Nothing makes me appreciate Stephen Harper more than the moral corruption that characterizes political life in the nations to which Canada is closest: the U.S., Britain and France. Last week I wrote about the bizarrely amoral world of French socialism, but failed to point out how much better the left still were than France's conservatives, including the erratic, hyper fellow who is now president.
Then there's the Britain. What should be clear by now is that Rupert Murdoch has actually owned the British government all the way back to Margaret Thatcher, his soul sister. That influence is what he brazenly demands in return for the backing of his papers that every British leader has sold his soul for. It's not just that he's been able, until this month, to build his hegemonic media empire unimpeded by the normal regulatory obstacles. It's been far more sinister.
Mr. Murdoch has opinions, invariably mean-spirited ones, on every aspect of public policy both domestic and foreign, and every prime minister has known precisely what they are and what Murdoch's papers do if they're ignored. So Tony Blair, who sold his soul to Murdoch in return for unparalleled electoral success, peddles Thatcherite neo-liberalism, privatizes and deregulates, lies his way into Iraq, and leaves as a legacy one of the two most unequal states in the rich world; no prizes for guessing number one.
Now David Cameron, who also belonged lock, stock and communication director to the Mr. Murdoch family, has introduced the most ferocious attack on the British welfare state in more than six decades. Heaven alone knows how ordinary Brits are going to survive when so many critical services and benefits are stolen away from them, and neither Mr. Cameron nor the Murdochs give a damn, my dear.
In this, they have kissing cousins in the Republican party. Here too, I wonder if we really grasp how certifiably bonkers the Republicans are, and yet how successful they've been in driving President Barack Obama and the Democrats towards the right. A country that can take Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman seriously is a flailing has-been on its way down, dead set on scorching as much earth as possible on its way there. By any standard, the two are the most reckless, ridiculous and successful American politicians of recent years. (Okay, there's The Donald. But aliens don't count.) Like most of those seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Ms. Bachman truly believes in a world where government abdicates all responsibility for moderating the inherently predatory nature of capitalism and for protecting the vulnerable.
We should understand that the candidates are strenuously competing for the endorsement of the movers and shakers of the extreme right -- now known as "the mainstream" -- who are so influential in the nomination process. A good example is knuckleballer Grover Norquist, a power-broker with the Cashew Coalition who lobbies for ever-smaller government and ever-lower tax rates for the filthy rich and giant corporations. Mr. Norquist says, memorably: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Ms. Bachman pursues Mr. Norquist's laissez-faire logic with a platform that includes, among other Wild West policies, an end to the minimum wage. "If we took away the minimum wage," she muses, "we could potentially wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level." It's true. Soon American workers will be vying with Cambodian peasants and Central American slum dwellers to see who offers lower labour costs to American-owned factories. Problem is, of course, the American workers won't be able to afford to buy anything these businesses sell.
Mr. Norquist has concocted a "Taxpayers Protection Pledge" to oppose any and all corporate or personal tax increases, which he demands politicians take in return for getting his kosher certificate. Since he pretends to care about the deficit, that seems to leave only government services left to cut, preferably all of them except making war on Muslims. Only six of 240 House Republicans and seven of 47 GOP senators have refused to take an oath that's now causing the U.S. government to teeter at the edge of default.
Naturally, given Yankee ingenuity, a whole host of other oaths have followed: The "Susan B. Anthony presidential pledge" to appoint antiabortion cabinet officers and cut off federal financing to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. The "cut, cap and balance" pledge to gut the federal government by cutting and capping spending and enacting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The Marriage Vow opposing same-sex marriage, rejecting Sharia law (which of course no one is advocating, but just in case....), and pledging personal fidelity to their spouse. Only one of the worthies seeking the Republican presidential nomination has refused to sign one or more of these heart-rending pledges.
Let's face it, folks. All this dangerous wackiness makes Stephen Harper look pretty darn reassuring, relatively speaking, of course. Even though 28 out of 30 Canadian dailies endorsed him during the 2010 elections, none has anything like the influence of Mr. Murdoch in the U.K. and none peddles the sick extremism of so many American publications. Mr. Harper panders to no one but his own base, as he chooses. And his ambition for a majority government has constrained most of his truly dangerous dogmas, except for some like the extremely destructive changes he is hell-bent on making to the criminal justice system. In general, though, so long as most Canadians refuse to follow Americans to the far ideological frontier where fruitcakes thrive, so long can Mr. Harper be counted on to suppress most of his baser instincts.
In fact I'd say the most dangerous single politician in Canada today, and the one most aligned with American Teacuppers, is Toronto mayor Rob Ford. In just eight months, Mr. Ford has proved himself to be far more ignorant, dishonest and indifferent to the well-being of this city than even his most vitriolic opponents ever expected. He has greatly exceeded their lowest expectations. One example should suffice to reflect his way of doing business. Last week Mr. Ford told an interviewer that salaries and benefits represent 80 per cent of the city's operating budget. In fact, the figure is about 48 per cent, a trivial error approaching $3 billion in hard cash. Is he dishonest or uninformed? You decide. He's Michele Bachman's kind of guy, all right, and Toronto will pay the price.
This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.
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