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Former senator Jerry Grafstein, a mainstay of the Trudeau era, was hanging around the Ontario Liberal leadership convention last Saturday. "Where's the big ideas, where's the issues?" he muttered. Where, in a word, was the vision? Guys like him, in the age of Keith Davey, the legendary Liberal Rainmaker of Canadian politics, were big on The Vision Thing -- a bitter term used by former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, who despaired of ever having one of his own, like Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the U.S. or Pierre Trudeau's Just Society here. They held Thinkers' Conferences where guys (always) with Big Ideas shared them with party hacks. That's how the Liberals recruited Trudeau and much later, Michael Ignatieff, with opposite effects.
As the first ballot results were announced, Grafstein's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "It's in play," he gasped, meaning the leadership. Like everyone else, he assumed Sandra Pupatello would be well ahead of Kathleen Wynne since she had less downside: with her you got a woman but not, as Wynne herself said, a lesbian from Toronto. Yet there they were, two votes apart. It was like the dawn of a new age. You could almost hear strains of Thus Spake Zarathustra, from the Trudeau-era film, 2001, as the sun rose behind the monolith.
This isn't the politics of ideas and issues anymore, though it has those. It's the politics of inclusion. In the old days, the guys at the core articulated a vision and gathered "outsiders" -- youth, women, ethnics -- around it. But they stayed in effective control. Here the outsiders form a majority -- it's the point -- and issues follow. Obama's win in the U.S. is the prototype, but only in his second election.
First time round in 2008 was the old model: appealing to "all Americans," including old white guys on Wall St., to join him. But last year, those guys were seriously gone. A majority had to come from outsiders: youth, blacks, Hispanics, gays, women. And it worked. You can form a majority without the old majority! They were it, and they came out and voted. I think this accounts for Obama's emboldened tone since then. (It may also account for that supremely weird first debate with Romney, when Obama went virtually silent. Perhaps when directly confronted with an embodiment of the old white majority, he couldn't quite bring himself to speak as he and his campaign had till then. His tongue stuck.)
It seems to me this has to do with globalization, but not the economic kind that leaders like Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan preached in the 1980s. This is globalized contact in myriad forms, including online games, person-to-person, unmediated by authorities and news anchors. Guess what they find: outsiders are the global majority -- by miles. Authoritative males are few -- and you don't need them to learn what's going on, or their blessing to act. There's also a mingling effect due to vast migrations, based on economic needs and dislocations. This all runs counter to the explicit agenda of economic globalization, which plays people off against each other, isolates them and forces them to compete.
The shifts happen at an accelerating rate. Changes in racist attitudes proceeded slowly, starting in the 1950s. Gender attitudes have altered much more quickly. The speed in acceptance of same-sex marriage, even in the U.S., has been startling. Even more so with transgender choices; those weren't even off the radar till recently. It's partly the globalized, unmediated media -- i.e., the Internet -- which helps people see how normal apparent abnormality can be.
There's also the Making History factor. Economic globalizers pushed change and adaptability as ways to make people accept insecurity and lousy jobs. But change cuts many ways. If it's good, it's good in other areas too and no one wants to be left off the cutting edge, even rich old white guys. There was establishment Liberal David Peterson at the convention last weekend, jollying dropout candidate Eric Hoskins over to Kathleen Wynne's camp. Peterson is from the Be there or be square generation. As for Ontarians, we may have been last in line to get our woman premier but hey, we're the first to have a lesbian grandmother premier.
This article was first published in the Toronto Star.
Photo: Ontario Chamber of Commerce/Flickr
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