Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the U.S. Army in the American Civil War

I like Thomas Mulcair for the same reason Abraham Lincoln liked Ulysses S. Grant.

As President Lincoln famously said of Grant, the Commanding General of the Union Army in America’s great Civil War: “I can’t spare that man. He fights!”

Legend has it that the president was responding to a silly delegation of people who wanted Grant cashiered because he was reported to be too fond of whisky. The President, who was personally an abstemious man, but one with a sense of humour, inquired of them what it was Grant drank … so that he could send a case of the stuff to the rest of his generals!

Last weekend, Canadian New Democrats came to a similar conclusion about Mulcair — who, oddly, physically rather resembles Gen. Grant, despite the century and a quarter that has passed since the American soldier and politician’s death. They voted for Mulcair because they believe they can count on him to fight.

Maybe he really does have a temper, they thought. So what?

Maybe he can be sharp with supporters who don’t agree with him — indeed, I personally have seen Mulcair do this. Maybe the flame of ideological purity burns a little less brightly in his breast than in some. But, by God, he fights! And what we New Democrats need now is a fighter!

So it should hardly surprise us that, despite the great strengths of the other candidates, in the end a majority of New Democrats rolled the dice for the candidate who is obviously prepared to stand up and fight this terrible neo-Con government of Stephen Harper and his failed Conservative retreads from Ontario and Alberta.

You could hear it in Mulcair’s voice yesterday as he stiffened his sinews, summoned up the blood, and assailed Harper’s contemptible budget — which attacks seniors, public servants and the CBC while waving a shiny penny at the media to distract their wandering attention.

What a pleasure it was to hear him state the obvious: “The Conservatives ran an entire election campaign without saying a word to Canadians about their plans to cut OAS or health transfers. Clearly Mr. Harper is not a man of his word.”

The mainstream media, not surprisingly, along with its allies and boon companions in the prime minister’s so-called Conservative Party, were quick to start calling Mulcair an angry man. The implication was his is the kind of irrational anger that requires a time out, or even a trip to an anger-management course. One bloviator for a national newspaper held forth on how this was not what the NDP, previously successfully led by the seemingly mild-mannered Jack Layton, needed to succeed.

Well, we’ll see about that. But it seems to me that Mulcair is not so much angry as he is determined. But if it takes a little righteous anger — and I use that term advisedly — to battle the vote-suppressing, robo-calling, Parliament proroguing, anti-democratic urges of Harper and his neo-Con goons, then I say bring it on, and about time too!

Jack Layton was a fine man and a extraordinary leader. But he was really untested when it came to dealing with the legendary viciousness of these unprincipled Conservative market-fundamentalists who believe any deception is fair ball if it advances their ideological agenda.

Earlier on in the last Parliament, the Harper Tories identified Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff as the Main Enemy, and through a long intellectually dishonest but highly effective campaign demolished that essentially decent man brick by brick. They ignored Layton, at least until it was too late — when we got a glimpse of the tactics they were prepared to stoop to with the ugly massage parlour allegations leaked in the dying days of the election campaign to the Conservative Party’s house newspaper, the Toronto Sun.

It may be a heresy in some circles to say this aloud, but I have wondered privately how Layton — a profoundly decent and kindly man — would have stood the full onslaught of the Eye of Sauron that occupies 24 Sussex when it was finished with the professorial Ignatieff.

Mulcair, it seems to me and obviously to many other New Democrats, is tough enough to stand up to these people, and to honourably and articulately dish it back to them in a way that will make sense to Canadians.

The hypocritical cavils of national press notwithstanding, how can this be a bad thing with an opponent like Harper and with a cause as important as saving our country from the depredations of neo-Con ideology?

The chief knock against Mulcair in the media is that he’s cranky?

Please! I’m cranky too. What reasonable Canadian wouldn’t be at the thought of the way these so-called Conservatives, who are in fact dangerous Straussian radicals, conduct themselves, and the un-Canadian program they intend to implement?

It was a legitimate issue for New Democrats — deciding how to order their own house after the remarkable Jack Layton’s death — to consider Mulcair’s past role in a Liberal provincial government (though it was, as he pointed out, a government led by the only federalist party in the province in question) and whether that mattered in our leader’s resume.

Obviously, a majority decided it didn’t, indeed, that Mulcair took a considerable political risk becoming a New Democrat in a place and time where the conventional political wisdom had it that there was no future for supporters of the NDP.

But it takes some cheek for the Conservatives, of all people, to send out an email calling Mulcair a blindly ambitious and divisive opportunist, apparently all on the strength of the facts he saw the light and joined the New Democrats and has been guilty of the occasional sharp retort!

Now here we have a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, a standard Conservative rhetorical technique to be sure, but in the matter of the party of Stephen Harper, Rob Anders, Dean Del Mastro and 1,001 anonymous robo-callers more a matter of hilarity than outrage.

Conservative media commentators (which is pretty well all of them) who see horror in this need to remember that an unwillingness to suffer fools and Conservatives gladly is no barrier to success in Canadian politics — consider the sterling example of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

But these people appeal oleaginously to the better angels of our nature, as President Lincoln might have said, and preach at us that we ought to have chosen a leader with a more patient and less acerbic personality, the better to be ground to dust by Harper.

Well, no thank you. I can only speak for myself, but I am sick of linking hands and singing Kumbayah. I’m sick of “moral victories” when in effect they are political defeats.

The Canada we have built is a great nation and the values of tolerance and social co-operation that characterize it are worth fighting to preserve — and to enhance.

I’m proud of my New Democrats for electing a leader who will be tough, and who will fight, for Canada.

This post also appeared on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...