There is, I think, a prevailing mistake in the way that many are looking at the downfall of Thomas Mulcair. People see him as a failed candidate, a guy who lost an election that was his to win, a man whose political style didn’t fit the NDP values that many people cherish. And he is, in fact, all of these things. But Mulcair is something more than this; significantly more. Muclair represents a fundamental failure of of social democrats (and society at large) to face up to profound crises of capitalism and democracy. Mulcair represents the idea that we can go along like things have not fundamentally changed and that we can simply shift a few policies and things will look up.
The word crisis has historically, no doubt, been overused. But the reasons that I think capitalism and democracy are in this state are, I think, fairly basic and clear. The crisis of capitalism is a crisis of revenue. We live in a time in which there is more wealth than there has ever been, and yet everywhere around us, here and around the world, we see people struggling to just get by; they are working harder, earning relatively less, they have no pensions or secure futures, and their kids are facing a rare state of affairs, one in which they will be less secure and less well off than their parents. But if there is more wealth than ever before, how can this be? Though the mainstream media is horrifyingly silent about this issue most of the time, we all know the answer to this. There is more and more money in fewer and fewer hands. This state of affairs is obviously bad for average people, but it is also bad for capitalism in he long run. For the reason that it is a problem for our economic system I direct you to the work of economists like Thomas Piketty.
The crisis of democracy leads directly from this economic issue. Even people with no economic training and little political savvy understand at a gut level what is going on here. People increasingly understand that there is more wealth and that it is in fewer hands, and they also understand that politicians, even ones that we thought of traditionally as leftists, are saying little or nothing about it. Democracy is falling into crisis because people see massive inequalities, they see themselves and their neighbours struggling, they see the rich buying fancier cars and bigger houses, and they don’t see politicians addressing the problem at all! In this context politics become a mere spectacle; a hollow charade that means nothing to many people’s actual lives.
This is where Thomas Mulcair and the NDP come in. Mulcair thought that reciting a few platitudes about childcare and pharmacare would address people’s (particularly people on the left) growing sense of angst about the future of themselves and their children. Meanwhile, the backroom movers and shakers of the NDP (people like Brad Lavigne, Brian Topp, and Anne McGrath) are little more than politicians of convenience, people who seem to have a commitment to justice only as far as it furthers their careers or doesn’t threaten the status quo of wealth production, oil production, and luxury goods.
The crises of capitalism and democracy grow more pressing with each passing year, not just for us but more significantly for people in places like Africa and Latin America. Politicians like Justin Trudeau are slick and smiling snake-oil salesmen who have seen that the successful contemporary politicians job one is to create a big ‘feel-good’ factor while doing little for the basic injustices that plague our system and they certainly have no intention of addressing the growing inequality. Making people “feel” better about politics in dark and uncertain times is not just their personal road to power but the very motor of keeping the system’s legitimacy alive as it spirals down to greater inequality. But the reason that many on the left and in the NDP lost faith in Mulcair is that he didn’t actually represent anything different amid these feelings of crisis and fear. The NDP hasn’t represented a meaningfully different agenda for a long time. For a while (years, in fact) that didn’t seem to matter very much. But now that the crisis is sinking into people’s very consciousness, it’s not going to wash any longer.
The raging anger around the LEAP manifesto is perfect demonstration of just how significant the NDP’s failure has become. What is a relatively tame document that really just says we need to shift away from a carbon economy as fast as possible, has become in the eyes of many some kind of statement of radical environmental madness. And yet the proscription for our future is fairly simple; create a much more economically equal society while shifting our energy away from fossil fuels and into creatively new technologies. But in a world where billionaires bankroll politics, where modern oil barons live in multi-million dollar mansions and own six cars and two yachts, there is little political will among the most powerful to change the status quo. And many people (even in the NDP) think that the option is between leaving many average workers in sectors such as energy to lose their houses and their jobs, or maintain the status quo. Meanwhile politicians like Mulcair pick at crumbs that fall from the tables of the wealthy as though those little nuggets will solve people’s deep-seated problems.
Mulcair failed because he is just another average politician in a time that requires loud and vociferous voices that tell truth to power. A growing number of people are feeling the angst. The ones that are prone to too much fear are turning toward the dark lords of fascism the way they once did. But some are looking for real solutions, and real and inspiring leaders, not ones that once had the gall to praise Thatcherite politics and now think that they can offer the masses a few daycare spaces and everything will be ok. And I suspect the next leader of the NDP will similarly fail because the party will probably elect another angry, middle-aged, white man who truly doesn’t see that nice suits, flowery words, and a less expensive drug plan will do nothing to address what is really going on.