What a great country we have. Just look at our heroes | #cdnpoli #TOpoli

Amazing, and only in Canada:

Privileged bourgeois arriviste makes a career out of pissing all over us, whines and holds his breath in pursuit of a manufactured peerage, flips us the bird as he flounces out in a snit, commits fraud, does time, slinks back into our country in disgrace whining about what a victim he is, and yet we still think he’s worth listening to. Of course, this could never happen in real life.

(Doesn’t mean I agree with everything he’s ever said or written, but h/t Stephen Marche.)

Jack Layton, RIP – posted by sol chrom

A guy who took a profession — politics — that so often speaks to the smallest, meanest and worst of our impulses and invested it with honour, dignity and optimism.

He showed us what it can be like if we rise above the coarse, petty ignorance that characterizes too many of our would-be “leaders” today.

Civility, compassion, working together for something bigger than ourselves. Too often those sound like clichés, but in Jack an inspiring real-life example. If you ever want to see what “citizenship” means, you couldn’t find a better example.

He stood against those who would make Canada a smaller, meaner, sadder place. Let’s honour him by not making it easier for them.

Repurposing something from a year ago. Just thinking about it, I get verklempt all over again.

We are better for the time he spent among us.

Jack Layton, RIP – posted by sol chrom

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:

 

On Rob Ford and generosity of spirit | #TOpoli #Jack

Bear with me for a second.

I’ve been indulging in some rather unseemly woohooing, both here and on the Tweeter, over the results of this week’s transit debate at city council. And yes, I’ve been just as guilty as the next progressive tweeter of doing an in-your-face happy dance. And even more: I’ve succumbed to temptation and taken my share of cheap shots at Rob Ford. God knows, he leaves himself open to them with everything he says and does, as a matter of policy and everything he stands for. If I were a better person, I’d resist the temptation more successfully.

I know, I know. Sanctimonious wankery. I’m guilty of it more often than I want to admit (like maybe all the time …). 

And in fact, I’m probably never more insufferable (hence the request that you bear with me) than when I start on about generosity of spirit. It ain’t the way the world works, much as I would wish otherwise, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for. 

Once again: true generosity of spirit seeks no external validation. It is its own reward. It doesn’t look for applause, it doesn’t seek affirmation, and it is extended with no expectation of any quid pro quo. Moreover, it is extended to those who do not deserve it precisely because they do not deserve it. That is what makes it what it is.

I don’t claim to have a unique understanding of it. And I don’t pretend to have any special insights or window into people’s hearts. But to the extent that anyone can have such insight, I choose to believe that it flows from an essential decency. 

Which leads me to this:

I’ve said some nasty things about Rob Ford. But in this situation, I think he’s speaking from the heart. Without a script, without handlers, without talking points. And he’s expressing genuine sadness, setting aside political disagreement, and remembering Jack as a decent and honourable man.

I’m posting this now because I think it’s worth noting: for all his missteps, for all his wrongheadedness, for all his faults, Rob Ford is capable of just the sort of generosity of spirit I’m describing. (I know there is good in you … the Emperor hasn’t destroyed it … )

Perhaps the challenge for progressives is in finding that, and in making it possible for him to express it.

I’d like to wind up on that note, but I can anticipate some of the reactions: accusations of naivete, simplistic thinking, even suckiness. And those accusations wouldn’t be entirely wrong. It’s easy to point out that those on the other side don’t have that. They’ll take advantage of it, so why give them ammunition? That’s why we’ll always be at a tactical disadvantage when we’re engaging with people willing to do Whatever It Takes to Win, and that’s why our victories are always going to be more nuanced.

I can’t honestly suggest that this is the right path for everyone. I just need to be able to like what I see when I look in the mirror when I’m shaving in the morning. If that puts me and the people I work with at a tactical disadvantage, then so be it.

Related posts

Audio: The Protest Chaplains’ prayer vigil at Occupy Toronto

Further to last night’s post.

Pretty hard to get decent video at night with an inexpensive camera, so I stripped out the audio. I’m not especially religious, but for whatever it’s worth, I thought it was incredibly moving. Bearing witness, in the sight of God, and all that. Simple, straightforward and bearing authentic moral clarity.

Thought it was worth posting in light of some schmuck’s characterization of the Occupiers as an “evil presence.” Talk about desperation.

Perhaps they can go minister to Sue Ann at her occupation …

Related posts: