Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A few thoughts on Prime Minister Harper's speech tonight

This is a comment in response to a comment by "CH" in the previous post, but I thought it might be worthwhile putting up something on tonight's speech by the Prime Minister, though I found it disappointing. I don't have time right now to write anything much else, so here's my comment in the previous post if anyone wants to join a new thread.


There is a further point that occurs to me after watching Harper's speech tonight, which I thought was inadequate. He really had nothing to say, giving us no serious sense of how he is going to deal with this crisis, what he thinks is the right thing for him to do, what he would offer to negotiate with the other parties or parts thereof. It strikes me that he must either have some very good reason for being cagey that I can't think of, or he just doesn't have a lot of ideas about how to re-present Canada's national interest in ways that can point towards new pacts that can lead us out of this crisis. Stephane Dion also had little creative to say, besides repeating his election campaign rhetoric.

So, I see this as signs of a bigger crisis in the field of representations, a lack of representations that could set in flow a new and freer political exchange in this country, thus deferring the present impasse in our political culture.

This kind of crisis no doubt has many proximate causes but a lot of them are to do with too much top-down politics and not enough room in the political arenas for creative interactions among ordinary Canadians. We need more space for political entrepreneurs. What I saw tonight from Harper and Dion were men who look as if they are frozen in ice. And ultimately, that is somewhat related to how our political parties are run and financed. The CPC may be more skilled at grassroots organizing and fundraising than the others, though the NDP uses the unions to put together pretty impressive electoral machines in certain ridings, but Harper himself is clearly too much of an autocrat who is just too insecure about others' power plays to negotiate effectively in a minority government. Canada is a huge problem, and it is not surprising that we don't have many skilled at representing a common national interest. But that is what we have to work towards, or give up. And making parties more dependent on grass roots would be part of that.


reliable sources said...

That's interesting. You're the first person who I've read that sees something positive coming out of this.

CH said...

Yeah, both speeches were not very moving to say the least.

You're making alot of good points about the political landscape. Things could use a definite shaking up. Maybe the non confidence vote/coalition should be more common like in other countries? Or will we end up with our airport blockaded by protestors and a 'coup' once every 2 years. My knee jerk reaction is that, that wouldn't be good but I would be willing to investigate. The United States needs some serious political reforms maybe we need a few as well or are we so arrogant that we think our system is perfect. I dont think theres one party that totally reflects my views and maybe there should be one, but I wish there was one that was closer than any out there right now.

Also its nice to have a discourse on a site where there is some give and take not just arrogant stubborn posturing.

Dag said...

CH, for what it's worth, you have a new fan.

truepeers said...

Dag, CH,

I agree. What we are seeing in all three parties is a failure of intelligent or manly leadership, which is possibly the best argument for Jean's unprecedented decision to allow this cooling-off period. But it doesn't really solve anything in the long run.

Dag said...

We're showing up at the city library this evening at 7:00 for coffee and discussion in the atrium outside Blenz coffee bar for a few hours.Feel free to drop by and sit in and talk a bit.

Dag said...

According to the experts, Canadian people are wrong about Canadian democracy. The people watch American tv. Well, no wonder they're wrong. They're probably stupid too:

'It's politics, it's pure rhetoric,' said Ned Franks, a retired Queen's University expert on parliamentary affairs. 'Everything that's been happening is both legal and constitutional.'

Other scholars are virtually unanimous in their agreement. They say Harper's populist theory of democracy is more suited to a U.S.-style presidential system, in which voters cast ballots directly for a national leader, than it is to Canadian parliamentary democracy.

'He's appealing to people who learned their civics from American television,' said Henry Jacek, a political scientist at McMaster University."

"Harper wrong on democracy claims: experts."

Updated Thu. Dec. 4 2008 5:59 PM ET

Jim Brown, The Canadian Press

Maybe it's Brecht who said that if the Communist Party didn't like the way the people acted, the party should dissolve them and create a new people.

Leave it to experts.

truepeers said...

Forget the professoriate. It seems to me that Harper does have a certain deficit of skills in dealing with the situation and political culture in which he finds himself. The fact is we don't have an American constitution. A Prime Minister sits not by direct election but at the pleasure of the House of Commons. And we have every right to judge Harper's abilities to herd those Parliamentary cats, which is not too impressive. To say Harper has a populist theory of democracy is quite debatable. It seems to me he is something of a control freak - and why should we equate that with populism? - and that is probably going to be his downfall. Our system, like it or not, has emerged from a certain culture that gives great power to the Prime Minister in return for bearing almost total responsibility for government failures. This requires and expects from leaders a certain code of honour, or gentlemanly behaviour, a code that allows for certain kinds of negotiations and ego mediation to make things work. And Harper, but also surely the other party leaders, have a great deficit in this department. On one level I don't blame Harper for being appalled at the thought of having to deal with the likes of Jack Layton or Stephane Dion. But, sad to say, that is what a man who would lead in this minority Parliament has to try to do.

truepeers said...

In other words, the more power and responsibility we give a man, the more skill he must have in mediating all the resentment of those who envy his position. No doubt an irrational Harper Derangement Syndrome has emerged in the land. And I rather suspect this has caused the basically shy and bookish Harper to withdraw into an inner sanctum, not unlike how Bush who could never come to terms with the insanity of those who would betray their own country out of irrational hatred for Bush.

But, unless we are going to radically re-write our Constitution, the PM has to do better than he has been doing lately to try and rise to the task. He has to call the other party leaders on their lack of honour, in trying to create a crisis without a real basis or issue to stand on. But he too has to embody an honour code that is appropriate to our system and that can help him build his own legitimacy. And that means engaging with others in Parliament in a way appropriate to our system.

Dag said...

There are probably numerous exceptions to the rule in the pantheon of great British rime ministers, but it seems to me that the last of the line of the great ended as a rule at the cusp of the Empire when the reason for being great as an honorable leader was lost; which is to say, the Stoic model of Prime Minister had no call in the real world. Without the role of leader of Empire, one could be a sniveling little plebeian creature to rounds of applause in the House. Without Empire, what is the good of being an Empire Builder? He wouldn't be plebeian, and thus wouldn't be prime ministerial at all.

I think Churchill was a hold-over that Nature made for us, and that Thatcher is the key to our future, the populist Stoic rather than the populist plebeian that we see in Taliban jack and that lot of low-lifes. Lower the standard too low, and the likes of Jack Layton will rise to it.

truepeers said...

I would tend to think that you cannot understand well the British (English, essentially) Parliament and associated culture as an imperial body. It is primarily an institution of nationhood, of self-rule, and one that was always wary about imperial entanglements. Insularity - "Little Englandism" was a common political value. The English were never very interested in representing the empire beyond the British Isles in their Parliament and very few sons of the empire ever ended up there, including whites from Canada, Australia, etc. Great Prime Ministers represented Englishness first of all and the honour of that nation in its relations with other countries. Honour is less important in truly imperial cultures because they are relatively more about domination and less about building trust in common goals, and defending shared freedoms, though perhaps the British empire was distinctive in its assumptions that some or many of its colonies would eventually grow into self-ruling nationhood. The colonial office in London was never a particularly large institution. The British empire is notable for how few were involved in its administration. And those who were part of the imperial ruling class were almost a breed apart from the majority of ordinary insular English and their political representatives.

Dag said...

I've never looked closely at the nature of the British ruling class during the Empire era, but I think, knowing it piece-meal, that the culture deliberately absorbed the ethos of the Roman Empire's ruling elite as a model of behaviour and fashion. The stoicism come from the Stoicism. But of course, it's not word for word translation. Stoicism in the Roman sense is a death worship, which the English don't seem to have until recently, without the other attributes of Stoicism.

truepeers said...

No doubt a "classical education" was what many a member of the British elite was given. However, I don't think it compares to the cultural impact of the long and continuing influence of the Bible (and Christian liturgy) in the British Isles, with its model of a nation - Israel. Now I think it's probably true that many Brits were never serious Christians, still there's something about, say, an artist like Blake that screams England more than any relatively classical toff. The English still sing Blake's "Jerusalem" at football games, which is an indicator of where their hearts really lie. But maybe the thing to appreciate is how the neo-classical esthetic of a British imperial culture rooted in the 17th and 18th centuries is all about mixing the Judeo-Christian and the classical together, essentially setting scenes within scenes, e.g. figuring Christian heroes on classical scenes. In such settings the Judeo-Christian aspect of the hero is often not explicit but nonetheless key to our understanding - consider Hamlet, for example, in contrast to a truly classical revenge tragedy. If there is a quintessential religion of the British empire it is Freemasonry (at least for the men) which is self-consciously syncretic, finding numerous ways to imagine a Christian or Jewish or Gnostic individual and/or ethic in classical and imperial scenes.

Dag said...

Two quick points, not closely related to this topic but interesting in regard to England's sense of nationhood these days: St. George's Cross banned; and William Blake's "Jerusalem" banned. In England. Too nationalistic for the multi-culti elite. Excerpts from both stories below:

"St George comes under fire" ...
From BBC. 21 April 2002:

Over the centuries, George and his red cross have become associated with many causes - some admirable, others not.

In legend, he was the figurehead of King Arthur's knights.

Edward III chose him as patron when he founded the Knights of the Garter in 1348.

Red Ensign

St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle was built as the order's spiritual home.

The red cross has been used on the flags of The Royal Navy and the Church of England - and on the official seal of Lyme Regis.

Richard II ordered every man in his army to wear the cross when he invaded Scotland.

Now the Scots have to fly their invaders' mark on the Union Flag.

Crucially, it was also the emblem of the Crusades against the Islam.

Richard the Lionheart wore it, and legend tells how St George appeared to his knights during the siege of Antioch, inspiring them to victory.

Centuries have passed since, but the Crusades are still a cause of resentment among some Muslims.

Holy war

Chris Doyle, of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, says the red cross is an insensitive reminder of the Crusades.

He said: "It is offensive to Arabs and Muslims, including many from non-Arab countries.

"They see the Crusades as Christendom launching a brutal holy war against Islam.

"Because of what has happened in the 20th Century, when most of the Arab world was colonised, the memory of the Crusades has resurfaced."

On the other hand, the saint - if not his sign - is revered in Palestine for his courageous martyrdom.

One can find stories of people pulled over by police in Britain and made to remove their St. George's Cross flags from vehicles.

Next, Blake:

Times Online
April 10, 2008
"Blake's Jerusalem banned by leading British church"

The Very Reverend Colin Slee says the hymn Jerusalem is too nationalistic and unchristian
Hannah Strange

It is one of the nation’s best loved hymns and a favourite of Gordon Brown's. But William Blake’s Jerusalem will no longer ring from the spires of Southwark Cathedral after it was banned by the church’s dean on the grounds that it was unchristian and too nationalistic.

Regarded by many as a paean to Englishness, it has over the centuries become an unofficial national anthem, sung at the last night of the Proms and by England rugby and cricket fans. It is such a favourite of the Women’s Institute that a recent BBC drama based on the group was titled “Jam and Jerusalem.”

But the Very Reverend Colin Slee believes it is not “to the glory of God” and as such should not be sung by choirs or congregations at the South Bank cathedral, on of Britain’s foremost churches.

The ban came to light after the dean advised guests at a recent memorial service that it could not be sung due to its lack of religious content.

More at time online.

Regardless of the positions these lunatic elitists take to peddle their justifications of detachment from the life of Britain, it is that detachment that is important to the nation, and I think it's happening here in Canada as well, for much the same reason: there is a hatred of the masses on the part of the elites.The undisguised contempt of the upper-classes for the lower in preceding centuries was at least attached to tradition and the sense of common law and private property, i.e. that every man was king in his own home, regardless of how the classes above thought of the peasant as a person of low class. Here, and in England now, the elitist contempt seeps into every corner of private life.