For a long time now we have grown accustomed to the Conservative Party poisoning the political discourse of the nation. It has become so commonplace for the Harpercons to feed the nation pictures of opposition leaders with birds pooping on them or as representing sinister foreign forces that we hardly blink an eye when we see another starkly personal and negative add from our sitting government, thus lowering the standards of politics and the expectations of people, particularly young people who are abandoning the political system in droves.
Of course, poison politics is obviously not the sole realm of the Conservative Party. But the more that a governing party in particular uses Karl Rove style politics, the worse things will get at all levels of our political culture. Poison slowly creeps in at every level of political discourse and it infects us all, particularly when it is subtle and sinisterly noxious.
In recent months it has become clear to me that one of the nation's most famous and recognized Liberal bloggers is gradually being recognized for the negative, toxic discourse in which he engages. The blogger (and he likes to say that his blog site is not a blog site at all) is, of course, the notorious Warren Kinsella. While continually arguing for more political cooperation between the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP, Mr. Kinsella seldoms tires of aiming his toxic discourse at the very party he seems to want to woo toward a merger.
I actually find the discourse of Mr. Kinsella considerably more offensive than that practiced by the Conservatives because one generally knows where the Conservatives (bloggers as well as professionals) are coming from. Mr. Kinsella's discourse is, however, considerably more subtle and attempts to portray itself as either purely defensive or indignantly justifiable. In one of today's posts we have a typical example of Mr. Kinsella's language. In the face of a looming budget vote here in Ontario Mr. Kinsella is indignant that Andrea Horwath, the leader of the provincial NDP, has the gall to attempt to influence government policy, a practice that I suspect he would be equally swift to defend if it were his party trying to pursue their interests in a generally accepted and traditionally practiced political strategy. Asking for certain policies or spending strategies to be included in a budget in order to receive support for the budget is more than simply common practice during minority governments, it is good practice which encourages discourse and compromise. Mr. Kinsella, however, choses to use the language of criminal activity in relation to this practice, suggesting that Ms Horwath is "issuing randsom notes" to force the government to accept her demands. Language is a powerful thing and the portrayal of the NDP as kidnappers and criminals is profoundly toxic, particularly when we consider the parliamentary traditions and the particular kinds of demands that Ms Horwath is making. Even the Globe and Mail (no particular friend of the NDP) portrays Ms Horwath's actions in a proper light saying "Ms Horwath has taken pains to convey that she prefers to influence policy rather than force another election." While the G&M is using fairly neutral discourse, Mr. Kinsella's discourse is precisely the kind that has poisoned our political atmosphere. He is not attacking a particular policy of a sitting government or a divisive or unacceptable political strategy, rather he is using language that portrays a perfectly acceptable practice, (and one that he would surely advocate if his party was on the other side), as no less than criminal.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when inflammatory language can be justified and is even, perhaps, necessary, and I have certainly fallen victim to the occasional outburst. However, what we are talking about here is a conscious and concerted effort to discredit a political opponent for actions which Mr. Kinsella would certainly not oppose under different circumstances. And even if one does oppose such actions on principle (which I have never heard anyone do), these are certainly not immoral or unseemly types of actions.
For most people, none of this comes as a surprise. Kinsella is one of many political operatives whose style and approach has always been thus. And such people tend not only to belittle all opponents regardless of the intent or style of those opponents, they also wave off such criticisms with remarks like "if you can't stand the political heat, get out of the kitchen." And this is what such people have reduced our political culture to - a discourse of criminality for any and all disagreement.
We will never heal our political culture as long as such practices are ubiquitous and accepted. And we will never move forward with a society and and a political system that works. When governments and parties practice anti-democratic and abusive strategies and policies, by all means leave no stone unturned when dealing with their abuse. But when people are actively looking for compromise with policies that clearly seek to help the more vulnerable in society, it is nothing short of immoral to paint them with a brush of criminality.