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during a peaceful civil rights rally. One hundred years after the Civil War, King said, â€œwe must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.â€ King spoke with a sense of urgency about what must happen. He used the familiar phrase about the American dream to rhyme off eight parallel constructions about his own dreams for the future, including this one: â€œI have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.â€
Many of the abuses that King described have been overcome;Â others remain; and King was assassinated for holding the dream that he did. Obama is seen as tangible fulfillment of Kingâ€™s promise of a better day. No matter how good a president he is, he is bound to disappoint these almost messianic expectations once he has to make hard decisions about taxes, wars and social justice. But as he places the finishing touches on his inaugural (and he will write it mostly on his own), Obama has a rich tradition of American oratory upon which to draw.
Some Canadian churches are posing earnest but polite questions for candidates and parties in the 2008 election campaign while religious conservatives are denouncing Stephen Harper for betraying them on abortion. The statements and election kits prepared by the churches fall into three broad categories: those that focus on questions of social and economic justice; those that give precedence to issues such as abortion and euthanasia but which acknowledge other issues as well; and those that focus solely on questions such as abortion and insist that they are the only issues which really matter.
Churches that belong to KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice coalition, exemplify the first category. The organization has issued a four-page election resource kit that highlights poverty, aboriginal rights and the environment, particularly climate change. The first in a list of questions that KAIROS recommends be posed to candidates asks,Â â€œWill your party commit to the immediate ending of subsidies to oil companies and redirect these funds to energy conservation and sustainable, renewable energy?â€ The second question relates to aboriginal rights: â€œWill your party endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and conclude treaties with Indigenous peoples that implement the rights contained in the Declaration?â€
KAIROS includes mainline Protestants, including the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, as well as Quakers, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) along with Development and Peace, the Catholic organization tasked with promoting international justice, represent Catholics at KAIROS. Most of the KAIROS member churches and groups have also issued their own election statements or kits.
The Catholic bishops, for example, issued a document called Federal Election 2008 Guide in which they frame the political choices that Catholics should make under the heading of â€œRespect for the life and dignity of the human person.â€ Life, they say, must be protected at all stages, â€œfrom conception to death, no matter the circumstances.â€ They say that, in addition to questions such as abortion and euthanasia, protecting life includes â€œbeing present to people with disabilities and those who are elderly, ill, poor or suffering; promoting peace and ending violence as a way to resolve conflicts; and encouraging policies that help people balance their family and work responsibilities.â€
There is little ecumenical crossover at the national level between evangelical Christians and mainline Protestants. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) represents evangelical churches and organizations but does not belong either to KAIROS or the Canadian Council of Churches. The EFC has issued an election kit that is in some ways similar to that of the Catholic bishops, highlighting abortion but also including questions of poverty and justice. The kit also features a statement by EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger, who says: â€œThere are a variety of important issues being debated in this election and at least one, abortion, will likely be absent as no party seems willing to dissent from the status quo.â€
Clemengerâ€™s comment signals the widespread disppointment that religious conservatives have come to feel toward Stephen Harper, who has made it clear during this campaign that he will not introduce or allow new legislation recriminalizing abortion. Perhaps the strongest denunciation of Harper has come from Rev. Alphone de Valk, the editor of a magazine called Catholic Insight. De Valk issued a news release on October 2 under the heading: â€œPrime Minister Harper betrays conservatives.â€ De Valk says that Harper should be defeated in his riding and removed as Conservative party leader.
The anti-abortion organization Campaign Life is rating the leaders based on what it calls a â€œparty leader report card on life issues.â€ Harper is accorded a D, although he might take at least small solace because all other major party leaders receive an F. Campaign Life and several other organizations on the religious right, including the Canada Family Action Coalition (CFAC), have also prepared an online pamphlet called Election Guide for Serious Christians. This, of course, implies that some Christians are not serious about their faith. Charles McVety, CFACâ€™s president, has in past elections organized on behalf of right wing religious candidates seeking nominations for the Conservative Party. He has also led the Canadian section of a group Christians United for Israel. Brian Rushfeldt, CFAC’s executive director, says he wants churches to use the election guide as a Sunday bulletin insert and hopes that people in the pews use it as a guide to â€œvote the way they should.” The guide outlines five â€œnon-negotiable issuesâ€ which it says, â€œshould be ranked above all other issues that come up in political debate”. They include: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same sex marriage. There is no mention of any of the social and economic justice issues raised by the churches involved in the KAIROS coalition or the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Interestingly, the EFCâ€™s election resource kit reminds its congregations of the rule that, as charitable institutions, churches must be non-partisan. The EFC says that, â€œa church may not endorse a particular candidate or political party, or use its resources to support a candidate or party (even if they attend your own church).â€
All of this civic activity on behalf of churches exists against a backdrop of Canadians being wary of religious involvement in politics. A national Angus Reid poll conducted in July 2008, prior to the election being called, indicated that 82 per cent of respondents consider it inappropriate for religious leaders to urge people to vote for or against a political candidate, and that 66 per cent of Canadians believe it is inappropriate for political candidates to talk about their religious beliefs as part of their campaigns.
Broadcaster Steve Paikan will moderate an English language election debate among the leaders of Canadaâ€™s five political parties on Thursday, October 2. He says that networks in the debate consortium settled on 10 questions to be asked. I have questions to pose about the election and I am sure that you do too. Please consider posting yours below in the Comments section found as you scroll down on this page. In that way, we can share notes and information to help us question candidates in community meetings or at the door. My first question to each of the five leaders is this: What value or principle do you hold most dear and tell us how it will help Canadians?
Question 2: Canada has been criticized by the United Nations for enduring levels of poverty among aboriginal people. Political and aboriginal leaders negotiated the Kelowna Accord in 2005 to invest approximately $5 billion into schools, housing and clean water in aboriginal communities. The Conservative government refused to honour that agreement. What will each of you do to restore that $5 billion investment in aboriginal people and their communities?
Question 3: At least 19 Canadians have now died from listeriosis after eating tainted meat products. This tragedy occurred after the government cut back on food inspections and turned much of its responsibility over to industry to police itself. One of a governmentâ€™s basic responsibilities is to keep its citizens safe from harm, and that includes protecting us against being poisoned by the food that we eat. What will you do to restore the federal governmentâ€™s role in keeping the food supply safe for Canadians?
Question 4: The Conservative government has chosen to provide $100 a month to parents with young children rather than proceeding with a childcare plan negotiated by the previous federal government, the provinces and territories. Parents and people who work in early childhood education say that the governmentâ€™s modest tax breaks have failed and that there is an urgent need for more childcare spaces. What will you do to ensure that children can receive childcare while their parents go to work?
Question 5: Development of the tar sands has been proceeding at breakneck speed. These mega projects will create open pit mines in an area of northern Alberta equal to twice the size of New Brunswick. The projects are already polluting the river and lake systems and experts say that if they go ahead Canada cannot hope to meet even its modest commitments to reduce our levels of greenhouse gases. Peter Lougheed, the former premier of Alberta, has publicly criticized the rapid pace of development. How is it possible, if indeed it is possible, to develop the tar sands in a way that allows Canada to meet its Kyoto treaty commitments and to protect the land, air and water in Alberta?
Question 6: American economist William Nordhaus says that any politician who will not support placing a price on carbon is â€œnot really serious and does not recognize the central message about how to slow climate change.â€ The Liberals and the Green Party want to introduce a carbon tax and use the money collected to reduce income and other taxes. The Conservatives oppose a carbon tax and say they will introduce intensity-based pollution targets for industry. That might slow the rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions but will still allow them to rise for many years to come. The NDP says it would tax big polluters while leaving individuals alone, and that it would use the money collected from corporations to invest in green programs and technology. The question to the Conservative and NDP leaders is this: How do you respond to the charge that by refusing to put a price on carbon consumed by everyone you are not serious about preventing climate change?
Question 7: The war in Afghanistan has now taken 100 Canadian lives with many more Afghan civilians being killed and maimed. A Liberal government sent our troops to that country and a Conservative-led government voted to keep them there. The prime minister now says our troops will come home in the year 2011 no matter what happens. The question to the prime minister is this: You used to tell Canadians that the Taliban were a direct threat to our security but now youÂ appear to be saying that is not the case. Have 100 Canadians die for nothing?
The question to the NDP, Green and Bloc Quebecois leaders is this: You have called for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops. How do you respond to the fear that to withdraw immediately would lead to chaos and civil war in Afghanistan?
Question 8: A growing number of Canadians are weary of violence and war and are seeking ways to create a sustainable peace. They are lobbying the Canadian government to create a Department of Peace. The minister in charge would be responsible for creating and supporting activities that promote a culture of peace and non-violence in Canada and the world. The question to all leaders: We already have a Department of National Defence. What will you do to promote a Department of Peace?
This, obviously, is but a short list of questions that could be asked of our political leaders. Please use the Comments section below to share a question or questions that you would like to see asked of candidates during the remainder of the campaign.
Policy wonks may think that elections are about issues but linguist and political commentator George Lakoff says theyâ€™re all about cultural metaphors and stereotypes. The Republicans are proven masters at shifting focus away from issues and toward potent metaphors framed in a conservative way and with â€œfamily valuesâ€ at their centre. In Canada, Stephen Harperâ€™s steely resolve turns dreamy when he dons a sweater vest and muses to the camera about how great it is to be a dad.
Lakoff, an American, says that the incumbent Republicans would have much to lose by focussing on issues â€“ a sinking economy, a mortgage crisis, rising energy prices, a record and staggering government deficit, and a war in Iraq. Stephen Harper has an unpopular war of his own to defend, not to mention a hollowing out of Canadaâ€™s manufacturing sector and his lack of action on global warming.
The Republicans know that Ronald Reagan and George W Bush won by running on values, authenticity, trust and identity rather than on issues. Lakoff says that Republicans specialize in placing their family values into an authoritarian frame, then applying it via metaphorical thought to the nation: good vs. evil, authority, the use of force, toughness and discipline, individual (versus social) responsibility, and tough love. Enter Sarah Palin, John McCainâ€™s vice-presidential running mate who burst onto the Republican stage as a gun-loving religious fundamentalist and mother of five, a self-styled hockey mom and a â€œpit bull with lipstick.â€ Her job was to personify what Lakoff calls â€œthe mother in a strict father family, upholding conservative values.â€
Lakoff warns that those who criticize or belittle Palin for her extremism or her lack of national experience are missing the point. While the criticisms may be true, Lakoff says, they are largely irrelevant to this campaign. â€œConservative theorists win [people] over in two ways: Inventing and promulgating the idea of a â€˜liberal eliteâ€™ and focussing campaigns on social and family issues.â€ Palin has been recruited for both roles. In her acceptance speech, she heaped scorn on Obama as an elitist liberal intellectual, even though he arose from modest circumstances while McCain is a millionaire who canâ€™t remember how many houses and condominiums he owns. Palinâ€™s pit bull attacks on Obama leave McCain free to take the high road as warrior and strict father figure of the family and nation.
The Conservatives are attempting something similar in Canada, although the strict father role doesnâ€™t rest as comfortably on apple-cheeked Stephen Harper as it does on the older and craggy McCain. Conservative ads and campaign events portray Harper as a decisive and firm leader, a tax cutter â€“ and an ardent family man. Tellingly, he was unenthused when a reporter asked him if StÃ©phane Dion isnâ€™t just as much of a family man. Harper has no corner on that market — Jack Layton, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe also have credentials as good family people.
On the pit bull side, the Conservatives ran advertisements all summer attacking Dion as a pin-headed intellectual and bookish ditherer. Then, two days into the campaign came the puffin flying over Dion and pooping on his shoulder. Dion, by the way, is shown in that ad standing in front of a blackboard containing the words: â€œHello class, my name is Professor Dion.â€ This denigration of teacher and intellectual contains parallels to Palinâ€™s putdown of Obama for being a community organizer â€“ as though being a community worker or teacher is not a real or useful job.
In fact, Harper is as much a policy wonk as is Dion, although the latter has the more impressive academic credentials. Dion has spent much of his life teaching at a university while Harper, other than a stint leading the right wing National Citizens Coalition, spent most of his time in the backrooms of the Reform Party or in the House of Commons. As for the manly man, Harper may have shed his paunch but on a cross-country ski trail Dion would likely win the race.
There are important issues at play in both the Canadian and American elections. It does matter who wins and who governs. Dion, Layton, and May each has national policy prescriptions to offer but they, especially Dion, cannot afford to ignore the political marketing of the Conservatives. They will have to blend reality with symbols, running on character and values, authenticity and trust as well as on the issues.
Note: George Lakoff will be the resource person for a seminar called Persuading to Win to be held near Toronto on Nov.