Thursday, November 29, 2007

Robin Sears got it right

Sorry Warren, but Robin Sears got it right.

For months in advance of the campaign they fed reporters with anonymous quotes about "unhappy Conservatives" and supplied YouTube with nasty videos and their canvassers with slippery doorstep lines. As the damage to Tory began to show up in public polls, they raised the pressure with egregious performances by Dalton McGuinty fretting about creating a "segregationist" Ontario, and suggesting that Ontario would suffer the same fate as "London and Paris" if the policy were adopted. In a clear appeal to Islamophobia they successfully ground the Conservative numbers down by nearly ten points in less than three weeks. At Toronto dinner parties one heard “progressive” downtown Liberals muttering quietly that Tory’s policy would fund "some crazy imam’s Mississauga madrassa."

Update: Warren responds in the comments:

Steve, with respect, a question:

Do you think that the hundreds of thousands of Onatrians who voted for McGuinty are also bigots? Or that they are dummies, and so easily manipulated?

I look forward to your answer, as always, with interest.
Warren K

And my rather long-winded response:


One of the things I have always admired about your work is your courage in drawing attention to the real bigots in our midst. I commend you for writing about the seamy underside of white supremacists and skinhead thugs. These guys are scum whose ideas need to be exposed and discredited.

But that is what makes your willingness to tap into such prejudice for political ends so incomprehensible. Here we have a party that exults in its inclusiveness, yet is willing to jettison such principle for electoral advantage. It is a dangerous game that will have repercussions for years to come.

You know as well as I do that we are all bigots in some way. The key is to recognize one’s prejudice. One of the things that makes Canadian society great is that despite our inherent prejudices, we tend to treat each other reasonably well and don't usually don't let our prejudices rule us.

What I found so reprehensible about Liberal tactics in the last election is that the party had no inhibitions about tapping into such underlying prejudice. The intent to tap into prejudice was clear. And it worked.

Did people consciously vote Liberal because they don’t like Muslims? I am sure that some did, and at the margin that is what wins elections. But I suspect the preferences of many more were shifted subconsciously by an underlying, mostly unfounded, discomfort about Muslims.

If anyone should know about manipulation, it is you. For the most part, elections are not won or lost on policy. If they were, then the Liberals would have lost since, beyond bland generalities, they did their best to avoid talking about policy. For election strategists, policy is simply another hook on which to ply their trade.

The past Ontario election was not about policy. Concern about faith-based schools was not even on the map for the vast majority of Ontarians before the election commenced. Yet somehow it became the central issue to the exclusion of all else. Other important issues – poverty, productivity, competitiveness, energy security, the environment, etc. – were largely ignored. But your tactics helped secure another Liberal majority government. I hope it was worth it.