Monday, November 17, 2008

Sore Thumb Chronicles: blue fog journey

Re-entry took a little longer than I'd planned: I spent most of yesterday somewhat the worse for wear, hanging around in airports and reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

So what have the last few days been about? T.S. Eliot puts it best:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow


Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

And Freud nailed it in a different way--the Winnipeg Toryfest was a clash between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. The deformed vision of the base--roll back sixty years or so of labour relations, legitimize hate speech and de-legitimize human rights, launch a stealth pro-life manoeuvre, take a shot or two at immigrants and Aboriginals, privatize healthcare, etc.--engaged in a battle with the world of the pragmatists, the people who actually have to govern and get re-elected.

The question, of course, is whether this pragmatism is fundamental or strategic. Whatever one thinks of the Liberals, they are wedded to pragmatism as a principle--politics is the art of the possible, as a tough old German chancellor, no liberal himself, once put it. Are we seeing, as some of the base have begun to suspect, the rise of a new Liberal party from the ashes of the old?

Not likely. As I noted in an earlier post, Stephen Harper himself, in his keynote address, sent a few signals that he was still in touch with his troops. But he must, of course, perform a difficult balancing act. He can't bring in the Conservative maximum program all at once. He's only managed a second minority, a shaky mandate that needs shoring up. He has to bring a lot of voters on board. Incrementalism is the only way forward. The calculation is, how much of his base will erode as he makes his strategic moves. Since he's the only serious conservative game in town, my bet is that he might annoy the more inflamed reactionaries, but at worst a few of them will stay home on election day.

But vision, it must be said, did win out over pragmatism during the heavily stage-managed policy discussions. The blue sweater of moderation that the backroom folks have been trying so hard to get everyone to wear simply didn't fit. Yet this is classic Overton window stuff, in the cold light of day. The baying from the fringes will continue to make Harper look moderate in comparison. In that sense, it is in the long-term interests of the base for Harper to ignore their frantic cries in the short term.

Nevertheless, it is sobering to see a roomful of Conservative rank and file, under the full glare of the national media, revert to a state of nature as they did. One felt like tossing them a Liberal just to see what would happen. If the brains of the party are in the PMO, the soul of it was revealed on Saturday.

Now I hasten to add that, up close, the delegates were not all clones of each other. There were a few mournful red Tories in the bunch, and some Blogging Tories came over to say hello in a friendly way: Stephen Taylor, Fred Litwin of Gay And Right, Christian Conservative (who gets a hat-tip for helping me with a computer glitch I was having), and Pomo Christian. Most delegates, however, gave the media types the hairy eyeball. I'm looking at currents and tendencies here in any case, not at individuals.

But I may as well confess that it bothers me when I see gays, people of colour and so on attach themselves to a party whose ideological core is so antipathetic to who and what they are. Fred has launched a group called Gay Dominion, which at this point has four members. (Montreal Simon, for one, is less than kind about this initiative, and I suspect, from the other side, that some of Fred's compatriots might fuss about the notion conveyed by the title.) Pigmentation on the convention floor was scant, but it was in evidence nonetheless.

"False consciousness" comes to mind, but for a number of reasons I'm not attached to that concept. I see it simply as profound confusion. Now, the Right always pounces when we make that kind of observation--somehow they see it as imposing leftist ideological correctness upon women and minorities. Not guilty. I don't expect all human beings to be ideologically coherent. There have even been Jews and Blacks who have reportedly joined the KKK, after all. But the contradictions, at least from my perspective, seem excruciating. Comments on this point are welcome.

In any case, as we continue our journey into the blue fog of Conservative governance, we'll see if Harper is able to keep both his balance and his momentum. I suspect that he will, while the leaderless, rudderless Liberals try to rebuild with a mountain of debt. For the latter, pragmatism has always served the ends of power and perks, not ideology. In Harper's hands it is a tool to remould the country. Just watch him.


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