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What would Jack do? Layton's hopeful mien should guide our response to Christie Blatchford's column

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Christie Blatchford (Metronews.ca photo)

The last person I expected to find myself defending is Postmedia News columnist Christie Blatchford.

Blatchford writes a lousy column, in my opinion, full of the worst sort of mealy-mouthed, right-wing tripe. She often composes emotional slop that belongs in the pages of the wretched Sun Media tabloids, where she worked for many years.

I've usually got better things to do than read her column -- for example, polishing the rusting hubcaps of my battered union-made Chevrolet with an old toothbrush.

Still, the brouhaha over Blatchford's column on the life and career of NDP Leader Jack Layton, published by all Postmedia daily newspapers on the day of his death, is troubling both for its intemperate tone, which echoes the screeching hysteria of Tory online trolls, and because a key point made by many of her critics is simply wrong.

Indeed, the offending column is far from the worst piece Blatchford has written, and it makes a good point that many of us who loved and respected Layton can surely agree with, or at least concede contains some truth. Its other arguments would better be dismissed with a shrug than with obscenity and imprecation.

I bothered to read this piece only because I came across some of the angry reaction on social media sites. I turned to it with a sick feeling, because I expected from the lead-up to read something truly disgusting, like the odious efforts of Calgary Sun city editor Dave Naylor. I finished it and concluded we should all take a deep breath.

The chief knock against Blatchford's effort seems to be that she called Layton a thoroughly political creature, and assailed his moving deathbed letter to Canadians with such uncharacteristically big words as "sophistry" and "vainglorious."

Well, OK, the latter part of this opinion is graceless, even cheesy -- exactly as we have come to expect of almost any Postmedia columnist. But really, so what? It does not seem appropriate to me to respond to this kind of drivel by calling its author a "heartless cow," or worse, or wishing on her the same horrible fate that befell Layton.

Moreover, I think most of us can agree that Blatchford's silly allegation of sophistry and vainglory is merely a typical response, and possibly a heartfelt one, by a Tory sympathizer who must have fretted deeply about the implications of Layton's successful appeal to the better angels of our Canadian nature. Even our dour prime minister seems to have been improved by Layton's sunny vision, which in some circles might be seen as evidence of miraculous powers!

Sympathetic pity, it seems to me, is a more appropriate response to this part of Blatchford's argument than the fury it prompted in some quarters.

More troubling was the anger at Blatchford's mere suggestion Layton was a thoroughly political breed of cat. Well, of course he was! He wouldn't have gotten to where he did, let alone engineer a federalist and social democratic breakthrough in Quebec or raise our NDP to the Official Opposition of the land, without being such a person!

If you think this is an insult, check the label on your water bottle! You may have been drinking Tory bathwater without even knowing it.

Being a politician, especially a successful social democratic politician, is evidence of virtue, not its opposite. Pure politics in the defence of virtue is no vice, as Layton proved. He heard a higher calling, and took up his vocation. For this, we should rejoice!

The enraged reaction to Blatchford's words by some of my fellow New Democrats suggests to me that the ongoing Conservative effort to tarnish elected public service and engender popular cynicism about politics is succeeding, even amongst those of us who ought to know better.

Consider in this light the tone of many online comments, which sank very low. Indeed, the tenor of the response to Blatchford's column illustrates a victory for Conservative efforts to debase political discourse in Canada through the routine use of threats, abuse and hysteria.

Their ultimate goal is to tarnish the whole field of public life and thereby achieve the dual objectives of making assaults on public services easier and suppressing the vote, especially among idealistic young people who wish for change but are turned off by the cynicism and manipulation of modern electoral politics.

Surely we are not being true to Layton's hopeful vision of Canada's future by sinking to the same offensive tactics!

Even a cynical old hack like Blatchford had to concede Layton's strength, courage and dignity as the end approached. "Again and again, waving the cane that became in his clever hands an asset, he campaigned tirelessly," she concluded.

If Layton, as Blatchford opined, was "a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow," this is no bad thing, and none of us should allow ourselves to be led into thinking it was.

Thank God for Jack's canny, relentless and ambitious nature, I say. Canada may yet be a better place as a result!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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