Monday, May 17, 2010

Marci McDonald and her critics

Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor, is an anti-Semite!

Finally. The other shoe drops.

The far Right has been throwing the mother of all hissy-fits over McDonald's new book. Ezra Levant is beside himself, on top of himself, and on the other side of himself, getting things hopelessly wrong as usual. His allies in the blogosphere have fallen mindlessly into line: most of them, I suspect, have not read the book.

A lot of evangelicals, obviously, are objecting to it. Some dislike having their cover blown; other object to being tarred with the same brush. Considerable nitpicking ensues.

There's plenty of raw sexism as well. The word "hysteria" and its derivatives are everywhere in evidence. "Shrill," too. Centrist Paul Wells can't resist a snotty comment or two about the upstart female who appears to have upstaged him. According to the jacket notes, McDonald once did a study of the backroom dealing that led to Mulroney's Free Trade Agreement. She wrote a book on the basis of it. Wells sneers, "Really? A 'study'?" He was trying, no doubt, to strike a supercilious pose, but comes off sounding merely spiteful.

Now we learn that The Armageddon Factor merely appears to be about Christianist influence on government policy, but it's really about Jews.
So says David Frum. But could this be subtle satire, a "hidden agenda" tu quoque?

Who knows. I've read McDonald's book. I can assure those who haven't that it
really is about extremist Christians--Christianists, "Christian nationalists," choose your term. She does trace what might be termed a holy alliance of these fringe figures with groups such as B'nai Brith, and connects some of the dots at Rights and Democracy, but that's all rather old hat by now.

McDonald assuredly does not write in what Wells insists is "near-panic." What she does do is to go into some detail about fringe elements on the religious Right, whose own pre-Rapture frenzy and moral panic is self-evident, and she maps what is in fact a complex entanglement with our current government. She believes--as do I--that such things deserve the light of day, and are even worth being concerned about.

What comes across is that Stephen Harper himself, while likely sharing at least some of the sketchy views of the "Christian nationalists," has been approaching them more as a constituency to be brought on-side. The strength of McDonald's book, in fact, is her sober description of what amounts to a political symbiosis.

For Harper it's all about target marketing and segmentation, as he assiduously courts a diverse electorate. He plays chess, not always very well, as he tries to get the anti-evolution, Rapture-ready bumpkins on side while not alarming the mainstream. She indicates rather clearly that his relations with the apocalyptics is actually a rather uneasy one, more a balancing act than anything else.

This is all finely calculated. One might think that the growing Muslim constituency would be a natural extension of the Conservative so-con base, for example, but it's pretty clear that Harper has sacrificed them for a net advantage. His blindly pro-Israel stance on the Middle East, as McDonald suggests, is biblical, or can be read that way, but in practical terms it also shores up support in both the Jewish and right-evangelical communities.

It's hardly surprising that the Rapture folks have learned to play the political game, and have had some success at it. Harper himself takes counsel from some of them, he has others in his caucus, and there are wealthy patrons who have helped this all along. It's not that Harper isn't simpatico, which he probably is; it's just that one could see that classic pragmatist making exactly the same moves if he weren't.

The considerable funds that his government has dispensed to the fundamentalists is balanced against his half-hearted moves on the abortion and same-sex marriage fronts. And his foreign policy, like that of all political Machiavellians, is a form of political pantomime enacted in a domestic theatre for the delectation of a domestic audience.

The book does take us for a sobering bus-tour through the wilds of
konservative kristian kraziness, some of which is at a considerable remove from the goings-on in the PMO. McDonald gives us a series of illustrations of what must appear to most people as almost surreal--a creation museum here, Christian pirate broadcasting there, a youth leader who wants a "good" version of the Hitler Youth, even a theologian who wants to bring back stoning--and she provides plenty of background, both Canadian and American, about the recent resurgence of this kind of thing.

It's possible to cherry-pick errors and solecisms in the book, and her critics have gleefully seized on a word here and a sentence there, but she does make her case: there is a deeply reactionary groundswell out there, and it has achieved a strong and coherent political voice to which the Harper government is more susceptible than its predecessors.

The religious far-right is a wild reaction to modernism, let alone postmodernism, and the overlap with Conservative politics is plain to see. But if anything, McDonald has succeeded in persuading me that those nutters aren't running the show, no matter how much they'd like to.

Would a Harper majority increase their already considerable influence? That's indeed something to give us all pause on election day. There's no harm in sounding the alarm, as McDonald does: there are enough disturbing facts in her book to make ordinary Canadians take notice.

Certainly the shrieky reaction in some quarters--the tone of the criticism, the namecalling--gives it sufficient additional credibility to be taken even more seriously. But we're a long way from theocracy yet: consider the book distant early warning of a possibility, and let's govern ourselves accordingly.

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