CCPA Alternative Federal Budget Would Boost Spending To Create Jobs

CCPA Alternative Federal Budget Would Boost Spending To Create Jobs.

Question for you folks: Why do you set up the CCPA as a “left-wing” think tank? Do you regularly set up the Fraser Institute as a “right-wing” think tank? Do you refer to the Harper government as “right-wing,” or point out that it’s got very little to do with traditional conservatism? Everything depends on the framing.

Maturity, citizenship, @jerryagar1010 and more on the "all taxes are evil" theme | #onpoli

At first glance, this might seem at odds with my resolve not to engage with trolls. But in fairness, I haven’t really paid that much attention to him, so it’s not really fair to assume that this guy’s a troll. Benefit of the doubt and all that.

So, first principles, Jerry. Let’s unpack some of your assumptions. Please — explain to us exactly what’s wrong with using “taxes and tolls in order to pay for government,” and how embracing the idea demonstrates a lack of creativity? And just what is it “not an answer” to?

Y’see, I’ve always viewed community and society as a means for people to pool their resources and work together to do things they can’t do individually. That’s how we manage to have nice things like roads, hospitals, fire departments, libraries, schools, police services, water treatment, public sanitation, electricity, public health, recreation centres, transit systems, and public spaces. Maybe you think of it as the “nanny state.” I’ve always thought of it as “infrastructure.” (I dunno, maybe it just sounds better.)

And maybe I’m just naive, but isn’t that supposed to be the natural function of government? It raises revenues and gathers resources via various forms of taxation, and then it allocates those resources in accordance with publicly determined priorities. We get a say in that determination by voting and by talking to our democratically elected representatives and public officials. Am I missing something here? You make it sound as if there’s something inherently wrong with that.

Now, not to dump all this on Jerry, but isn’t that the problem at the heart of all the “tax-and-spend” rhetoric? And in a larger sense, with a one-dimensional viewpoint that sees people only as “taxpayers” rather than as “citizens?” Isn’t there something a little suspect about a worldview which reduces our relationship with society (and by extension, with each other) to robbery? If you consistently view government as an inefficient and malevolent force that just steals your hard-earned money, then aren’t you just setting yourself up for a lifetime of resentment and victimization?

It’s OK, you don’t have to answer right away. Let’s move on. You were talking about creativity, I think. So tell me, since you don’t like taxes and tolls, what’s your creative solution to paying for public infrastructure?

Lotteries?

Casinos?

Private investors?

PPPs?

Geez, I’m ready to smack myself in the forehead. How come nobody’s ever thought of those things before?

Back to the “adult conversation” theme. I’m all for creative solutions, and reasonable discussions about what government should be doing, and how it should go about it. But simplistic repetition of slogans like “taxing us to death” and “nanny state” and “government monopolies” strikes me as … childish.

(h/t @cityslikr, @kvonbling, @trishhennessy and @VassB)

Related posts:

@Cityslikr, @NickKouvalis, and more on controlling the narrative: the runup to 2014 | #TOpoli

Li-ford-car

Well, another week, another messy and avoidable scandal in Ford’s Toronto. 

The whole reading-while-driving thing is getting tired by now, of course. Yeah, it was fun (in the way that only reckless endangerment of others can be fun), but it was also predictable, and while it’s pretty easy to follow the arc these things take, way things are going, there’s sure to be another embarrassment before long. 

I’ve been meaning to set this out for several days, ever since an impromptu late-night beer with Daren prompted a couple of synaptic twitches. A couple of events have brought things into what passes for sharper focus among guys our age in the interim, so … a few observations on the state of politics in Toronto, circa late summer 2012.

The advent of private waste collection west of Yonge Street earlier this month brought one of Daren’s typically trenchant and well-written observations: in short, he argues that Rob Ford’s political future depends, in large part, on garbage. Amid much smirking and triumphalist chicken-dancing from some of Ford Nation’s er, “brighter lights,” Team Ford has delivered a giant FU to the city unions, following through on one of the currents of resentment it tapped in its successful election campaign in the fall of 2010. Take that, lazy overpaid socialist union thugs! End of the line for this gravy train!

While this provides an undeniable emotional jones for the union-haters, the jury’s still out on whether it’ll amount to more effective and efficient delivery of service, and in a larger sense, whether it will play out in terms of better overall municipal governance. That the private operator’s had some settling-in difficulties is a matter of record; Daren argues, quite reasonably, that while it’s only fair to cut GFL a little slack, Team Ford’s success will be judged, in large part, on whether the contracting out actually saves millions of dollars without any reductions in service. This is what Rob Ford ran on, after all. 

We’ve been told, guaranteed actually, that the contracting out of waste collection to Green For Life will save us $11 million annually with no reduction in the service provided. That is the benchmark privatizing proponents gave us. That is the goal that must be met. I will argue that the mayor’s ‘mandate’ depends on it.

The Tweetr (that is what the young folk are calling it these days, yes?) being what it is, it wasn’t long before a lively discussion ensued. A full and frank exchange of views, I think they call it. My respect for the people involved is also a matter of record, but part of what prompted the segue from that to this was the participation of our friend Nick Kouvalis.

Full disclosure here: notwithstanding the way he’s regarded in some circles at City Hall, my thinking is pretty similar to Daren’s when it comes to Nick. As Daren puts it:

Although I’ve never actually met Nick Kouvalis and, in all likelihood, oppose almost everything he purports to stand for in terms of governance, I think I just might admire like fear… what’s the word, I’m looking for here?… respect? Hmmm. Grudgingly respect him? OK. He’s a guy I’d like to sit down and have a beer and shoot the shit with. What’s the word for that?

What Daren said. Dude passes my beer test too. The guy’s good at what he does, if you define success in terms of electoral results (more on that in a minute). We don’t have to like or agree with what he does, but he’s got insights we can learn from, and I’ll say this for him: on the occasions I’ve engaged with him, he’s answered directly and candidly. Whatever else I may think of him, I have to acknowledge the straight answer instead of the bullshit smokescreen. 

Again: disagree with the man, but respect his effectiveness and don’t let the disagreement turn into scorched-earth hatred. (That may say more about my bourgeois naiveté — er, my lingering nostalgia for civility and old-style conservatism — than it does about anything else, but let’s leave that be for now.)

And as we all know, Nick ran an effective and successful 2010 campaign for Team Ford. I’ve argued, however, that the municipal election of 2010 marked one of the lowest points in the history of Toronto politics, in large part because of Team Ford’s success in establishing a dominant narrative of resentment, pessimism, shallow thinking and belligerent divisiveness. The city’s falling apart. Lazy unionized workers with their culture of entitlement and jobs for life. Waste, inefficiency and gravy trains. Downtown elitists sneering at the hardworking suburban taxpayers. War on the Car. Time to blow up City Hall and start over.

I said a couple of sentences ago that Nick’s good at what he does. What he’s done, unfortunately, has diminished us as a city and as a community. The ascendancy of Team Ford has lowered the tone of public conversation, poured sand in the mechanisms of governance and devalued the currency of citizenship. We’ve been paying the price ever since, in both the regular mayoral embarrassments and the continuing day-to-day fraying of the social fabric. I’ve never tried to hide my thinking on that

One of the fundamental themes here, both in the context of this essay and a larger overarching analysis of Team Ford’s tenure, is the difference between campaigning and governing. Once again, campaigning isn’t about nuance, but about framing your message, delivering it effectively, and mobilizing the vote in the run-up to election day. And there’s no denying the impact of simple, emotionally resonant messaging; a lot of people thought the idea of Mayor Rob Ford was a joke, but here we are.

When it comes to governance, however, simplicity and catchphrases have to give way to reflection, analysis, and critical thinking. Interests have to be balanced, stakeholders identified, objectives defined, and resources allocated in a way that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s complicated. It’s not as easy as repeating bumper-sticker slogans like “Respect for Taxpayers.”

So here’s one of the fundamental themes for 2014: The Difference Between Campaigning and Governing.

And here, too, is one of the yardsticks whereby Team Ford’s performance will be judged come Campaign 2014. Have they delivered effective governance? Have they managed a coherent and co-ordinated operation of public institutions? Have they demonstrated the ability to work the system efficiently and collegially? This is where Nick’s record, and his own words, become particularly relevant.

Another question that will define Campaign 2014, then: Effective Governance.

Whether the current municipal structures are designed for optimal delivery of services is a larger question than we have room for here. (In that regard, though, it’s worth revisiting a couple of compelling arguments from J.M. McGrath and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler.) We needn’t resolve that question, however, to observe that a large part of effective governance, within the current context, is the ability to build coalitions, to bring people on board your team, and to work collaboratively. In short, it’s about negotiating, persuading folks to buy in, building support, and Getting Along With People.

Well then. Anyone want to try charting Team Ford’s record in that regard over the last couple of years? Anyone want to lay odds on the mayor’s chances of success in advancing his agenda over the next couple of years? You can look at big things like transit or little things like plastic bags, but the pattern’s pretty clear; Team Ford’s control of city council is tenuous to non-existent. And if you’re going to claim operational competency in municipal governance, you need to be able to work with council. It’s part of the job. 

Whatever you may think of them, it’s something both David Miller and Mel Lastman were able to do. Contrast that with Team Ford’s performance. Once again, back to Nick:

To Nick’s credit, he doesn’t try to dissemble or hide this. In it to win. Take no prisoners. I’m here to get things done, not make friends. No substitute for victory. From there it’s not that far to the end justifies the means. Maybe there are aspects of this I’m not seeing, but it’s hard to reconcile an approach like this with effective team-building. In effect, it’s almost guaranteed to kneecap the mayor’s ability to build coalitions — never one of Rob Ford’s strong points to begin with

Another overarching theme for 2014, then: Working With Council.

Team Ford’s strategy in that regard, predictably, hasn’t been that encouraging. In fairness, this isn’t about Nick; I’ve listened to enough iterations of the #FoBroSho on Sunday afternoons to recognize one of their consistent memes. Every week, it seems, Rob and Doug go on about getting different councillors in 2014, setting up a lame excuse for their own inability to bring people onside. “Sorry folks, we know we haven’t gotten any subways built, but it’s not our fault. Those people on council won’t work with us!” You can see the same impulse at work when Doug Holyday tells us not to send any more activists, unionists, or cyclists to City Hall.

I hate to get all Donald Rumsfeld here, but you work with the council you’ve got, not the council you wish you had. If you can’t do that, you’re not a successful mayor. It’s part of the job. Building consensus, putting together a team, fashioning a majority to help you implement as much of your agenda as you can. Miller did it. Mel did it. You don’t get to alienate everyone, spend the next two and a half years sulking on your radio show, and then campaign on the basis of divisiveness, resentment, and “just send me a bunch of different councillors.”

From a pragmatic point of view, folks like Daren and Adam and Hamutal Dotan are right: if you can cobble together a coalition of 23 councillors, then the mayor doesn’t matter. As the events of the past year have shown, the councillors we’ve got are quite capable of controlling the agenda and governing around the mayor if they have to. It’s not ideal, and as John points out, it raises questions about competing mandates, but it is workable. 

On the other hand, Ed Keenan’s argued, persuasively, that the mayor’s record of gaffes has consumed far too much energy, focus and attention. In the wake of the Danzig shootings, for instance, Ed wrote:

With his customary bravado, the mayor proclaimed on Monday, “I’m taking a very simplistic approach.” That is the problem, I’d suggest. And so instead of discussing these very complicated issues, we’re spending time discussing the mayor’s inadequacy. What a load of BS.

Much as we might wish it were different, Ed’s got a point. Instead of chuckling about Rob Ford being in over his head or toying with the bright lights of Ford Nation on Twitter, we could be doing something constructive. Are we enhancing civic life? Are we strengthening the bonds of community? Or are we arguing about stupid shit?

So there’s one more possible storyline in the run-up to 2014: The Focus of Public Conversation.

By any of these criteria, Team Ford’s record ought to be instructive. But once again, friends: narratives. Framing. Messaging. 

Buckle up. 

Related posts:

Update: Now playing over at Toronto Citizens.

Fiscal discipline, @cityslikr and Toronto’s endless budget follies | #TOpoli #onpoli

Can-of-worms

My pal @cityslikr has a thoughtful post over at his place, riffing on the whole Moody’s municipal credit rating thing. If you’ve been reading his stuff regularly, as you should, and keeping abreast of the #TOpoli big picture, then you know: contrary to the edge-of-the-abyss picture regularly presented by certain political camps and their tabloid-media enablers, city finances are not one bad cheque away from fiscal Armageddon.

(I sometimes hesitate to talk about @cityslikr and his take on discipline. He’s got a tendency to stray occasionally, like that time he started talking about Karen Stintz and her safe words. But never mind all that just now.)

That we’ve been subjected to overwrought misleading language on the municipal finance file isn’t news, of course. The relentless pounding isn’t about informing us so much as it’s about softening us up and getting us braced for a nice tall glass of the Kut Kut Koolaid. If anything, the events of the past few months ought to have demonstrated that the whole thing is, like the Austerity Agenda (TM), a manufactured narrative. The lead spokesthingy, of course, is budget chief Mike “No cupcakes for you, widows and orphans” del Grande.

Daren’s analysis is dead-on, so I’m not going to repeat it here, but there’s one detail in it that bears a closer look, and that’s Moody’s call for 

a permanent solution to the existing operating budget pressures.

And that’s where this perennial bit of municipal theatre really challenges the audience; it’s in establishing and assessing the context. (Yeah, there he goes again.) Because you really can’t have a worthwhile and comprehensive discussion about “existing operating budget pressures” without addressing Toronto’s continuing structural deficit. And that goes beyond Team Ford, David Miller, and/or Mayor Mel.

Such a discussion must necessarily involve the role of senior levels of government, and the dysfunctional mess that governments of various political stripes have made of municipal finance — indeed, of the entire municipal-governance file. I like to start with the Harris government’s ill-advised municipal amalgamation in the 1990s, coupled with the uploading, downloading, sideswiping shemozzle precipitated with the Common Sense Revolution. But if you want to suggest that the fecklessness of the McGuinty approach hasn’t made things better since then, well …

You may very well think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment.

So, in order to make Moody’s really happy, we need to examine and correct the mistakes of previous provincial governments. And while we’re at it, we might want to revisit that whole constitutional municipalities-as-creatures-of-provincial-legislatures thing. 

Anyone want to give odds on how likely we are to see that?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Related posts:

Fiscal discipline, @cityslikr and Toronto’s endless budget follies | #TOpoli #onpolil

Can-of-worms

My pal @cityslikr has a thoughtful post over at his place, riffing on the whole Moody’s municipal credit rating thing. If you’ve been reading his stuff regularly, as you should, and keeping abreast of the #TOpoli big picture, then you know: contrary to the edge-of-the-abyss picture regularly presented by certain political camps and their tabloid-media enablers, city finances are not one bad cheque away from fiscal Armageddon.

(I sometimes hesitate to talk about @cityslikr and his take on discipline. He’s got a tendency to stray occasionally, like that time he started talking about Karen Stintz and her safe words. But never mind all that just now.)

That we’ve been subjected to overwrought misleading language on the municipal finance file isn’t news, of course. The relentless pounding isn’t about informing us so much as it’s about softening us up and getting us braced for a nice tall glass of the Kut Kut Koolaid. If anything, the events of the past few months ought to have demonstrated that the whole thing is, like the Austerity Agenda (TM), a manufactured narrative. The lead spokesthingy, of course, is budget chief Mike “No cupcakes for you, widows and orphans” del Grande.

Daren’s analysis is dead-on, so I’m not going to repeat it here, but there’s one detail in it that bears a closer look, and that’s Moody’s call for 

a permanent solution to the existing operating budget pressures.

And that’s where this perennial bit of municipal theatre really challenges the audience; it’s in establishing and assessing the context. (Yeah, there he goes again.) Because you really can’t have a worthwhile and comprehensive discussion about “existing operating budget pressures” without addressing Toronto’s continuing structural deficit. And that goes beyond Team Ford, David Miller, and/or Mayor Mel.

Such a discussion must necessarily involve the role of senior levels of government, and the dysfunctional mess that governments of various political stripes have made of municipal finance — indeed, of the entire municipal-governance file. I like to start with the Harris government’s ill-advised municipal amalgamation in the 1990s, coupled with the uploading, downloading, sideswiping shemozzle precipitated with the Common Sense Revolution. But if you want to suggest that the fecklessness of the McGuinty approach hasn’t made things better since then, well …

_42554697_housecards1_416bbc

“You may very well think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

So, in order to make Moody’s really happy, we need to examine and correct the mistakes of previous provincial governments. And while we’re at it, we might want to revisit that whole constitutional municipalities-as-creatures-of-provincial-legislatures thing. 

Anyone want to give odds on how likely we are to see that?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Related posts:

Politics, decency, and finding common ground: the restoration of civility | #TOpoli #cdnpoli

So I was listening to Matt Galloway talking to Karen Stintz on Metro Morning Friday. The interview isn’t up on the CBC web site yet, but as you might imagine, the topic was the future of public transit in Toronto in the wake of Thursday’s decision by council to opt for LRT on Sheppard East. 

It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the extent to which the debate had been polarized. And what struck me more than anything else at the time was the care Councillor Stintz was taking not to apportion any blame for that:

As some of the subsequent Twitter talk shows, it’s not as if Ms. Stintz has undergone a wholesale conversion and been born again as a progressive. That’s not really the point. It’s not about where she or anyone else falls on the political spectrum. Nor is it about transit any more. No, the lesson here was about civility.

As someone much smarter than me remarked subsequently, so what? She’s conducting herself and and dealing with civic affairs the way it’s supposed to be done. That’s a baseline. Team Ford is below that. And in an ideal world, it should be a matter of course rather than something to be remarked upon. Unfortunately, in today’s world, where mud is flung and insults are a regular part of political discourse and everything is venomous and nasty and personal, a resolve to rise above it is something worthy of celebration, regardless of politics. Pour encourager les autres.

I’m lingering on this because it touches upon some of my favourite themes: public discourse, citizenship, and civic engagement. In the long term, those are all enhanced by a collective effort to restore a measure of civility and goodwill to the way we do things. It benefits us all, individually and as a community and a society, no matter who we are or what we think.

That brief reference to genuine conservatism reflects a much wider concern: the long-term project of reclaiming and reinvesting the conservative tradition with its honourable and time-proven roots. It’s what I like to think of as the Tory sensibility: decency, camaraderie, and a willingness to reach out to one’s opponents, set partisanship aside, and recognize that at the end of the day, we’re all committed to the same things. Our differences needn’t set us at each other’s throats.

So how did we get here? From a spirit of community, bipartisanship and the occasional beer with the other side to an era of dirty tricks, robocalls, electoral fraud and handbooks for disrupting the work of parliamentary committees?

It wasn’t by accident, and as with many things, it starts with words, their connotations, and their rhetorical effect. More than two decades ago, Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz worked with a group of U.S. Republican operatives to craft a linguistic strategy for controlling conversation and framing discourse; the idea was to demonize and smear opponents as much as possible by using loaded words like “sick,” “pathetic,” “traitor,” “grotesque,” and other verbal hand grenades. We’ve seen the effect that’s had on politics and popular culture down there. Public discourse has been poisoned and the body politic has been damaged to a point from which it may never recover.

Fast forward to Canada today, where we’re hearing words like “turncoat,” “backstabber,” “stand with the child pornographers,” and so on. This is born of a desire not just to defeat one’s opponents, but to destroy them. Win at any cost. No substitute for victory. 

Is it hyperbole to suggest that the Gingrich/Luntz disease has infected us up here?

And then let’s go back even farther, to a contrast between realpolitik and “amateurism” set in the 1930s. (Yes, it’s from a work of fiction but we can still learn from it …)

Idealism? Nostalgia? Naivete? All of the above? Perhaps. But surely we’re all better off when we can acknowledge legitimacy in viewpoints with which we disagree. 

(And let’s acknowledge, of course, that there’s an element of classism in this. When you discuss values like decency, honour, and gentility, you’re betraying a certain way of looking at the world. Notions like noblesse oblige stem from a privileged background. I have to keep reminding myself that the lens through which I look at things is a product of that. It’s a luxury not everyone has.)

Yes, it’s nostalgia for a gentler time. There’s no shortage of people willing to remind us that the world isn’t like that any more, and that things have changed. 

And this is where the need to push back gets thrown into stark relief. The events of the last few decades — the growing inequality gap, the hollowing-out effects of “free trade,” the vapid coarsening of popular culture, and the continuing assault upon the social safety net, for starters — should demonstrate the moral vacuum at the heart of the agenda to which we’ve all been subjected. Now more than ever, it’s time to push the goalposts back, reclaim public discourse, redefine genuine principled conservatism, re-Occupy the public sphere and win back the words. 

We can start with a commitment to civility. Listening to your neighbours and giving your opponents the benefit of the doubt isn’t a sign of weakness, and it isn’t a class thing either. And by the same token, demonizing, misrepresenting, name-calling and smearing isn’t a civic virtue. It contaminates public discourse and lowers us all, and it needs to be called out for what it is.

Ultimately, we can have whatever kind of conversation we want. Do we want something that reflects well upon us, or do we want to sound like isolated mayors and tabloid columnists? I know which way I’d go.

Related posts:

Politics, decency, and finding common ground: the restoration of civility | #TOpoli #cdnpoli

So I was listening to Matt Galloway talking to Karen Stintz on Metro Morning Friday. The interview isn’t up on the CBC web site yet, but as you might imagine, the topic was the future of public transit in Toronto in the wake of Thursday’s decision by council to opt for LRT on Sheppard East. 

It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the extent to which the debate had been polarized. And what struck me more than anything else at the time was the care Councillor Stintz was taking not to apportion any blame for that:

As some of the subsequent Twitter talk shows, it’s not as if Ms. Stintz has undergone a wholesale conversion and been born again as a progressive. That’s not really the point. It’s not about where she or anyone else falls on the political spectrum. Nor is it about transit any more. No, the lesson here was about civility.

As someone much smarter than me remarked subsequently, so what? She’s conducting herself and and dealing with civic affairs the way it’s supposed to be done. That’s a baseline. Team Ford is below that. And in an ideal world, it should be a matter of course rather than something to be remarked upon. Unfortunately, in today’s world, where mud is flung and insults are a regular part of political discourse and everything is venomous and nasty and personal, a resolve to rise above it is something worthy of celebration, regardless of politics. Pour encourager les autres.

I’m lingering on this because it touches upon some of my favourite themes: public discourse, citizenship, and civic engagement. In the long term, those are all enhanced by a collective effort to restore a measure of civility and goodwill to the way we do things. It benefits us all, individually and as a community and a society, no matter who we are or what we think.

That brief reference to genuine conservatism reflects a much wider concern: the long-term project of reclaiming and reinvesting the conservative tradition with its honourable and time-proven roots. It’s what I like to think of as the Tory sensibility: decency, camaraderie, and a willingness to reach out to one’s opponents, set partisanship aside, and recognize that at the end of the day, we’re all committed to the same things. Our differences needn’t set us at each other’s throats.

So how did we get here? From a spirit of community, bipartisanship and the occasional beer with the other side to an era of dirty tricks, robocalls, electoral fraud and handbooks for disrupting the work of parliamentary committees?

It wasn’t by accident, and as with many things, it starts with words, their connotations, and their rhetorical effect. More than two decades ago, Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz worked with a group of U.S. Republican operatives to craft a linguistic strategy for controlling conversation and framing discourse; the idea was to demonize and smear opponents as much as possible by using loaded words like “sick,” “pathetic,” “traitor,” “grotesque,” and other verbal hand grenades. We’ve seen the effect that’s had on politics and popular culture down there. Public discourse
has been poisoned and the body politic has been damaged to a point from which it may never recover.

Fast forward to Canada today, where we’re hearing words like “turncoat,” “backstabber,” “stand with the child pornographers,” and so on. This is born of a desire not just to defeat one’s opponents, but to destroy them. Win at any cost. No substitute for victory. 

Is it hyperbole to suggest that the Gingrich/Luntz disease has infected us up here?

And then let’s go back even farther, to a contrast between realpolitik and “amateurism” set in the 1930s. (Yes, it’s from a work of fiction but we can still learn from it …)

Idealism? Nostalgia? Naivete? All of the above? Perhaps. But surely we’re all better off when we can acknowledge legitimacy in viewpoints with which we disagree. 

(And let’s acknowledge, of course, that there’s an element of classism in this. When you discuss values like decency, honour, and gentility, you’re betraying a certain way of looking at the world. Notions like noblesse oblige stem from a privileged background. I have to keep reminding myself that the lens through which I look at things is a product of that. It’s a luxury not everyone has.)

Yes, it’s nostalgia for a gentler time. There’s no shortage of people willing to remind us that the world isn’t like that any more, and that things have changed. 

And this is where the need to push back gets thrown into stark relief. The events of the last few decades — the growing inequality gap, the hollowing-out effects of “free trade,” the vapid coarsening of popular culture, and the continuing assault upon the social safety net, for starters — should demonstrate the moral vacuum at the heart of the agenda to which we’ve all been subjected. Now more than ever, it’s time to push the goalposts back, reclaim public discourse, redefine genuine principled conservatism, re-Occupy the public sphere and win back the words. 

We can start with a commitment to civility. Listening to your neighbours and giving your opponents the benefit of the doubt isn’t a sign of weakness, and it isn’t a class thing either. And by the same token, demonizing, misrepresenting, name-calling and smearing isn’t a civic virtue. It contaminates public discourse and lowers us all, and it needs to be called out for what it is.

Ultimately, we can have whatever kind of conversation we want. Do we want something that reflects well upon us, or do we want to sound like isolated mayors and tabloid columnists? I know which way I’d go.

Related posts: