MILQUETOAST

(Oh, why not.)

I won't pretend to be an authoritative source on the politics of countries other than the one in which I live, but like most Americans with an interest in politics I have paid some attention to the recent Canadian elections. Being friends with a bunch of Canadian Marxists doesn't hurt. Suffice it to say no one is doing cartwheels over the NDP's performance. All is not lost for the good people to the north, however. Harper and his Conservatives lost, unseated by Justin "Son of Pierre" Trudeau and his Liberal Party. I mean, the name sounds good. It's not quite what Americans would assume it is based solely on its moniker. It could generously be described as a center-left party, although in realistic (non-American) terms it is effectively a centrist party. Bill and Hillary would feel at home there, as would Tony Blair and others of the "New _____" mindset wherein "New" signifies "More like right-wing conservatives, but not as repugnant."

This will be hard to swallow for legitimate liberals or those even farther to the left, but man…that shit sells. Whatever portion of the electorate is not completely lost to the right wing noise and propaganda machine is likely to warm up to any party with a sorta-charming front man promising the weakest, least scary, least threatening to the status quo kind of liberalism. The message sounds Nice and the people delivering it don't look like bridge trolls, which is more than Tories/Republicans can say most of the time. The appeal of a sweet sounding, Liberalism Lite that takes trendy positions on issues like gay marriage and abortion while avoiding issues with sharp, nasty edges (poverty, racism, structural unemployment). And they're always eager to remind you that they're not those old fashioned "Tax & Spend Liberals" by proposing – co-opting from conservatives, really – issues like welfare reform, charter schools, or draconian cuts to social services.

Picture Hugh Grant as the foppish, effeminate fiancee of the charming working class girl, trying to fit in with her uncouth, low-class brothers by going on a hunting trip and killing a few animals. He figures if he shoots a deer they'll accept him; clearly he finds the exercise ridiculous, but he considers it necessary with no other obvious way to gain acceptance among people he looks upon with the gaze of an anthropologist. That's Jack Trudeau. That was Bill Clinton. That was Tony Blair. I don't like it any more than you do, but this shtick sells. And it's further evidence that after kicking the tires on every septuagenarian and no-name ex-Governor they can find, the Democratic Party is likely to circle back to Hillary Clinton in 2016. It's not that they think her brand of mushy centrism is great. They think she'll win, and there are enough people to whom that's all that matters to carry her through. What such campaigns lose on the far left (and it ain't much in the USA with no real leftist party to jump to) they gain in the center full of unmotivated, indistinct voters to whom the weakest tea will inevitably appeal the most.

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35 Responses to “MILQUETOAST”

  1. Khaled Says:

    From what I could tell from reading a good number of Canadian news stories in the runup to the election is that the overwhelmingly majority of Canadians wanted ABC: Anybody But Conservatives. About two to three weeks ago, the Conservatives had a slight lead in the polls with about 32 or so percent, Liberals had 30, the NDP had 28, with Bloc and Greens pulling up the rear. I figured that once the Liberals or NDP started to pull away, that enough people would switch to prevent another Tory government. Right after that poll, the Liberals started to pull ahead, and then a snowball effect took over. The Cons really didn't lose that many voters, a lot of people figured "better than Harper" and voted Liberal. Splitting the non-Tory vote is how people like Rob Ford get elected.

    That's my take from down here, so any Canadians can let me know if I was right.

  2. Bigp7099 Says:

    I can't really speak to any other countries in your examples, but you do realize that if we had a Clinton as our PM in Canada they would be triangulating their way to universal daycare or something similar. It's not really a good comparison.

  3. Talisker Says:

    You're not wrong, Ed. The irony is, the Canadian NDP were aware of the above argument and made their own moves towards the mushy centre — for example, they promised a balanced budget, whereas the Liberals promised to run budget deficits to pay for infrastructure/stimulus spending. So to some extent, the Liberals outflanked them from the left.

    I'm from Canada but have been living in the UK since 1991, so I'm pretty familiar with Blair, and it's a fair comment on him too. OTOH, New Labour was more leftist than it's sometimes given credit for — Blair's tactic was to make a fairly respectable effort to reduce poverty, while saying as little about it as possible. It worked for a while, but because anti-poverty measures like tax credits got so little publicity at the time, there is correspondingly little outcry now that the Conservatives are dismantling them.

    (Incidentally, who the hell is Jack Trudeau? The Liberal leader is Justin.)

    @Khaled: Yes. Something similar happened in the UK in 1997, with tactical voting giving a landslide majority of seats to Blair. But the classic example remains the 1993 Canadian election, in which the Tories were reduced from 156 seats to two (!) in the House of Commons. Happy times.

  4. Xynzee Says:

    There's a saying, new governments don't win elections, it's the incumbent government that loses it.

    What I saw coming from my canuckistani network was what Khaled said, ABC.

    The "pivot to the centre" wouldn't be so bad if that centre were a bit closer to the time of FDR.

  5. Tim H. Says:

    Bear in mind that FDR's "New deal" was likely calculated as the minimum concession that would take the oxygen out of the room for a would-be socialist party.

  6. R E G Says:

    As a Canadian I have often wished for a box on the ballot saying -Tick here for a minority government.

    When Harper held a minority he was prevented from his worst behaviour by a need to compromise. Once he got a majority his true nature shone through and the electorate noticed how truly horrible and controlling he really was.

    The strangest part of this election cycle for me was the bizarre pre-campaign. Long before the vote was actually called we were overrun with ads dissing Trudeau as "just not ready". They didn't say anything positive about any other politician – just pointed out how young and inexperienced Trudeau was.

    Old and corrupt – young and inexperienced. Turns out we didn't wand old and corrupt.

  7. Jestbill Says:

    Blessed are the meek…

    "Activists" on all sides need to understand that most people just don't care about your obsessions. They just want to live their lives without thinking too much about anything that happens more than about 20 miles away.

    Cry all you want about Clinton, as long as he kept the worst idiots at bay and the economy didn't crash, they were exactly what the US needed.

    We don't vote FOR the best: we vote AGAINST the worst.

  8. Laurent Says:

    Hi Ed,

    Pretty good summary. For the liberals, name recognition, good looks, old party with ties to business and finance… a winning combination.

    Disappointing from a leftist viewpoint but Harper was so abysmal that I cant help feeling good even though the NDP took a heavy hit.

    Harper was pretty much a medium spectrum republican and was horrible to even look at.

    That's is from your Canadian audience (and you have one !).

  9. catbirdman Says:

    @Jestbill: Activists understand that they are far more engaged in the process than the rest of the citizenry. But activists "obsessed" over some cause or another play an essential role in a capitalist system where only those with a financial stake in the outcome of any issue would otherwise be motivated enough to engage with the system (e.g., by meeting with politicians and their staffs, attending horrible meetings and hearings, often during business hours, raising money, and talking to a lot of strangers).

    Most people don't want to do these things because these things generally suck, but business interests can pay smart people a lot of money to work the system on their behalf.

    Generally speaking, it's the unpaid and low-paid activists willing to engage with the system for something other than cash that keep business interests from completely overrunning government. The rest of the public, who doesn't want to think too much about government, should be thankful for the obsessed few.

  10. nate Says:

    Hugh: I know this is what they think people like me think, so I hate thinking it, but I just find myself thinking that they're from a different fucking species. You know, with their t-shirts and weird trousers and tabards. Why do they wear clothing with writing on it? And why are they so fat?

  11. Skepticalist Says:

    Compared to the old days Harper made a little noise in Western, NY. I really don't know why. He didn't look like fun to me. I confess to know little of Canadian politics even though I live south of Buffalo.

    Today, American so-called liberals only hope to elect somebody able to use the veto pen against Tea Party tribal leaders.

    It's that bad.

  12. willf Says:

    Bigp7099:

    but you do realize that if we had a Clinton as our PM in Canada they would be triangulating their way to universal daycare or something similar.

    Silly, you don't triangulate towards universal daycare, you triangulate away from it. An example:

    Lefty candidate (in the US this would be a Green, or maybe Kashama Sawant):

    "We need universal daycare for every child under ten".

    Conservative candidate:

    "That would produce a whole generation of moochers! No, clearly what we need is for the little ones to be out digging ditches after school."

    Liberal Triangulator:

    "What I am proposing is a public-private partnership that will pay Daycare subsidies to well-connected Daycare companies that curiously also sponsored my campaign. Also, Daycare shall be mandatory, and everyone must purchase Daycare insurance, against the day that they might have a kid who needs daycare, whether they ever can afford to send that kid to daycare or not."

  13. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Overton Window.

    The Greens are a lefty party. Nader was a lefty candidate. I got chastised for voting for him, in GA, and supposedly helping Bush by not being a team player. I never got past it and voted for Obama, in CA, because This Is All We Get.

  14. willf Says:

    Nader was a lefty candidate. I got chastised for voting for him, in GA, and supposedly helping Bush by not being a team player.

    That's a shame considering that this idea – that Nader cost Gore the 200 election – is well into zombie-lie territory by now, having been debunked so many times before.

    Would it make you feel better to know that over 300,000 FLorida Democrats pulled the lever for George W. Bush? That's over three times as many votes as Nader got in Florida. Perhaps your interlocutors could have spared some anger for these people as well? But no, it's always and forever the Nader voters that get the blame. A narrative has been established, and by god we're sticking to it.

  15. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    Been trying to educate myself about Canada's politics in the run-up to their election. AFAIK, the NDP began as a hard socialist party in the 1930s. More recently they have dismantled and jettisoned everything they originally stood for. As a result they have been gaining market share, were the #2 party, and hoped to be able to form a government for the first time in their history.

    As noted, for this election they declared for a balanced budget while the Liberals said they would run a few deficits to stimulate the economy. That seemed to be about it for differences between them. As noted, to prevent another Conservative minority government, voters chose between Liberals and NDPs, and NDP lost.

    Seems to me that the gap between the two is now so tiny that they might as well merge. New party creation, death, and merger is always part of Canadian politics.

  16. Ron Says:

    Didn't Jack Trudeau play quarterback for Purdue back in the 80s?

  17. JustRuss Says:

    "They think she'll win, and there are enough people to whom that's all that matters to carry her through."

    Well, considering the alternative if she loses, that's not entirely unreasonable. And that's coming from someone who voted for Nader–in a state Gore carried easily, so yes, I do manage to sleep at night.

  18. Interrobang Says:

    I happen to like what Team Liberal was offering this time around — reinstating the long-form census and door-to-door mail delivery, getting Canada out of Syria, legalizing marijuana, tax hike for the 1%, infrastructure and transit spending (which G-d knows we badly need), renewed commitment to peacekeeping (instead of "counterinsurgency" aka "picking sides in a civil war" under Harper), revamping of our electoral system to eliminate first-past-the-post, Senate reform, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (already announced) for Native issues, scrapping the plan to buy the F-35, and tons of other stuff. Concrete stuff, not principle kind of stuff. I have to live here. This is stuff I want. Question my leftist bona fides all you want, but there you go.

    The NDP's economic platform this time was almost as bad as the Harperoids'. They've moved so far to the right since the 1990s, they're basically mushy centrists now, and the Liberals outflanked them on the left. Topsy-turvy times, friends.

    And yeah, I'm not too happy about the Liberals' stance on C-51 or the TPP or pipelines, but that's what electoral pressure is for. And that's three things I don't want, up against all those things I do want, plus jettisoning Stevil and my obnoxious helmet-haired wannabe-Foxbot Tory MP and the obnoxious Tory MP from the next riding over who's been spamming my house with Tory propaganda for the last 10 years, despite having been asked repeatedly (I asked, and so did a friend of mine, and that's what I know of) to stop because I don't live in his riding (and got told to pound sand, more or less).

    And thank G-d we can go back to having a Government of Canada instead of a Harper Government. Congratulations, PM Trudeau II, now fix it!

  19. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    @Ron This is way off topic, but as Ed asked, Why Not? No way there was a Trudeau playing for Purdue, sez this Boilermaker alum. Until the last decade, Purdue was well-known as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks" that included Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Mike Phipps, and Drew Brees. Lately football success has been elusive for one of six D1 college athletic departments that take no student fees, tuition transfers, or state money; in fact, until last year, they put $1M/year into the Purdue general fund. (The other five self-supporting programs are real football factories: LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State.)

    Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. ;-)

  20. cromartie Says:

    Jack Trudeau was a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in the 1980s (and he played at Illinois, not Purdue).

    Justin Trudeau is the leader of the incoming Liberal Party majority in Canada, and the son of Pierre Trudeau.

  21. just me Says:

    Milquetoast, eh?

    Well, it's very un-Justin Trudeau-like of anyone to acknowledge, let alone respond, to a slight, but…oh, why not.

    Because whether you're refering to him as a comic character or an unassertive, easily dominated person, I think in short order you'll discover he's neither.

    What he is, is an ambitious, energetic, principled man who appeals to people's better nature and is able to work well with others.

    But given that Hurricane Donald is currently being considered a viable contender for POTUS, I can see how one might mistake JT as weak. Perhaps you should consider praying for milquetoast.

    Of course, only time will tell if our hopes for this PM will be realised, but after 9 years of oppressive, regressive politics here, ABC!!!

    In the words of our new PM designate: We're back!
    And though he never (except to mention the aniversary of PET's death) used his name recognition, his father's words may yet define the son: Just watch me.

  22. waldo Says:

    There is another window here -when Bernie explains what Democratic Socialism means, perhaps, and I know that's a very big perhaps, a large enough section of the American electorate will finally discern what's good for them and -oh, wait, sorry, my bad….

  23. Tim H. Says:

    The thing about conservative government in the United States, the GOP has not delivered much of it in a long time, quite a lot of reactionary negativism and pissing on FDR's memory though. Seems to me Democrats like Carter, Clinton & Obama have more conservative substance, strange times, indeed.

  24. Jimcat Says:

    "Circle back to Hillary Clinton"? They never left her.

  25. Skepticalist Says:

    Interesting reading here.

    People my age remember that the old man was PM for nearly 20 years. He made himself known all over the US. He was quite a showman too.

    From what I read, chances are good that our two countries will be friends again!

  26. Robert Says:

    One thing that gets overlooked about 2000 – Gore didn't carry Tennessee, the state he was nominally from. If he had, Florida wouldn't have mattered. Even McGovern carried his home state.

    Of course, by 2000 Gore was "from" Tennessee is the same way that Canada is a monarchy.

  27. Phil Koop Says:

    What Interrobang said.

    And this in addition: it's absurd to criticize the Tea Party caucus for refusing to negotiate or compromise when that's exactly what you demand of your own politicians. Insisting on all or nothing always and everywhere gets you nothing.

  28. Mike Greenberg Says:

    Please get anal cancer and die.

  29. Mike Greenberg Says:

    Is that music something you actually enjoy, or are you still just doing that because 'parents'?

  30. S M McBean Says:

    I looked it up to be sure, but I recalled McGovern only won Mass. (&D.C.) in 1972, losing S. Dak. Yes, too bad about Tenn.

    BTW our Canadian friend planned to vote NDP, considers Justin a wienie but despises Harper.

  31. S M McBean Says:

    Oh, I forgot. I hope his keepers tighten Mr. Greenberg's straight jacket enough to keep him from typing.

  32. JC Says:

    Sometimes I have revelations while listening to the news (usually NPR). This morning I sleepily wondered why the DNC is so set on Clinton over Sanders and it hit me: It's so much easier to support a candidate you can just throw money at and expect to walk the party line than to support one that might require others around them to actually take stock and do some fucking work.

    Not a major revelation, but still rings true.

  33. Greg Says:

    The "real leftist" NDP you like so much crowed about offering a balanced budget. The "centrist (sigh)" Liberals you shit on said screw budgets, we need to invest money in society.

    Facts are pesky things.

  34. mojrim Says:

    I can't really speak to the Canadian political experience but I think the (constantly repeated) analysis of the US elections is the kind of self-reinforcing groupthink that runs organizations aground. Get this through you collective heads, democrats, there are no undecided centrist voters in america. If there ever we we hunted them to extinction in the 80's and 90's.

    What the american right understands, and what the american left is to cowardly to embrace, is that turnout is literally all that matters, and turnout depends on riling up the base with ideological fire breathing. The people we keep referring to as "independents" are just low-comittment voters that will only vote one way, but only turn out to vote when their more committed associates (the base) transmits excitement to them. For that excitement to be contagious, the choice has to be clear, bold, and ideologically potent.

    Clinton is a boring candidate that appeals very well to villagers and a few others and makes everyone else recoil in disgust. Sanders is unappealing to said villagers but exciting to everyone else not on the "it's her turn" bandwagon. Moreover, his ideas are actually getting traction with a porting of the GOP base that hates cronyism and wonders where all their jobs went. He also doesn't scare them into action over gun control.

    The rest of you, if you push for her over Sanders, are guaranteeing a huge turnout in the right wing base that will probably put Trump in the White House.

  35. Morley Bolero Says:

    Interrobang nailed it.