Hillary Clinton’s Nomination is Historic Because of Her Mistakes, Not In Spite of Them

It’s official: Hillary Clinton is history’s first female presidential nominee for a major political party.  Many on twitter responded to this historic moment with the remark “wish it was a better candidate”.

It was never going to be.

Charlotte Whitton may have cursed ambitious women everywhere when she said ““Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”  Nonsense.  It is difficult, and women shouldn’t be expected to achieve greater outcomes to be seen as equal to men.  Nonetheless, Whitton’s quote is essentially the story of Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy, in the year 2016, to underestimate just how much of Clinton’s narrative was set in the early 1980s, a less gender-equal time when Hillary Clinton was caught between those who hated her for being too “uppity” and ambitious and those who couldn’t stand her for being too traditional.  Clinton is a complex case study as an intelligent, ambitious woman who married a man who couldn’t keep it in his pants.  While Bill was governor and president, Hillary was caught in a difficult spot: embracing the reality of what was going on would destroy her family, since she gave up her own aspirations for his, and she had the future of her daughter to think about.

Yes, she attacked Gennifer Flowers, but any other wife could probably be forgiven for being less than kind to the woman who slept with her husband.  Hillary hasn’t been, all these years later.  And yet she keeps going.

While Bill was president, she was, again, demonized because she wanted to do more than pick out china patterns.  Not only was Hillary crucified for “Hillarycare”, but she doesn’t get any credit from many Sanders supporters for her attempts to promote the closest thing to universal healthcare that any US government has attempted.  Hillary was also demonized in connection to Bill’s infidelity.  Again.  There was the Whitewater scandal, Travelgate, Filegate, and Vince Foster’s death.  It was a period of a lot of smoke – driven by Republicans – but no fire, and the words “no credible evidence” were spoken a lot.  The Lewinsky scandal was the one thing that the Republicans managed to hang on Bill Clinton, because he lied about the affair under oath.  It was the one home run in a period where the Republican crucifixion of Clinton struck out a lot.

It was during this period that Hillary Clinton got the reputation for being a liar.  Mostly because she was Bill’s biggest character witness.  There’s no evidence that Hillary was lying as opposed to repeating the lies she was told, but in politics, people don’t tend to let the truth get in the way of a good story.  And yet she keeps going.

Don’t get me wrong, she made some mistakes in this period.  Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s baffling to me that Hillary Clinton is being blamed for any decisions during this time, however, since she had no official power.

Despite Bill’s disgraceful impeachment, Hillary rebuilt, and her ambitions were on the rise as a senator who was willing to reach across the aisle.  However, her admirable Senate record was marred by a single vote – the one in support of the Iraq war.  28 other Democratic Senators – a majority of Democrats in the senate at the time — did the same thing, including Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and John Kerry.

There’s background to this too, however.  After 9/11, a Senator from New York was as much expected to be a hawk on any country alleged to be connected to the attack on the World Trade Center, as a Senator from Vermont was expected to be more lax on guns than the average liberal.  I also remember the pundit class insisting Clinton had to vote for the war to show “a woman could do it”.  Many people today don’t care about these mitigating factors, and that’s sad, since people are products of their times, and there’s only so much a person can do when they’re fighting against bias regarding portions of their identity.

9/11 also made the urban population in America soil their shorts in terror.  Time has blunted the emotional impact of that event.  The Iraq Resolution was a complete con job by the Bush administration, which used it to authorize a war, then ignored every limitation the resolution was supposed to place on the executive branch.

However, even if you think there was no excuse for Clinton’s support of the second Iraq war, a person must be judged on their successes as well as their failures.  That’s not happening.  And yet she keeps going.

Another complaint among Clinton haters is her “untrustworthy” record regarding LGBTQ rights, notably marriage equality.  As early as 1999, Clinton was offering support for “same-sex unions”, which back then was a way to support gay marriage without offending those of more traditional religious persuasions.  That was actually a progressive stance back then.

I was to the left of Clinton at that time.  Back then, I was pointing out that there was really no difference between a civil union and a civil marriage, so why not just call it marriage?  All marriages done without a religious official involved are civil unions.  But since I was there at that time, I also remember how strong the homophobia was.  Any politician who would even consider the idea of some sort of legally recognized same-sex-relationships status was extremely important.  This idea that Clinton is somehow a secret homophobe is ludicrous, but it’s widespread.  We have to question why.

Her opponent for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was no better at that time regarding same-sex marriage.  A lot of people were not ready to support marriage equality.  Back then, the priority was getting gay couples official recognition as next of kin.  In that context, we didn’t give a damn what a politician called it.  There were a lot of people opposing the idea that gay couples should have any official status at all.  There still are, despite the supreme court decision.

Hillary haters also love to ignore the fact that the 2008 primary was much closer than the tally in 2016.  By some accounts, Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote.  By any account, the pledged delegate count between Obama and Clinton —  1766.5 to 1639.5 — was actually closer than the gap between Clinton and Sanders — 2205 to 1846.  It was a three-way race that year with John Edwards.  Back then, it was a big deal that the Democratic party, en masse, revolted against the idea of another Clinton in the White House.  They wanted someone more to the left, and they put their thumb on the scale.  That practice in the DNC isn’t a new thing, and I’m not sure that it’s going to change.

2008 was another contest the superdelegates decided.  There was much less agreement, even among those party insiders, on the outcome.  Clinton showed exceptional leadership in defeat, enthusiastically working to unite the party.  She gets no credit now for that.  And yet she keeps going.

She became a popular and competent Secretary of State.  Her greatest achievements weren’t “texts from Hillary” or a cease fire in the Middle East.  It was what didn’t happen.  The debacles avoided.  But once again, one thing went catastrophically wrong: Benghazi.

Benghazi, at first glance, seems like an undeniable cock up.  Mistakes were definitely made, and people died.  But the Republicans successfully separated Benghazi from a much larger historical context.  Firstly, the State Department was dealing with a security budget shortfall of $270 million thanks to Republicans slashing spending in practically every level of government under threat of a government shutdown.  Secondly, deadly attacks on US embassies and embassy personnel are not uncommon.  During George W. Bush’s administration, 39 attacks occurred, and 20 of those attacks resulted in fatalities.  The total number of deaths from these attacks, according to Politifact, was 87 people.  These deaths are seen by some as “less important” because they weren’t Americans, and they certainly weren’t American ambassadors.  So much for “all lives matter”.

Still, at least 3 US civilians were killed in embassy attacks during Dubya’s tenure.  Security breaches are to Hillary what extra-marital affairs are to Bill – plenty of politicians do it, but it’s only a catastrophe if your name is Clinton.  That doesn’t excuse sloppy security or adultery.  It just indicates that there is, indeed, some element of double standard.  This double standard has cost taxpayers millions of dollars  in wasted expenditures.

Out of the numerous Benghazi investigations came the private server scandal, and the Republicans finally had an unequivocal mistake on Clinton’s part.  If we lived in a logical world, it should have been a minor mistake: not only did both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell use personal email during their tenures as Secretary of State, but Powell used a very-much-not-secure AOL account.  They both sent and received classified information, or at least information that eventually became classified.  Dubya just made that totally okay to do via an executive order that said the Secretary of State had the power to classify and declassify any document created by the State Department.

Clinton’s explanation that she thought using private email was okay because others before her had done it actually has an element of plausibility.  No one cares.

That wasn’t the mistake.  The mistake was thinking that the game was fair.  That far into her political career, Hillary Clinton should have been well aware that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.  Especially if your name is Clinton.

All that brings the total of major mistakes Clinton has made since 1979 to a whopping total of twelve unforced errors.

Twelve major mistakes.  In 37 years.  I wish I had that track record.  Hell, Donald Trump screws up twelve times in a month!

But that’s twelve more big mistakes than many people are used to seeing a woman make, because woman having enough power to make such mistakes is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Similarly loathed women in history have included Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel,  Julia Gillard, Sarah Palin, and Nancy Reagan.  It’s not that these women were free of mistakes.  It’s that the criticism of them went beyond the mistakes they actually made into the illogical grey area of “unlikeability”.

Popular male politicians like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton can make some pretty massive mistakes and still have high approval ratings.  George W. Bush is still received with respect despite breaking the world.  Meanwhile, women in high-ranking political positions are crucified for every stumble.

This isn’t my opinion.  This is history.  Something is up here.

Clinton’s 2008 concession to Barack Obama gave women everywhere an example of how to fail with grace, and we very much need those examples.  Becoming a woman is a ritualized, systematic, hiding of flaws: we conceal facial flaws with makeup, bodily flaws with uncomfortable “support garments”, hair dye for grey hair, plastic surgery for everything else, and a coy smile in place of voiced opinions.  Brainy women, at least in my 80s era generation, had an extra layer of mistake-driven terror: we were right a lot, so when we were wrong, everyone around us swarmed like piranhas to laugh and jeer at our failure.  Guess we weren’t better than them after all!  Guess we weren’t really so smart!

There was a fear, not so long ago, that smart, opinionated women would have trouble attracting husbands.  There was no template for where we belonged as women other than Velma from Scooby Doo which… didn’t help.  Anne of Green Gables was a somewhat better role model, as was Jo from Little Women, but those books were written in an age where becoming a schoolteacher or a writer was like being a CEO today.  These were hardly great examples of career aspirations.

Women like Hillary Clinton, women like me, are still considered “shrews”, “bitches”, “harpies” and other less kind descriptions.  There are no equivalent insults leveled at men.

It’s one thing to say that women can be president in the abstract.  It’s a different thing entirely to show us how that can be done.  Hillary Clinton is doing that, one unsure, paranoid step at a time, with thin ice below her, that cracked glass ceiling above.  It’s a precarious place, and even if you hate her, she’s earned your respect.

Respect is what’s left when you don’t really like someone.  The media has given us little reason to like Hillary Clinton.  However, her persistence, her ability to just keep going and just keep things done… that’s worthy of our respect.

Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination isn’t a major milestone in spite of her mistakes.  It’s because of them.  She set an example for women everywhere that flaws and failure are not the end.

Please follow and like us:

The Uncomfortable Task of Defending Mike Ward’s Free Speech Rights

Mike Ward is acting like a creep.

Let’s get that out of the way right now.  Ward’s behaviour in continuing to mock a bullied young man with a disability is indefensible.  I don’t care if it’s a comedy routine.  I don’t care if it’s in the interests of free speech.  Grown ups should pick on grown ups and not kids.  Stop it, Mike Ward.

The media is equally to blame for any additional bullying this young man receives, since they continue to splash his name and image all over the internet, providing no context that Ward’s behaviour is very wrong… even if it’s not a violation of anyone’s human rights.  In their opinion.  The Quebec human rights tribunal disagrees.

And this is where we get to the point where I have to make the case that the ruling against Ward’s disgusting behaviour is, in the context it was made, a very bad precedent.

The argument is that the young man, Jérémy Gabriel, had his dignity violated when Ward mocked the young man’s appearance — facial deformities caused by a condition called Treacher Collins Syndrome, a medical condition that affects the bones and tissues of the face.  I’m almost inclined to agree with the judge here that Ward wasn’t just making fun of a person.  Ward was cruelly mocking the young man, who was only 14 or 15 years old at the time, for having a disability.

Like I said, Ward’s behaviour disgusts me.  But note that I also said “almost inclined to agree”.

I’m no stranger to bullying myself.  I’ve been picked on my entire life for my appearance, including being told by so-called evangelical Christians at my school that spotted skin — a reference to my freckles — was a mark of Satan.

But I can relate to poor Jérémy’s story in another way.  When I was seventeen, I got dumped by a guy.  Within days of that breakup, which I was told was at the suggestion of his therapist, I received a call.  It was a stand up comedian at a popular local comedy club, calling from my ex-boyfriend’s cell phone.  With my ex-boyfriend in the audience.

The comedian proceeded to mock me in a goofy voice, referring to personal details of the defunct relationship, while I could hear the audience laughing loudly in the background.

I started crying.  I asked the comedian why he was doing this.  Apparently the audience could hear me, because it went silent.  At some point, I swore at him, and slammed the phone down.  I remember this detail because I got in trouble from my mother for dropping an f-bomb in front of her friends.  What can I say?  I’m the product of fairly strict parenting.

There was follow up with the club, which tried to defend the comedian.  The comedian himself never contacted me or did anything directly to try to make it right.  I was told by the club the comedian “felt bad”, but not that he knew what he’d done was wrong.  Of course not.  That gets you sued.

My mother and I were offered free passes to the comedy club.  I refused them, feeling like they were trying to buy me off with surprisingly little.  In a shocking twist of irony, I had to perform at that very same club years later as part of my job, because it was, at the time, the biggest comedy club in the city.  I did it, but I’ve never forgotten the cruelty, and the apathy after the fact.  I don’t even remember the comedian’s name, but I do remember the name of the executive at the club that tried to sweep it under the rug.

Again, I won’t say his name, because that gets you sued.

All I wanted was for everyone involved to realize that what they did was wrong; specifically, it was wrong to drag in someone over a telephone who didn’t pay admission, and therefore didn’t consent to be a part of the show.  I don’t remember if they ever agreed to that, and I was left feeling like there were no real consequences for what the comedian did.  He never had to apologize directly to me.

Similarly, Mike Ward doesn’t seem to realize what he did was wrong, because he’s still doing it.  He’s still mocking the kid in relation to this tribunal decision.  The media is also repeating the joke.  The media should not be repeating the joke.

So this Quebec human rights decision has further robbed Jérémy Gabriel of his dignity, instead of beginning the healing process.  And my God, I feel terrible for the kid, because I know what it’s like.

You feel dehumanized.  You feel like the world has determined that you’re less deserving of decency and kindness because of something you can’t control.  You feel powerless to set personal boundaries, because the world isn’t giving you the tools to do so.  You look ahead toward the rest of your life, and all you see is more mockery, more cruelty, and more hate.

If this sounds maudlin, keep in mind, we’re dealing with a teenaged mindset.

The goal here is to get the mockery of Jérémy Gabriel to stop, and this decision didn’t do that.  It made it worse.  In attempting to “get tough” on hate speech, the Quebec human rights tribunal just became complicit in spreading it around.

I’m a big believer in free speech, and I don’t believe there should have been a human rights complaint against Mike Ward.  I think that there should be some system that made Mike Ward have to face the young man that he mocked for money and attention.  If the kid was bullied, Mike Ward should have had to go into the schools, admit he was wrong, and set a positive example instead of continuing to set a negative one.

We shouldn’t need to be talking about human rights in this case.  What Mike Ward did was just an old-fashioned rejection of basic human decency.

Jérémy Gabriel is disabled, and Mike Ward should be damned grateful that he’s able-bodied and doesn’t have symptoms that can include vision loss, deafness and breathing problems.  It’s not funny to make fun of someone’s disability without their consent — I add the consent caveat because many comedians, including myself, include their personal biographies in their own material.  One of the funniest stand-up comedians I personally know, Andre Arruda, does hysterical material surrounding his experiences as a disabled person.

But making fun of a kid isn’t fair game.  Please, someone show this article to Mike Ward, and try to get him to understand that.

There’s a wrinkle to this, however, and it speaks to an uncomfortable element of our free-speech-driven society.  Jérémy Gabriel isn’t just any kid.  Jérémy Gabriel is a performer and something of a celebrity, having sung for the Pope.  Once you cross over into the public realm that way, you open yourself up to a greater degree of criticism, and that criticism is often scathingly cruel.

I can speak to this as well.  I was a competitive dancer, starting seriously at the age of 14.  You had to get tough fast in that world, because adults constantly mocked our bodies — our weight, our breast development, even criticizing teenagers going through that notorious awkward phase for not being beautiful enough for the judges’ liking.  The dance world is brutal.  The problem with becoming a youth performer is that you’re ending your childhood early.  You’re stepping into the realm of professional performer, and you have to grow up fast or it eats you alive.

And it almost did eat me alive, but that’s a story for another time.

More to the current point, I speak from experience here from both sides.  I produced and co-wrote a show for MuchMusic called Fromage, which was an annual special starring Ed the Sock where we made fun of the most overplayed music videos of the calendar year.  We went out of our way to make it as fair as possible, allowing the audience to both nominate and vote on the videos that were going into the special, because at times it did get mean-spirited.

Some of the people we made fun of were minors.  Notably Britney Spears.  It was assumed that Spears was fair game because she waded into the growing culture war by declaring that, despite her sexualized music video content, that she was a virgin.  Spears was very young at the time, but the assumption in entertainment is that someone that rich and famous is, to an extent, shielded by handlers from haters.  Spears eventually cracked up, so I guess we were wrong about that.

A joke also got through once that was perceived to fat-shame Missy Elliot.  I didn’t write it, but I still regret not catching the problem.  It wasn’t intended to fat shame — it was intended to mock a particular series of images that had Missy gliding across the floor on her stomach, face down.  The joke was “What’s she doing?  Looking for crumbs?”

Like I said, I didn’t catch the unintentional subtext at the time.  In hindsight, I get it, and we were more careful moving forward.  The lines in comedy are often very blurry, and not everyone is going to agree.  So this is where I put on my comedian hat and make the case that a human rights complaint was not the way to punish Mike Ward for, again, legitimately deplorable behaviour.

I give the Jérémy Gabriels of the world credit for standing up to the Mike Wards of the world.  I just think that the best way to get guys like Mike Ward to stop being disgusting is to use your own free speech rights to take them on in a battle of ideas.  If Ward can dish out this kind of mockery, he should be able to take it.  It’s easy to beat Ward at his own game, because making fun of a kid’s disability simply isn’t funny.  There are plenty of jokes that can be made at Mike Ward’s expense, such as…

Should a guy REALLY be making fun of a kid’s looks when he looks like a cross between Steve Buscemi and BeBop?  Not judging!  Just saying!

mike-ward bebop3

Or this:

Mike Ward should know that fellow comedian Bob Saget has a nephew with Treacher Collins Syndrome.  The two should talk, so Ward can learn brand new ways to be totally unfunny.

Or this:

Mike Ward says he was fined for treating a disabled boy like an equal.  Well, sure dude.  No one wants to be compared to a Canadian stand-up comic!

Or something more broadly insulting:

Quebec comedian Mike Ward is best known for things that offend and annoy other Canadians.  Like almost everything else that comes out of Quebec.  Poutine is an apology gift.

For the record, I don’t actually think Mike Ward is ugly, Bob Saget is unfunny, that Canadian comedians are the lowest form of life, or that everyone hates Quebecers.  You stretch things for jokes.  But if Mike Ward tells these sorts of jokes, he should be able to take them.  Believe it or not, a lot of comedians are very thin-skinned and approval seeking, and mockery is an effective way to modify their behaviour.

Instead of making Mike Ward into a free speech hero, the way a $42,000 series of fines does, we should be asking the hard questions about what exactly happened here.  Why did a kid get bullied to the point of suicidal thoughts because of comedy material that should, by rights, be reserved for adult audiences only?  Why didn’t Jérémy Gabriel’s community leaders lead, and why didn’t his teachers teach, to get the bullying to stop?

Well, we know that teachers don’t intervene because they don’t want to get sued.  So the entire system is suffering because of too much litigation.  Our system of laws is designed to promote good behaviour, but it’s getting in the way of that now.  Companies and individuals won’t offer simple apologies to people, or try to make things right, because it creates a higher likelihood they’ll be successfully sued.

We need a system that encourages self-directed accountability.  We need a system focused on restorative justice.  Financial penalties won’t curb Mike Ward’s behaviour here, because one TV special based on his increased notoriety will turn him a profit in this situation.

Ward just doesn’t seem moved by the pain of a young man who had the genetic deck stacked against him, and this is being lost in an understandable defence of Free Speech protections.  The systemic overreach is clear in this case, since it’s accomplished the precise opposite of what it’s intended to do.

Put Mike Ward in a room with the kid and make him sit and say nothing while Jérémy Gabriel walks him through the pain his “humour” caused.  Make it clear that when you know the subject of your jokes is really hurt by your jokes — not offended, but sincerely caused pain — and you keep telling the same damned jokes… that crosses the line between comedy and bullying.

Mike Ward is no longer a comedian here.  Mike Ward has become, in this one instance, a bully.  He’s been told to stop mocking a disabled kid and he won’t stop.  And we should be able to call that out.

That’s the best way to enact real change here.  As is, the Quebec tribunal and the media at large are complicit in continuing to repeat Ward’s cruelty in the guise of humour.

 

 

Please follow and like us:

Brexit: The UK Should Have Noted Canada’s History of Referendums

Fifty-two percent of seventy-two percent of UK voters voted to leave the European Union, and so, due to a lack of leadership, a poorly structured referendum, and a poorly informed electorate, Britain’s near-term political and economic future was decided by, according to the voting breakdowns, working class outrage and xenophobic old people.

This result does not, as some news reports claim, indicate that a majority of UK residents want to leave the Euro zone.  In fact, it shows that only a minority felt strongly enough to vote leave, with nearly twenty-eight percent of folks being unsure, having no opinion, or just not caring enough one way or another.  The fact that a minority got to decide something this massive is an indicator that the people who set up the rules of the referendum didn’t know what they were doing.  This could all have been avoided by setting up referendum requirements for a “Leave” result that required a majority of the population to vote Leave, not just a majority of voters.

Technical issues like this have been an aspect of the Canadian political landscape for most of my life. In 1980, and 1995, Quebec had referendums on separating from the rest of Canada, couched in the language of economics and taxes, but really a question of xenophobia and the French Canadian identity conspiring to make Quebecers flirt with doing something really dumb.

The separatists were dealt a major blow in the first referendum when Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the father of our current Prime Minister and himself Quebecois, pointed out that many of these diehard French Canadians had English and Irish last names.  Trudeau the Elder was one of Canada’s great multiculturalists, and he understood that while identity is important, it’s arbitrary.  People choose for themselves what elements of their identity they’re going to highlight, or worse, wield as a cudgel against others.  After the failure of the separatist side in the referendum, Quebec refused to sign the Constitution Act of 1982, otherwise known as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  None of this has anything to do with economics, taxation, or other economic concerns.  It has to do with which peoples are fair game to treat as the Other.  Ironically, Quebec has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of this Charter: due to the continuing political instability and arduous language laws suppressing the Quebec economy, Quebec has been the beneficiary of equalization payments designed to prevent undue suffering of Canadian citizens due to disadvantageous local economic conditions.

In 1995, Canada was divided by another referendum.  The separatists had formed the Bloc Quebecois in 1991, a political party primarily concerned with “sovereignty” aka separation, for Quebec.  The Bloc was formed by defectors from both the ruling Progressive Conservative and opposition Liberal parties, after the failure of the Meech Lake Accords in 1987.  The Meech Lake Accords were an attempt by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to drag Quebec, kicking and screaming, into the civil rights consensus shared by the rest of the country–  by offering Quebec decidedly special treatment.  Due to concentration of the vote and a split of the conservative vote between the Progressive Conservatives and the hard right Reform Party, the Bloc Quebecois got enough seats in the 1993 vote to become the Official Opposition to the Liberal Government under Jean Chrétien.  The companion party to the Bloc, the Parti Québécois, also became the head of the government of Quebec, campaigning on the promise of a separation vote.  David Cameron should have taken note of what happened next before opening his damned mouth about a second British exit from a European trading block.  The first “Brexit” vote happened in 1975, when the core of the Euro zone was referred to as the “European Economic Community”.

The 1995 referendum was a uniquely ugly part of Canadian history.  Politicians started using Canada’s two official languages – English and Quebecois French – to propagandize.  The provincial Quebec government did everything it could to stack the deck in favor of a separation vote, instead of a neutral process that truly assessed the will of the people of the province.  Even the referendum question was subject to petty fighting and dirty tricks – the official question made it sound as though the Canadian government had agreed to a guaranteed economic partnership with a separate Quebec, when it had not.  To counter the dirty tricks of the separatists, the Chrétien government devised the Sponsorship program, intended to show Quebecers the extent of the investments the federal government was making in the province.  The Sponsorship program was mired in fraud and corruption, resulted in jail time for some of the participants, and nearly destroyed the federal Liberal Party.

In the wake of a very close vote in favour of Quebec remaining in Canada, the federal government passed a law dictating a formal process for negotiations between the feds and any province which wished to separate from Canada.  Called “The Clarity Act”, it gave the House of Commons – Canada’s version of congress – the right to determine whether a referendum question was clear enough for a vote.  It also dictated that First Nations bands would be part of the negotiations; this was a major sticking point in Quebec, because Indigenous tribes control the bulk of the Northern half of the province.  As First Nations already have a form of limited self rule, they don’t much like any government telling them what to do, including the government of Quebec.

Since the 1995 referendum, Quebec struggled economically.  For over ten years it wasn’t unusual to see boarded up buildings in the downtown areas of Montreal.  Due to the instability, businesses had moved their Canadian head offices from Montreal where the rent was cheaper, to various parts of Ontario.  Businesses continue to fight with the Quebecois government over signage requirements: Quebec is one of the only places in the world that requires copyrighted names like “Walmart” to come up with a French equivalent – “Le Magasin Walmart”, for instance, which means “The Walmart Store”.  Printing unique signs for one small territory is so cost prohibitive that some companies would rather fight the government in court and pay fines than pay for the signs.

The thing that makes this all uniquely relevant to the Brexit vote was that at the core of the separation furor wasn’t really economics.  It was culture.  The Quebec establishment wanted unchallenged rights to control language, religion, and immigration statutes.  They were willing to tank their local economy to keep out people they considered to be “not like them”.  One of the turning points in the last federal election – which led to the election of Justin Trudeau – was a repudiation of then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reference to “Old Stock Canadians” in a debate.  “Old Stock” is a term that traces back to French Canadian terms, “pure laine” or “pure wool” and “de souche” or “root”, and it describes “Pure blood” French Canadians, or English, Irish, and Scottish interbreeding as long as there was a shared Roman Catholic heritage.

The Canada of today is a place that at least attempts to make immigrants and refugees feel welcome.  It still doesn’t always succeed, and unfortunate racism, especially against people of Muslim heritage, still does happen.  That’s to be expected after two decades of post-separatist tribalism.  Canada had divided into regional federal political power bases, with the Conservatives controlling the Prairies, the NDP taking the coasts, and the Liberals retreating mostly to Ontario, while the separatists controlled Quebec until the “Orange Crush” of Jack Layton’s NDP swept out the Bloc.  After the country had remained relatively strong during the global economic crisis – thanks to smart-but-unpopular economic policy by Chrétien’s Liberals – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives overemphasized oil to appeal to his regional Tar Sands base in Alberta and Saskatchewan — so when the cost of oil sank, so did the country’s economic prospects.  Cartoonish local politicians like Rob Ford became the fashion for a while.  Canadian politics became obsessed with the appearance of “strength” instead of effectiveness, so our infrastructure crumbled, our social ties weakened, and our innovation dried up.

Welcome to your likely future the next decade, United Kingdom.  Expect old tensions in Scotland and Ireland to rear up again, because they don’t agree with the vote.  Expect greater divisions between city dwellers in London who voted Remain and more rural types who wanted out.  You’ll fight the wrong fights, in the wrong ways, for the wrong reasons.  But you’ll eventually wake up and realize it’s all stupid.  The choice you have to make is how many people will be hurt and how many lives will be ruined in service of your culture war.

The other takeaway is that representative democracy doesn’t mean “the people” should vote on every major decision.  David Cameron has shown a dual lack of leadership in calling for that referendum in the first place, then quitting instead of seeing through what he started.  Much like Canada now, Cameron’s successor will inherit a raging mess, because day-to-day government business still has to continue while a country faces the consequences of royally screwing the pooch.

Some of the most progressive decisions in Canada’s history have been made by government action, not the direct will of the people.  Canada (except Quebec) was ahead of the curve on giving women the right to vote.  We were early adopters of gay marriage rights.  We have a (mostly) functioning immigration and refugee processing system.  We don’t tear each other apart over abortion.  We respect rational religious and cultural freedoms and have adapted our official uniforms to accommodate religious headwear.  We provide (mostly) universal healthcare.  We’re now tackling the difficult issue of assisted dying.  We do our best to actively combat racism, we don’t let our large cities crumble, and while our gun problem is increasing, we have the tough conversations on legislation to curb gun violence.  We make mistakes in early legislation and we fix them.  We don’t scrap bills and start all over on a regular basis.

Canada is, in many ways, a progressive beacon for the world, but the vast majority of these hugely beneficial decisions were unpopular at the time they were enacted, or they were forced by our Supreme Court.  There are many bright moments in Canadian history where governments dared to do what was right for the country, even though vocal minorities, and sometimes even majorities, screamed that a socially progressive choice would lead to our doom.  Our leaders, for the most part, have had the courage to lead, whether it be Justin Trudeau’s much mocked gender-parity in cabinet, or Brian Mulroney’s Free Trade agreement with the US.  Even Bob Rae’s hated “Rae Day” furloughs of Ontario government employees probably saved a lot of jobs, though the public sector despised him for it.  Some on the left still hate Paul Martin for his cuts to health care as federal finance minister, but he got the job done and prevented economic disaster.

Even the much-maligned Stephen Harper, despite some disastrous economic decisions, had the guts to make choices.  Some of them were even good ones.  Harper was the Prime Minister who finally achieved consensus with Quebec on Quebec “as a nation within a united Canada”.  All parties supported the motion, and for the first time in decades, Canada is free from separatist rumblings.  Harper’s largest failings came from inaction: prorogation of Parliament, a refusal to appoint senators until his hand was forced, and ignoring small problems that turned into overly large ones, like Mike Duffy.  For all his talk of strength, Harper’s greatest weakness was that he too-often dithered to hold on to power for power’s sake.  Government’s first priority is to keep government functioning.  Any deadlock is a sign of failure.  Are you listening, America?  Because your big choice is coming up in November.

The UK is facing short-term calamity because its leaders failed to lead.  Waves of political grandstanding have collapsed like a house of cards, and fear of the outsider festered within British leadership’s accountability gap.  I suggest Britain’s next crop of decision-makers look to Canada to see how to right the ship, because despite our country’s reputation as being populated by polite apologists, we’ve got a track record of electing leaders who knew when to be badasses.  Perhaps it’s even time for the rise of another Thatcher in Britain:  Iron Maggie sure knew how to get things done.

 

Please follow and like us:

Why The Identity Politics Freak Outs Over This Week’s Person of Interest Are Totally Wrong

I gave this a few days before posting because MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Months before the final season of Person of Interest began airing, the show’s producers and star Michael Emerson cautioned that some of the beloved series leads would not make it out alive.  And sure enough, Samantha “Root” Groves, played with wild-eyed glee by Amy Acker, caught a bullet this week and ended up in the morgue.

Oh and series regular mob boss Elias got shot in the head too, but twitter didn’t freak out about that.  Because Elias is a white, straight male, so it doesn’t matter to the politically correct masses if he gets murdered in cold blood.

The response to Root’s death wasn’t sadness.  It was outrage.  Outrage that Person of Interest would DARE to kill a lesbian character in order to advance the plot of the two male leads… even though that plot itself comes to an end in three episodes.

The flaws in this thinking go deeper than timing.  Killing Root was going to cause a stir, certainly, due to the character’s popularity.  But the way they did it sends the character off in a way that is the happiest possible ending based on her worldview, and the keyboard warriors missed that entirely.

Before Root was branded “queer”, she was a hacker and contract killer, shown to be mentally unstable and possessed by the religious-like belief that the Machine that is central to the show’s premise is a form of higher being – a God, she eventually calls it – and that it needs to be set free.  Root’s first encounter with eventual love interest Sameen Shaw involves Root tasering Shaw, zip tying her to a chair, and threatening to torture her.  Shaw herself is another assassin with a self-diagnosed Axis II personality disorder.  Root affectionately refers to her as a “sociopath”.

At some point along the way, the fan base decided to ignore the fact that both these women are mentally ill rabbit boilers – Audience proxy Detective Lionel Fusco refers to Root as “Coco Puffs”, because she’s that cuckoo.  For some odd reason, the fans decided that the “happy” ending would be for Root and Shaw to ride off into the nutbag sunset together and live unstably happy-ever-after, but this would have been lame: love doesn’t cure serious mental illness, nor does it make a sociopath learn empathy for other people.

So why this “Shroot” fan cannon became a thing, I have no idea, other than the reality that fans of a series tend to ignore the less-than-virtuous elements of charismatic characters.  Root being a woman who has sex with women doesn’t change the number of people she killed, the number of laws she broke, and the number of government entities she pissed off.

Root’s driving motivation for all the carnage is the protection and empowerment of the Machine that uses the camera and microphone system of New York City to spy on its citizens and predict crimes.  Programmed by series lead Harold Finch (played by Michael Emerson) to have empathy for human beings and protect them whenever possible, the Machine is Root’s greatest love, and it’s this Machine Root gets to be with at the end.  This makes sense, because the Machine is probably more capable of returning Root’s love than Shaw is on a long term basis.

For multiple seasons now, Root has expressed her belief that the Machine’s survival is more important than her own, and her desire to be connected to it – she gets herself a cochlear implant so the machine can “take” to her via soundbites of recorded words.  When the machine stops talking to her, Root becomes depressed.  Finch must literally cage the machine to stop Root from making “improvements” to it that could render it beyond Finch’s ability to control.  All the while, the main villain of the later half of the series – another Artificial Super Intelligence named Samaritan – reminds the viewer of what can happen when an adaptive AI is given free reign to determine what it must do in the name of self-preservation.  Samaritan is self-serving.  The Machine is altruistic. And the underlying message is that computers, as well as people, are only as virtuous as the code they’re fed in their formative years.  Finch, who was menaced by Root in her earlier appearances, doesn’t trust Root to have the wisdom to program the Machine for the greater good, and he’s probably right.

However, the Machine chooses Root as her “analog interface” at the beginning of season 3, after Root tells a psychiatrist that she believes the Machine is a god in feminine form – the Machine tends to use female voice snippets more than male ones, but Root’s ego likely has a lot to do with her gendering the Machine female too.  When the Machine selects Root as “her” analog interface, “she” does so knowing that there is a high probability this will result in Root’s death.

Root accepts the risks.  She believes that being favored by the Machine will grant her a form of immortality: as long as the Machine’s analog interfaces are in the Machine’s code, they will live on within her.  After Root’s death, the Machine selects a single voice with which to communicate based on a massive trove of vocal recordings.  That voice is Root’s.

So Root does get a happily ever after with the woman of her dreams.  That woman just isn’t Shaw.  If some fans were less obsessed with identity politics and having their personal identity validated by a TV show about people shooting each other over computers, then perhaps they’d have seen the bigger, more poignant picture of Root’s conclusion…

Root didn’t die to advance the plot of male main characters.  Root died to complete her own story.

Please follow and like us:

Elbowgate: False Feminism in Canadian Parliament

I don’t normally write about politics because 1) It’s depressing, 2) way too many people do it, and 3) it’s a great way to get people screaming at you.  But the events this week surrounding Elbowgate are just too stupid to ignore.

Elbowgate is named for the fact that, in a breach of the snooty decorum of Canada’s parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose again after being seated for a session, crossed the floor over to Conservative Whip Gordon Brown – who was with a group of NDP MPs – and… accounts vary depending on who is telling the story.  Either Trudeau led Brown by the arm to his seat, or Trudeau manhandled Brown like a bully.  After viewing the video, it looks to me like it wasn’t exactly helping an old lady crossing the street, but it wasn’t what Donald Trump’s campaign manager is alleged to have done to reporter Michelle Fields.   This, however, was not the eponymous elbow.  That came from the fact that while Trudeau was herding Brown, he accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.

It looked like a pretty painful elbow.  Justin Trudeau did a bad thing.  It was not, however, gender-based violence or the deliberate battery of an MP.  And the Conservative and NDP attempts to make it into more than it was backfired, because their outrage made light of some pretty serious issues in an attempt to lower the Prime Minister’s popularity.

Still, this is a wake up call for the Prime Minister.  He isn’t just a politician.  He is a bonafide celebrity.  Like any celebrity, Trudeau is prey to negative twists on his less glorious moments by haters who hate his stupid face.  Tom Mulcair seems to especially despise the young Prime Minister for reasons I haven’t yet been able to establish.  It’s commonly known that the bad blood between the two seems personal, but the reasons why aren’t public.  For the Conservative Party, however, Trudeau is bad for business.  He’s good for Liberal fundraising, and that took away the money advantage that the Conservatives enjoyed for quite some time.  This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted a petty distortion of facts in an attempt to make Trudeau look artificially bad.  Remember those attack ads that started even before the election?

Now, as then, however, Trudeau will likely weather this storm.   The gleeful pearl clutching by his enemies did him a huge favour in that they’re handing Trudeau the potential for an unlikely pr win.

Trudeau hasn’t yet learned the first rule of celebrity: never be your own bad cop.  He needs to stay arms length from any direct unpleasantness lest he wear the mess.  This likely goes against his natural instincts to lead by example, but it’s necessary: Generals aren’t on the front lines for a reason.  Furthermore, Trudeau has had a history of getting worked up in the House.  As an MP, Trudeau had to apologize, rocking a Movember goatee, for calling Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit.”

You’ll note in that video that Parliament is a pretty boisterous place.  It can be downright juvenile at times.  This is one of the reasons why the NDP and Conservative attempts to make Trudeau seem like a puppy killer just remind Canadians that while Trudeau is not a perfect PM, the Liberals are still the most deserving to lead… Not that this is saying much right now.

Like Hugh Grant after being caught with a hooker, Trudeau is now on another apology tour. The Liberals made the right call withdrawing a controversial bill, called Motion 6, to give them more power, even if they did so for the wrong reasons.  The damage control is proving effective: despite the Conservatives’ protests to the contrary, these actions are a change of both tone and substance from the iron fist rule of the Harper regime, and Canadians tend to be forgiving of prime ministers who get physical — it undermines the Canadian stereotype of being milquetoast-level nice.

However, Trudeau’s sensitive feminist man image would have been left notably bruised, had the opposition parties not acted like bigger idiots.  Elizabeth May was the only party leader with the sense to put practicality above short term political gain, and emerged as the lone grown up in the whole thing.  “I think it’s likely there may have been blame on all sides in leading to the escalation,” May said.  That’s about the best summary of events out there.

Rona Ambrose and Nikki Ashton reminded Canadians that those notorious gender cards come in multiple political colours, and Tom Mulcair reminded everyone why he’s not going to be the leader of the NDP for much longer by appearing to lose his temper worse than Trudeau lost his.  And Brosseau herself fumbled by trying to play up the “personal attacks” she’s received by reminding Canadians that she once took a vacation in Las Vegas in the middle of an election campaign.  The fact that she’s still complaining about the backlash from that makes her seem like a whiner.

At least it would make her seem like a whiner if she were a man.  The NDP seems to think that Brosseau being a woman is far more relevant in this situation than it is.

Both the Conservatives and the NDP are overselling their cases, and it’s stupid: Trudeau has a lot of time left in a very strong majority, so crying wolf now weakens future gut punches closer to an election where Canadians elect the best leader, not a perfect one.

Canadians understand someone losing their temper and doing something stupid.  They don’t understand claiming that taking hold of someone’s arm is a crime, or the idea that an accident is somehow a sign that parliament is unsafe for women.  These overreactions alienate the working class swing voters who decide elections, who are much more familiar with being on the wrong end of political correctness than being the victim of social injustices that primarily impact marginalized communities. False accusations of thought crimes are becoming those “kitchen table” issues the NDP believes they own.  The NDP, under Mulcair’s waning leadership, are making fools of themselves.

But the Conservatives are possibly playing this even worse, albeit more subtly. They got thumped in the last election, and Trudeau is still a Luke Skywalker figure who finally defeated Darth Harper.  Never mind that it wasn’t long ago that Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau was charged with actual sexual assault, then pled guilty to simple assault and cocaine possession. Brazeau is currently on a mini image-rehabilitation campaign by talking about trying to take his own life.  The party can’t ask Canadians to understand that good people sometimes do bad things one minute, then throw a tantrum on Trudeau for behaving like something out of an episode of Dallas the next.

The more noise that Elbowgate makes, the more light it throws on the shenanigans instigated by all three parties.  This all may make for a few barn burner fundraising emails, but otherwise its a big load of politicians acting like teenagers and committing premature outrage ejaculation.

Like it or not, politics is still a game of who has the biggest proverbial dick, and by not stooping to everyone else’s level, Elizabeth May won the political penis-measuring contest.  Trudeau came out in second place, however, just because the other two parties complained the room was cold.

I’m left to wonder whether this is all a way to avoid tackling, as the Supreme Court has mandated the government must, the thorny issue of assisted dying. Any bill that the government comes up with is going to piss off part of the opposition parties’ base: religious conservatives don’t like it because it interferes with “God’s plan”, and some advocates for the profoundly disabled who tend to vote NDP are concerned about what these laws will mean for the right to life of those for whom they advocate. They can’t, however, openly defy the Supreme Court, so they seem to be hoping to run the clock out to make the Liberals look unable to get things done.
Darth Harper showed, time and again, that it’s better to look like a bully than a weak leader.  So it might not have been a bad idea for Trudeau to literally go down swinging.  I know I’d rather vote for a guy who accidentally elbowed an MP who happened to be a woman than for either party who doesn’t understand that equality actually means equality, not treating women like we’re inherently less tough than men in politics. Again, Elizabeth May seems to have the biggest stones in Ottawa — Trudeau let himself be goaded into a PR debacle, and the NDP and Conservatives seem to think that the social problem of violence against women can be used for a cheap stunt.

Violence against anyone is wrong.  Violence against women is uniquely wrong because the implication is that the victim of the abuse can’t fight back.  Accidentally bumping a Member of Parliament is NOT violence against women.

The stupid games that happen while the House is sitting must end, but Elbowgate is more of the same, not the reform all parties claim to want.

Please follow and like us: