April 3 2004
RE: Jack Layton: the Tim Hortons of the left (RM archive copy)
Your title, comparing Jack Layton to Tim Hortons, is certainly cute, but equally certainly meaningless - a better title might actually be "Stan Histler: Benedict Arnold of the Canadian Left".
It's rather unclear to me why Rabble would print something like this - Mr. Histler would have undoubtedly found an appreciative audience with the National Post or Fraser Institute, who miss no opportunity to knock anything to the left of the American Republicons, and are certainly pretty worried about Jack Layton right now. We have a very, very important election coming up in this country, and Jack Layton represents the best chance we have had in years, in confluence with some other factors, to get some sane and influential voices in the Canadian government. Now is NOT a time for the usual type of sniping and bickering so common on "the left" in Canada - now is a time to gather together to take a mighty shot at getting rid of corporate government in Canada, or at least taking the first steps in that direction - and stuff like this doesn't help.
It might be different if Mr. Histler had some useful criticisms which might strengthen our work at this time when we need to be getting our act together as strongly and coherently as possible - but most of this is nothing more than the usual brainless spiteful bash bash bash we see so often, as so many people seem determined to stay the "same old same old" "leftist" course of divide and conquer ourselves we seem to excel at, leaving us all wandering around dizzy and ineffectual from self-inflicted wounds when we need to be on top of our games. The Backroom Bay St Boys must love it! (if they aren't actually paying for it - but let's leave that sidetrack for another time).
Let's just quickly look at a couple of examples of Mr. Histler's "criticisms" of Layton, which exemplify the standards of "thought" or "proof" of the whole tirade - really, I've read better justifications for a "point-of-view" from high school kids explaining why they haven't done their homework - which Mr. Histler evidently hasn't - quite a sad piece of "writing" altogether.
"... If an ex-Liberal deputy prime minister is now welcome inside the NDP, and even — good gosh! — an ex-Tory prime minister, doesn't this suggest that maybe the NDP itself has become indistinguishable from these parties?..." Come come - when we read of an NDPer going to the Libs (oddly enough, happening right this very day - Martin introduces B.C. candidates), do we assume the Libs have become indistinguishable from the NDP?!?! Hardly! - one suggesting such a thing would receive some strange looks in return, no doubt. Likewise the reverse - just maybe there are other ways of looking at this (leaving aside for the moment the fact that NONE of the people mentioned have actually "joined" the NDP, nor even appear likely to - nothing more than rumours about it all - rather telling that rumours represent the opening "proof" given by Mr. Histler to justify his anti-Layton tirade...). But even if there were some substance to such rumours, just maybe the parties these people once belonged to have moved away from THEM! - maybe the parties they once belonged to have become indistinguishable not only from one another but from the Republicons (sic!) of the great US they seem to worship - and the individuals in question do not see themselves as fitting in their former parties anymore, and are looking for something more akin to their own centrist-Canadian beliefs - something like the NDP - both Clark and Copps were well known for being on the "pink-Tory" or "left" sides of their parties, both of which have moved FAR to the right over the last decade or two.
Further, it is nothing short of ludicrous, and evidences a COMPLETE lack of awareness of what is going on in today's Canada, to say that the Layton-led NDP are indistinguishable from the Libs or Harper's new Canadian Republican party (I'm going to demand some sort of Truth in Political Party Names law one of these days when I get around to it, and figure out who to write to about it). Is Mr. Histler familiar with the differences in, oh for instance the parties all rah-rah GREAT!!! about the "new" American Star Wars plan (Martin and Harper) and the party opposing it (Layton) - a rather significant difference, I think; or the difference between the parties supporting ever more, new and improved "free trade", NAFTA, WTO etc and those wanting to get out of them (again, Martin-Harper and Layton, respectively), the difference between supporting the FPTP electoral system which allows the Libs and "Conservatives" to continue playing tweedledum-dee with the Canadian elections with the support of maybe 30% of the voters, and wanting to change to the much fairer Prop Rep system (as above), etc and etc? It would seem Mr. Histler ought to invest in some new glasses or something, if in his eyes the Libs, Harper people and NDP are "indistinguishable". Really. One hardly needs to read further, upon realising what a lack of understanding Mr. Histler has about what he professes to talk about.
But one does, in wonderment....
And continues on to this beauty - "...And if you add to that Layton's recent offer to back a minority Liberal government should that be the outcome of the next election, you're really left scratching your head. I mean, here is Layton routinely denouncing Paul Martin as a corporate robber baron and then he goes and offers to keep this same robber baron in power. What sort of “progress” is that?..." Hmmmm - has Mr. Histler read much history? It was back a few years, but if he can recall the days of NDP-influenced minority governments of Libs Pearson and Trudeau (both admittedly of a MUCH more populist bent than the corporate Martin, to begin with) in the late 60s and early 70s, which had a LOT to do with such things as Canadian medicare, UIC, OAP, and so on, he might have a slightly different understanding of these things. Should the NDP have this opportunity this year, Layton has said that the first condition for agreeing to support the Libs in a limited sense would be the holding of a binding referendum of some sort, asking Canadians if they wanted to switch from the so-destructive FPTP electoral system we have been labouring under to a form of Proportional Representation, which, while not solving all of our problems, would be a HUGE step forward, and give all of the other people Mr. Histler apparently supports a chance to get some seats in parliament, where their voices would be heard, which is almost impossible under our current system.
It's hard to figure what Mr. Histler actually wants, reading over this missive, because he spends a lot of time disparaging Layton and the NDP and almost none suggesting what would be a better political option outside of "socialism", which he does not in any way define (although frequently disparaging Layton and others for just such a failure to precisely define what they mean by various words), apparently as originally envisaged a hundred+ years ago, a vision which is somewhat impractical in the modern world with most important conditions very different from what they were back then, not unlike the steam locomotive for instance, which was amazing when it was new, but now we have other, rather better modes of transportation, as we have new and better visions for sharing, equitable and democratic societies based on the new conditions in which we live.
But surely Mr. Histler can understand that whatever he wants, whatever progressive things the NDP or whoever he considers "progressive" want, are just NOT going to happen overnight - they are going to take time, step by step. Many of us would like to see a perfect world or society, and have our own views on what that perfect place would be like - but even if some miracle happened and we became the Canadian government tomorrow, the changes required to make that world a reality would take time - there would be a lot of resistance from the entrenched powers who benefit, often greatly, from the status quo, and even a lot of resistance from those who would benefit the most, as most people are wary of great change. To petulantly sulk like a child, demanding "ALL OR NOTHING RIGHT NOW!!!!" - that is to say, if "our team" does not have control of the government and thus freedom to do as it wishes, it must NOT try to work with whoever is in power to accomplish some small gains, is just not a very realistic way of looking at things. And yet that is apparently one of his major criticisms of Layton and the NDP - that they are willing to compromise, take small steps, getting what concessions they can from the Libs in return for some limited support - rather than sulking in the corner and accomplishing nothing if you can't have EVERYTHING you want, which Mr. Histler appears to feel is the preferable alternative.
One would think such a strong socialist (?) as Mr. Histler would have a better understanding of many things, but especially history, which shows clearly that ALL progress happens in small steps - and we were making good progress for decades and centuries - progress which, in Canada, peaked in the early 1970s (again, after several years of NDP-influenced minority governments!), at which point the Corporate Revolution began, to try (rather successfully) to roll back this progress, and we have been taking rather larger steps backwards since then. Canadians are starting to understand this, and many of them see Layton as the chance to reverse this reverse, if you will, and resume our progressive journey.
One has to wonder seriously why someone like Mr. Histler is so determined to try to make sure the NDP don't do any better in this election than they have in the past few. At this time in our history, with most people pretty upset with the Libs, and equally distrustful of the far-right Harper people - who exactly has an interest in making sure that the people of Canada don't make a logical change, and vote for the NDP?
I do not say that the NDP or Layton are perfect - I myself have not supported them over the last several elections, preferring to support other non-corporate-government options I thought did a better job of speaking for the Canada I wanted to see - the National Party, or the CAP, for instance. But now it is clear that such fringe parties cannot command the money that is required to make a credible run across the country, while the NDP still can - and also, with Layton this year, a charismatic leader, which noone denies, they have a much stronger and more credible presence, and considering the widespread "fed-up-ness" with the Libs and the equally widespread dislike and distrust of the FAR-right Harper people, and the availability of the internet for campaigning, somewhat offsetting the corporate press and their freezing out of alternative voices, there is a window of opportunity we have not had in a long time to get some strong voices in the Canadian parliament - it is not unrealistic to hope for the influential voice the NDP could command in a minority government, which could be, Mr. Histler's ill-informed and simply incorrect criticisms aside, a very positive thing for us.
And if we do NOT do this - if we turn away from, or turn on, Layton, what is the alternative? Well, same old same old - Libs or Harper's people (two branches of the same party, of course, the Bay St Boys Party, I think of them as, the party really controlled by Tom d'Aquino's CCCE) waltz again into power, with the votes of 20-30% of Canadians, and on we go on the merry capitalist road. Mr. Histler seems to dislike this path, as do the rest of us, so it is quite contrary of him to do his best to see that we lose this great opportunity to get off it by destroying any possible alternative before it really gets out of the starting gate.
Well, one could go on at length dissecting Mr. Histler's letter, but it poses little challenge and would be a waste of more of a good morning. I do want to respond to one more thing though - Mr. Histler says ".... if you try to pin (Layton) down about where his “progressiveness” is meant to lead, his ideas go fuzzy like cotton candy..." and then "...Layton's response is pure donut: “If you're on a truthful journey you can't be sure where you will end up in the long term.” I especially like the Zen-like touch about the “truthful journey.” Here you have the leader of the country's major left-wing party happily admitting that he has no idea where he's going...."
This is almost too far out to respond to, but since he has got space in Rabble, a fairly respectable journal of the non-wacko-rightwing in Canada, to spread this kind of nonsense, one feels one must respond, in fear that a lack of response will lead others to believe that others believe this utter crap. If Mr. Histler doesn't understand "progressive" - as that word is used by people on the "center-left" of Canadian politics - then frankly he ought to do a bit more reading before he starts writing - it means such things as fair taxation, government of, by and for the people rather than of, by and for the corporate sector and banks, not privatising medicare or water, pursuing a path of peace and justice rather than war and privilege, and so on. It is nonsensical to demand that Layton or anyone else define every word they use when talking to someone, and accuse them of "...ideas(...) fuzzy like cotton candy" if they fail to.
And then to deride him for uttering one of the most insightful and truthful things ever said by a Canadian politician, or any "modern" western politician for that matter, "...If you're on a truthful journey you can't be sure where you will end up in the long term..." - well, one is almost speechless at the blindness, the cold, practical "non-starry-eyed" capitalist outlook, of Mr. Histler, both literally and spiritually - this is exactly the kind of crap one would expect from a Fraser Institute "analysis" of Layton. Such a comment, indeed, says a GREAT deal more about Mr. Histler's petty withered spirit than about Mr. Layton or many of us who also believe such things as not being able to foresee the future exactly, but who do indeed go into that future on the wings of a dream, boldly daring that vision and road even though we do NOT know what tomorrow will bring or where this path will lead - but we believe that with men and women of good will striding that path bravely together, working like hell to make a vision of life and beauty to replace the spirit-less slave world ratrace of the capitalists, it will go to good places! And what we DO know is that the path we are on in this modern, corporate-led world, the world of Martin and Harper and Bay St., with average citizens being little more than slaves to Investors and Profits and Banks and Trade Treaties, and the people and the environment of our world be damned in the names of these modern gods, with the Canadian government following along behind the Americans like a pathetic obedient will-less mindless hunchback, pepper-spraying and jailing its own citizens on phony, secret "terrorist" charges to impress their Washington overlords, is a future full of blackness and lifelessness and evil, and we do NOT wish to be on that path.
Well, enough for one day - I have more important things to do than try to convince those who have given up and now want to drag everyone else down to their Feast of Hopelessness and Backstabbing to get back on their feet and join the real fight - it's a bleak, bleak world you speak for, Mr. Histler, if you think that Paul Martin or Stephen Harper offer a better choice for Canadians than Jack Layton, and I for one will fight to prevent their dystopic vision from happening. We may or may not achieve some kind of Utopia someday, Mr. Histler - but one thing I can tell you for sure, is that we sure as hell will not achieve it if we don't even try, and that is why I choose to support Jack Layton, imperfect though he may be (I doubt anyone would measure to your standards, Mr. Histler).
Quite frankly, I think Mr. Histler ought to reformat his metaphor here - it appears to me that Layton is the donut, and Histler and whoever else he speaks for are the hole in the middle where their support for the only progressive person with a chance to have an impact in this election ought to be but is rather sadly - and noticeably - missing.
Quite an unholy state of affairs altogether HAHAHAHAHAHAAA sorry - I don't know what it's supposed to mean but just couldn't resist.