"The last chance for progressive politics for an awfully long time"

“It is time to stop listening to the voices who plead for calm moderation and for a cotton-candy centrism that melts at the first sign of resistance. It is time for politicians on the other side to be as fervent in their calls for economic justice as Newt Gingrich is in his calls for kiddie janitors and adolescent wage-slavery. It is time for someone — anyone — to step to a very big microphone and say that the problem with Americans is not that they are lazy, or coddled, or anesthetized by 70 years of the welfare state, or morally unmoored (Thanks, David Brooks!), but that the problem with Americans is that a bunch of expensive suits stole all their money, looted their pensions, made a mockery of their hard work, and labored for decades to develop dozens of ways to swindle them, all the while fashioning a politics that told them that the ultimate freedom was the freedom to have your pockets picked.”

Charles P. Pierce, on esquire.com

"Don't let them tell you it can't be done."

We arrived home yesterday to news that Jack Layton, leader of the official opposition, long time head of the NDP and even longer Toronto city councilor, had lost his fight with cancer and passed away. Only today, when I had a few minutes to stop and consider the news, and see the impromptu memorials scrawled across Toronto walls, did I really absorb what had happened. Canada had lost its most charismatic politician, and one of its few true leaders.

There’s no point in getting too deep into his life and legacy; others have done that better than I could hope to. I’ll simply highlight a perfect example of what the man was about: the closing paragraph of the letter Layton wrote just two days before his death, when he knew he was out of time. At a time when selfish or defeated thoughts would have been poisoning the minds of even the best of us, Jack Layton chose to inspire rather than lament.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

We’ll miss you, Jack. I’ll miss you.

The lesser of 2.5 evils

Last year I pointed to the relationship between an Economist blog comment and a five-year-old clip from Real Time with Bill Maher. Specifically I pointed to the need for a third political choice and the general unhealthiness of reducing complex political acts to a binary Coke-vs-Pepsi race. I didn’t get into the whole moral complication of wanting to vote for a third choice (like Ralph Nader, in the 2004 example) but feeling the need to vote ‘strategically’ to keep the worst option from winning. I’ve never believed in voting that way; you should vote for who you think will do the best job.

However: I simply cannot have Peter Griffin running my city.

I want to vote for Joe Pantalone, I do. I don’t buy all the wailing about him continuing the horrible legacy of David Miller, mainly because I don’t think David Miller was a bad mayor. I see George Smitherman as benign and centrist, but I’ll gladly take inertia over the notion of regressing for the next three years.

Just think back. Nobody in America was excited at the idea of Al Gore being president, but look at where the other guy got them. And while they may have voted with their hearts, the Nader supporters inadvertently reaped a simple-minded whirlwind.

Tonight after work I’ll hold my nose and vote, and then go home for a stiff drink while watching the news.

At least I didn't land on Bono

A few days ago Joey DeVilla blogged about the OKCupid politics test and, well…I just can’t resist a blend of politics and charts.


Here’s the text the test spit out for me:

Social Liberal (73% permissive) / Economic Liberal (23% permissive)

You are best described as a: Strong Democrat (the test was quite American-centric)

You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.

I’d say that’s about right. I’d also wager I’m one of the very few people with the letters ‘MBA’ behind my name who’d come in under the 25% mark on economic liberalism.

The test also tries to tries to lump you in to a broad descriptive category:


Again, because of the American focus you could probably substitute ‘Liberal’ for ‘Democrat’ and ‘Conservative’ for ‘Republican’. That would put me on the border between plain old vanilla liberal and socialist, which feels about right.

Finally the test results plot you on a list of famous (mainly American) people, and I agree with Joey that it seems pretty skewed.


I would consider myself more socially permissive and less economically permissive than both Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama (or at least their policies or policy statements), and there’s no way Obama’s at the bottom right extreme. I mean, if the Unabomber and Stalin are corner-dwellers, I don’t think Obama (or Huckabee, for that matter) belong in the same range. Paging Dr. Marx…

Coke vs. Pepsi

Several years ago I watched an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher which featured among its guests Michael Moore, Ralph Nader and former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell. In that episode Maher and Moore pleaded (literally) with Nader to not run in 2004 and dilute the Democratic vote, as he had in 2000.

I don’t know if it was intentional that they had Campbell on, or if she just happened to be hanging around the studio that day, but she brought some Canadian perspective to the discussion, specifically the benefits of having more than two parties.

American politics are so radically polarized that nuance and reasonable compromise seem hopelessly outdated concepts. There are two parties: Democrats and Republicans. You vote for one or the other. You believe one or the other, regardless of what they’re saying or doing. Many times even your preferred news network favours one or the other.

Based on my observations, rational political discourse in the US is all but vanished. Sound argument is a waste of time. Neither party spends time saying what they think is right; what’s important is contradicting the other guy. Politician A can spend his whole career saying the sky is blue; if their opponent politician B suddenly says the sky is blue (no doubt claiming some sort of unique insight for being able to make such a determination), politician A will surely claim the sky is red.

To wit: Cash for Clunkers. In case you don’t know, Cash for Clunkers is an American program offering consumers rebates on new cars when they trade in a much older model. Essentially it’s an economic stimulus program which benefits troubled American car manufacturers and helps the environment (to a limited degree, anyway) by taking inefficient cars off the road. Now have a look at my last sentence, and the three key points therein: 1) economic stimulus; 2) supports big American business; and 3) benefits environment. Now, while this is a Democratic initiative, 2 of those 3 key points are the bread and butter of Republicans and fiscal conservatives everywhere. For the most part they don’t care about reducing carbon — or, at least, their talking points tell them not to care — but that form of economic stimulus is essentially a tax break for consumers and a free revenue boost to automakers, and Republicans love them some tax breaks. Unless it’s Democrats who suggest them.

To wit: this clip from The Daily Show. Watch from about 1:10, where news networks explain how well the Cash for Clunkers program has worked to date. Note the reaction from Fox News and house Republicans. All of a sudden the idea of tax breaks seem like anathema.

Rather than go on with more examples I’ll just quote a comment left on this Economist graphic:

The commenter’s name, by the way, is “The Other Guy” so five’ll get you ten this guy keeps a copy of Unsafe At Any Speed on his bedside table.

“American politics of Coke-vs.-Pepsi has been throwing off the stale stench of disfunction [sic] for quite some time. Dem-Rep bifurcation is slow, superficial, and has been predictably producing less than adequate results, and that’s a charitable phrasing.

A third party, even or perhaps preferably a small yet significant one, needs to step forward to inject a degree of instability.”

Now, I’m not suggesting the Canadian political system is perfect by any means, and certainly having too many political parties can have some frustrating side effects (constant minority governments, the Bloc Quebecois, etc.) but I’d have to think it’s healthier than the slapfight happening south of the border. Politics is a huge, hairy topic, far too complex to boil down to a binary choice between 0 and 1, let alone to declare that 0 or 1 is the only answer you will give for the rest of your life.

In closing, let me just say: Coke sucks, and you should never ever drink it.