With all of the divisiveness and acrimony plaguing current political debates, I believe that I’ve finally discovered one theme that can unite politicians and commentators of many different political persuasions. It seems to me that the one thing that Conservatives and Liberals (or Republicans and Democrats) have in common is their unwavering commitment to the practice of hypocrisy.
On health care, for example, the Liberals like to point to the threat posed by the Conservatives who, as they point out, would happily privatize the whole system if they thought they could get away with it. Yet, it has been the Liberals who have made a lot of noise, but consistently failed to enforce the Canada Health Act when it was violated by provincial governments. They’ve also ignored the need to strengthen the Act to make it even harder for privatization advocates to have their way.
Moreover, it’s the lack of adequate health funding that has widened the cracks in the health care system — cracks through which the weed of two-tier health care is able to grow. When asked about the provinces’ demand for more money, former Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien explained his reluctance to pay up as follows: “They say that the money that we had promised three years ago to be new money this year is no more new money. We have not paid it yet and it’s old new money versus new new monies. For me, new money is new money if paying in $5 or $10, it’s the same money.” Now that we have a new Prime Minister, the sentence structure may have improved, but the hypocrisy of the message has persisted.
Likewise, the Conservatives have been vilified by the Liberals for their extreme views on social issues like abortion and same sex marriage. But, for every Randy White and Cheryl Gallant in the Conservative caucus, the Liberals have a Roger Galloway and Tom Wappell in theirs (although, thankfully, they no longer have a Dennis Mills). While it’s true that the Liberals have (or had, with Allan Rock and Sheila Copps moving on) a fair number of outspoken social progressives, it’s a bit rich for them to be criticizing Stephen Harper for harbouring extremists, when their own harbour is full of them as well.
And the Conservatives? Their hypocrisy has been most evident on the issue of BSE (mad cow disease) compensation. The National Farmers Union contends that a report from Alberta’s Auditor General’s report clearly backs up their contention that “the three big beef packers are benefiting from the BSE crisis while farmers are struggling financially.” The report shows that “three companies (Tyson Foods, Cargill and XL Foods) experienced a 281 per cent increase in net profit in the eight months following the discovery of a single case of BSE in May, 2003.” But, when parliament’s Agriculture Committee tried to censure and fine these companies for failing to disclose their financial records, the Conservatives sided with the companies and against farmers. When the auditor released his report, no Conservative MP bothered to criticize them for capitalizing on the misery of farmers.
Another double standard that has been getting under my skin of late has been the relative attention that has been given to the failed mayoral candidacies of John Tory and Jack Layton. Both before and after Layton became leader of the federal NDP, people like Terence Corcoran and Larry Zolf were chortling over the fact that he “couldn’t get elected as mayor” (ergo, what made him think he was fit to lead the country?). Even apparent allies like Eleanor Brown of Fab Magazine made reference to Layton having “flubbed a bid for mayor.” With Tory now running for the Ontario PC leadership, I don’t see Terence Corcoran suggesting that his inability to win last fall’s mayoral election is a weakness. Indeed, I’ve even read suggestions that his losing campaign showed that he could revitalize the party of Mike Harris in the megacity.
South of the border, the prize has to go to Republican attempts to make an issue of John Kerry’s war record. Speaking as someone who would like to see a candidate who denounced the Vietnam war and remains proud of having done so, it nevertheless galls me that people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — who beat the drums of war when it’s others doing the fighting, but ran for cover when they had a chance to serve themselves — going after Kerry now.
Let’s look at Bush’s own military record. According to a timeline published in Mother Jones, Bush barely passed an aptitude test, but still was able to jump over a huge waiting list to join the National Guard. Thus, he was able to avoid combat. While in the guard, he twice got a leave to work on the political campaigns of his father’s friends, and appears to have taken a year off without leave. Given this, it’s completely laughable that John Kerry is the only candidate whose military record is receiving any serious scrutiny.
Regardless of the outcome of current and future election campaigns, one thing is certain: hypocrisy will continue to rule — and to bring politicians together.