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In our day we have witnessed the elections of staunch right-wingers like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. According to polls, they do not represent Canadian majority public opinion. Why then do they win political battles? One way is by taking advantage of crisis.
Interestingly, among the many frantic business management theories of the last 30 years, there is the one that says: "To affect change, create a crisis." The new, emboldened right-wing has always intended to cut government spending and taxes. They seized the opportunity afforded by the calamitous 2008 Western-world financial meltdown caused by uncontrolled, reckless and greedy cowboy capitalists. The very people who caused the collapse are still riding high. They were bailed out by massive infusions of taxpayers' money in order to prevent a repeat of the miserable 1930s. The resulting huge government debts caused large, continuing government deficits.
The effects of 2008 are still haunting us. Unemployment, stagnant and falling wages are real hardships felt by many people. They have created anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, alienation among them. These basic emotions are strong.
You can win political battles by focusing on these human weaknesses rather than people's strengths. You cleverly exploit the emotions to your own advantage to effect the changes you desire but cannot achieve under ordinary circumstances.
The idea of affecting change by creating a crisis was tried in Ontario in the 1990s by the Mike Harris "Common Sense Revolution." Harris' first Education Minister, John Snobelen, was a high-school dropout, successful business man and management consultant. (He later became infamous for spending time on his Oklahoma ranch rather than in the legislature.)
Snobelen intentionally tried to create a crisis by proposing fundamental changes in the structure and financing of public education. His changes created such a storm of public protest that Harris was forced to replace him with a more conciliatory minister, David Johnson, with a sonorous, more soothing voice, a bit like Brian Mulroney's.
A more fateful and tragic example was in the United States toward the end of the same period. A prestigious group of influential right-wing war hawks supported a Washington think tank called "Project for the New American Century." To hasten the implementation of its far-reaching and not necessarily popular policies toward U.S. world domination, they said a catastrophic crisis, "like Pearl Harbour", was required.
The chance for them came quickly with 9/11 in 2001. Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda attacked and destroyed the New York World Trade Centre. President George W. Bush immediately declared a War on Terror (previous governments were failing in the War on Drugs. They had also failed in the War on Poverty). This new war morphed into a unilateral attack on oil-rich Iraq. The war has created continuing turmoil and suffering in the Middle East. It has severely damaged U.S. finances, prestige and values.
To succeed in affecting change, you need to influence the media. The best way to do that is to own it. Canadian media of radio, TV and newspapers is increasingly owned and concentrated in the hands of large corporations carefully promoting their own interests. European media covers the political spectrum all the way from left to right. In Toronto, talk radio is heavily right-wing. Commercial TV distracts viewers. Three of our four daily newspapers cover the conservative spectrum from far right to moderate. The only exception is the Toronto Star. It is moderately leftish by North American standards which place the political centre clearly off to the right, markedly so in the U.S.
Ironically, a Scandinavian conservative Prime Minister would by such standards be considered a socialist. Canadian media on the whole has managed to deflect public anger with large government deficits away from the perpetrators and supporters who created these deficits by their irresponsible and selfish actions leading to 2008. When many working people are suffering, it is easy to exploit resentment of other working people better off protected by labour unions.
Conservative politicians and spin masters now say the unions and civil servants are the culprits standing in the way of deficit reduction. Rob Ford and Stephen Harper are right in there.
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