In a February 3 blog, Michael Novak condemns the efforts of some people on "the Left" who seek not to "out-argue its opponents, but to shame them, to drive them from the field in ignominy, to make them figures of ridicule, moral indignation, and revulsion." Novak goes on to illustrate his point by citing the tactics of Senator Ted Kennedy:
Better yet, watch Ted Kennedy in action. His attacks on Judge Alito, like his earlier attacks on Judge Bork, were not intended as arguments, and certainly showed little regard for fact. They were all bluster, moral indignation, character assassination, ridicule, ostracism. If words could kill, his were the words of an assassin.This is pretty strong stuff, and it is not really my intention to consider the arguments against Kennedy and the American Left, but, rather, to consider what has been happening here in Canada over the past few years, and especially in the election just completed 2 weeks ago. Allow me to offer a couple of examples to help illustrate the point. During the leaders' debate of January 9 Conservative leader Stephen Harper said:
"We believe the Charter of Rights should reflect the right to own property, the right not to be deprived of property without due process of law and just and timely compensation."The Liberal Party of Canada replied with a characterization of this position outlined on their website, and remained illustrative of what was said on the campaign trail right up to election day:
In the U.S. such right-wing thinking (i.e. the entrenchment of property rights in the US Constitituion) in the 1920s and 30s led to the elimination of workplace safety law, child labour law, and minimum wage law. Mr. Harper’s proposal to “protect” property rights would leave left workers, children, the poor and the environment to fend for themselves.So there you have it. Stephen Harper's Conservatives intend to eliminate worker safety laws, impose child labour, and repeal the minimum wage. Pretty scary stuff, especially if it were true. But what it is, of course, is a complete distortion of the Conservative party's position. Stephen Harper was responding to a direct question on protecting individual property rights in Canada, and not the question of whether or not minimum wages and child labour laws should be repealed. Even within the heat of an election campaign the level of distortion by the Liberals in a simple (and even pretty conventional) answer by Mr. Harper is astonishing. Were this a one-off happenstance, then one might be willing to write it off as excessive zeal, but it reflects, instead, a pattern that has been growing over the past few years in our country.
Back in 2003 Father Raymond de Souza wrote a powerful article called “Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism” in which he outlined the extent to which freedom of religion and belief was under seige in Canadian courts. From those judicial decisions the recent election took on a tone in which those who disagreed with them were labeled by none other than the Prime Minister himself as not holding "Canadian values", but, rather, were radical conservatives who held "extreme American conservative values." From the same January 9 debate, Prime Minister Martin said:
“I don't believe that Canada was built on American conservative values,” said the Prime Minister. “It was built on compassion, on generosity, on sharing and understanding."So, those who disagree with the Prime Minister oppose compassion, generosity, sharing and understanding (to say nothing of the fact that Mr. Martin is telling us that American conservatives reject these same things). Such actions are nothing more than committing the logical fallacies of well poisoning and straw man construction, if not outright deception. The attacks got so bad that even the New Democratic Party of Canada (the leading socialist party in our country) called the Prime Minister's words and actions shameful. A former leader of the NDP (who was not running in the election) issued the following statement condemning Liberal smears on their opponents:
...I worked with Mr. Trudeau on the Charter of Rights and I’m appalled at Paul Martin’s treatment of it as if it is a prop.What Mr. Broadbent is condemning is the poisoning of the Canadian democtratic system in which one party (the Liberals) lays claim to all moral authority by virtue of it being the "sole defender" of "Canadian values." Thankfully, that party lost our election, and it is to be hoped that one of the results of that defeat will be the restoration of some civility, and a willingness to admit that those of us who oppose gay marriages, and unrestricted abortion rights, and relaxed marijuana laws will not be labelled as un-Canadian in our values. I have found this treatment to be highly offensive, but also a serious threat to the democratic process in my country.
I know many long-time Liberals are looking at the Liberal Party they see and concluding they cannot in conscience vote for it. They are right.
No matter how unethical, undemocratic and unprincipled the Liberal Party becomes, the team of insiders at the top can simply not imagine people choosing to take power away.
It should be taken away. The Liberal Party thinks about itself more than working people. Its conduct in office has not been ethical. Its contempt for Parliament is rivaled only by its manipulation of voters.
In this election, Mr. Martin is asking voters who find Liberal behaviour unforgivable to vote for them all the same. And to those who choose a better option, he dares equate that with supporting the Conservatives. He should be ashamed...
Hopefully, with the failure of this latest effort to demonize people with traditional social values, there will be some moderation, but to be candid, I am not yet all that hopefull. The Liberals may have lost, but those that share their views about people like me remain in very powerful positions, especially within the Canadian media, courts, and the elite. One of our most prominent colunists, Andrew Coyne, of the National Post, illustrated this point brilliantly in his blog leading up to the election. It is instructive to read some of his postings from the week of January 15-21. One particular gem can be found in his post from January 20 entitled Latest Tory hidden agenda where he takes fellow columnist Gloria Galloway to task for excessive hysteria and paranoia. While it is very funny (pointing out, among other things that she implies the Conservatives intend to murder sitting Supreme Court justices in order to "pack the court" with social conservatives), it also serves as a caution that the demonizing of conservative beliefs (and especially socially conservative beliefs) in Canada is likely to go on for some time to come.