Dr. Dawg

The Mulcair perplexity

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Mulcair unity.jpg

Reading the punditz yesterday and today, it dawned on me that they literally don’t have a clue what has just happened to our party. But, to be honest, neither do I.

Some had already written us off before the race even began, like this prominent wader in the shallows who presumed to tell the future three years in advance. Most are far less foolhardy, living as they do in the chaos of the present, not in a smugly closed delusional system.

They haven’t cast aside their own lenses and blinkers, of course, but they’re in some confusion. Their mix of arrant speculation, avuncular advice and binary analysis, and the way it is couched, gives the game away—eight things, ten challenges, two wings, two directions—it’s a snippet here and a snippet there, as scribes scramble to assemble a narrative that they, at least, can make sense of.

Too soon. For now, let’s try the counter-narrative approach.

There are not two wings of the NDP. The yearning for social justice to counter Stephen Harper’s on-going brutality bridges the two solitudes. It’s a far more powerful desire than the one for separation. The complex move for “sovereignty,” for all but the diehards, has always been a metaphorical cry for the same thing.

The trick is—literally—to speak to people in their own language. The new leader of the NDP fits easily into both the “Quebecer” and “Canadian” categories. He is ridiculously comfortable in both official tongues, as close to perfectly bilingual as it gets.

But what will he say in those languages? We have inklings, but all of us need to see him in action on his new stage.

There is not a new approach and an old guard. All people who take politics seriously know that values and principles alone cannot solve real-world problems. They have to be applied, and tactics and strategy matter. The NDP, contrary to some of the silly assertions I have been hearing, has never preferred pristine purity over victory.

Ideally, some of us would like both, of course. But no one, apart from the fresh-faced youngsters hawking newspapers at the convention, thinks we can get it in the short or medium terms, and few of the rest of us dare to take the long view these days.

Ed Broadbent’s attack on Thomas Mulcair did not reflect a “deep division” in the party, but a point of view, one among many. Certainly Ed articulated an unease that a good number of us feel—it’s entirely possible to lose sight of our original goals if a crude calculus of power overwhelms values and principles (q.v. the Liberal Party of Canada).

But the NDP being what it is—not to mention the parliamentary caucus—that’s not likely to happen easily. And Mulcair is shrewd enough to know it.

Mulcair is not a one-man show. His style is by now well-known. It’s a rather old-fashioned one, in fact, projecting that shopworn image of the tough, single-minded male hero sallying off to war. He possesses an annoying blend of unwavering self-esteem, self-assurance and arrogance that some folks insist on calling “the royal jelly.” (The real thing, of course, is a substance that produces queen bees. The first to emerge from its cell kills all the other hopefuls and becomes leader. This doesn’t present an accurate image of NDP dynamics.)

Mulcair cannot simply rule his caucus. He is already calling for a disciplined approach to opposition: I have no idea what he means, but we’ll soon find out. Once again, however, he’ll have to tread lightly. The last thing he needs right now is a caucus in public disarray. There will be give, and there will be take.

He’s a formidable antagonist, swift and sure in debate, fast on his feet, and, while he can jab a finger just as surely as John Baird, he poses arguments and counter-arguments rather than spewing bromides and talking-points. But he will be reflecting, broadly speaking, what his caucus endorses, and avoiding what it doesn’t.

The election of one man doesn’t re-colour or re-cast the NDP. It’s our party, and we’ll cry if we want to, but when all is said and done, Mulcair is just a leader. He doesn’t hold any of us in an iron grip. And his caucus is not a Conservative one, full of trained seals willing to be ordered around, or easily intimidated if they’re not.

There will always be differences, volubly expressed, about tactics, strategy, direction, even NDP core values (compromised, for example, by Mulcair’s un-nuanced Israel-right-or-wrong approach to the Middle East, and his support for tar sands development). But his election will not put a stop to the internal debates: any attempt to squelch the latter will quickly make the internal external, as even the Conservatives have learned.

There will be no mass flight, much less purges or expulsions as happened in Ontario under Stephen Lewis. (The fate of OLO staff, mind you, may prove to be a different story.) On the part of us purists, our last hurrah was the New Politics Initiative. We may need another one someday, but it’s far too early to tell. Once again, I suspect that Mulcair would prefer to unite the party behind him, not provoke disruptions that could ruin his personal chances of becoming Prime Minister. He, like us, will have to put a little water in his wine.

Let’s all of us just watch and wait. Husband your ink, journos—you will have ample need of it as the next few months unfold.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 26, 2012 1:04 PM.

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