Dr. Dawg

McCarthyism--from pillory to farce

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I first thought this peevish and vulgar display of bad manners by Con MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert) would merit only a passing mention. McCarthyism* is, after all, hardly unknown under the current regime. Indeed, the word is likely taken as a compliment by the more rabid dogs in Harper’s pack.

But listening carefully to Hoback’s performance (full video here, @02:00:58) during the deliberations on the Conservatives’ kitchen-sink Bill C-38, I’m no longer sure that’s what we’re dealing with. There’s something self-conscious about this parodic behaviour: Hoback almost sounded as if he was sending himself up.

The main reason for this kind of thing, of course, is committee disruption: the Conservatives literally wrote the book on that. There was no serious attempt to discredit the witness himself, heavy hitter Erin Weir of the United Steelworkers. It would take far more than the equivalent of drunken shouts from a street heckler to pull that off. Rather, Hoback was taking up space, preventing Weir from responding to his (and his party’s) false allegations that the NDP is opposed to Western resource development. Inevitably, therefore, he was supported in his scurrility by his colleagues Brian Jean and Shelly Glover.

In a way, it’s just business as usual. But the virtual quotation from HUAC is, in its new context, nothing short of bizarre: not only because Weir ran for the NDP and the USWA is affiliated with the NDP, but because Hoback’s colleagues on the finance committee include NDP members—including the Chair. It would be like J. Parnell Thomas back in the bad old days demanding to know if a witness was, or ever had been, a member of the Democratic Party.

Hoback delivers the words and their cadence histrionically, rather than with conviction. It’s as though he had been given a script that he couldn’t take entirely seriously. I’m not suggesting that he was literally handed the questions he was to ask: they go well beyond PMO talking points, the glassy-eyed recital of which we have become so used to. Rather, I’m speculating that there is a meta-script at play, a Conservative discursive framework in which textual fragments like this seem to call themselves forth, in a sense uttering the speaker instead of the other way around.

Perhaps this is how we might also explain Conservative class clown Dean Del Mastro’s oddly foolish utterances during the height of the robocall revelations, or his recent comment: “The NDP is a fairly hyper-partisan bunch.”

There’s no point getting indignant about the obvious, in either case, although, of course, we will. But neither of the two gentlemen in question are prone to sly self-mockery. Neither consciously sets out to make a fool of himself in public. Yet both have been made to look very silly indeed.

The real point to ponder, then, is what all this says about the Conservative government’s discursive orientation, one apparently so at odds with the self-narrative of some of its own members that the latter, called upon to speak, are unable to deliver either sense or sincerity, but must offer up this sort of self-parody instead. They, far more than the people they are confronting, become their own targets. Is it possible to summon up a little sympathy for them? Oh, probably not.

* NB: The US House Un-American Activities Committee, which terrorized the US in the late ‘forties up until the early ‘sixties, operated quite separately from Joe McCarthy, who was a senator. It was HUAC, not McCarthy, that formulated the familiar “Are you now, or have you even been…” interrogation, but in popular usage, the two have become conflated. I trust readers will forgive my borrowed shorthand for a certain inquisitorial style driven by a paranoid, conspiracy-minded sensibility.

[H/t, and for the hed, which was originally applied to HUAC, h/t Frank J. Donner]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 3, 2012 3:57 PM.

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