No sooner had that speech been delivered than the Conservatives, as if bent on buttressing the thesis, entered into all kinds of hyperbole and doublespeak in accusing the New Democrats of wanting a country-destroying carbon tax. The party favours a cap-and-trade system that the Conservatives previously endorsed; it’s not a direct carbon tax, although costs from it would be passed on to the consumer – as they can be from regulatory measures favoured by the Conservatives.
Right. Because, of course, the NDP would never stoop so low as to suggest that the Conservative Party is trying to destroy the country. Here is Ezra fisking Mulcair's wild and woolly economic theories. My favourite clip is where the NDP leader suggests that the Tories want to turn Canada into Nigeria. I doubt Thomas Mulcair actually believes that Stephen Harper wants to turn us into Nigeria with snow. But that's modern political rhetoric, loud and stupid.
We should not be too nostalgic for the past. It was not uncommon for accusations of treason to fly back and forth in political debate. The ultimate Victorian insult was to call someone an atheist. In a more pious age that was akin to calling someone a child molester today. Political debate, then and now, soon degenerates into mud slinging and from there into schoolyard taunts. Just witness the spectacle of Question Period, a spectacle that has arguably been made worse by the addition of television cameras.
These are sins to which the political flesh is heir. The field tends to attract opinionated blowhards, unlike blogging of course, with a certain natural brazenness. It takes a remarkable native talent, I'm not sure if it can be cultivated all that much. Something inborn is required to state the absurd or illogical in a frank and earnest manner. Discredit where it is due, Tommy Mulcair is amazing at doing this sort of thing. You could easily imagine him talking about vampire cyborgs with exactly the same degree of sincerity and conviction as he does about the oil sands. Politics truly is show business for ugly people.
Even if an aspiring politician should wish to speak in respectful tones and on matters of substance, we occasionally get people like that and bless them all, he or she will find themselves in a minority. To attract any attention from the media, or the apathetic voters, the aspiring pol finds that shouting is almost a necessity. The alternative is being drowned out or ignored.
Give a careful and erudite criticism of Conservative Party policy, whatever the intrinsic merits of that criticism or of the policy, and you'll put a room to sleep. If you don't believe me watch Marc Garneau talk. Martha Hall Finlay and Debra Coyne have much the same ability. That is why all three, should they decide to make serious bids for the Grit leadership, will lose horribly to a histrionic clown possessing the intelligence of his mother and the modesty of his father.
Is there some way out of this trap? I'm afraid not. As observed last week the quality of the political class is determined in no small part by the quality and expectations of the electorate. If the electorate demands obvious contradictions, it will produce elected officials who are liars and cowards. A government that tries to be all things to all people will fail. In time voters will note the failure and become increasingly apathetic. It requires ever greater feats of rhetorical legerdemain to rouse the voters out of their routine and to the polling booth.
The sad thing is not that politicians behave this way, or that voters behave this way, but that so much of the Ottawa Press Gallery insists on playing witless cheerleader for one side. Couldn't they at least pretend to be less gullible? If only for form's sake?