Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Liberal's Harper is a "scary" social con strategy



The Liberals tried hard to paint first the Alliance Party and later the Conservatives party as being a socially conservative party. Such a strategy has met with varying degrees of success. However, with regard to the Conservatives the strategy has, outside of few ill advised comments by Randy White, had only one success and that was the Liberal’s decision to pass the SSM bill. If the Liberals want to paint again paint Harper as being a “scary” social con, they are going to have to force Harper to embrace a socially conservative issue. And there is only one way of doing that and that is promise to pass socially liberal legislation, a la SSM. To think that such a feat can be accomplished in any other way is simply wishful thinking and quite frankly a sign of incredible arrogance.

That being said, to date the Liberals have been terribly reluctant to take the fight to the Conservatives by proposing legislation that will force the Harper to publicly embrace social conservatism. For example, there has been no hint the Liberals are willing to broach the subject of euthanasia, marijuana legalization or even stem cell research even though Harper either explicitly or implicitly rejects all three. Harper has stacked the board over seeing stem research in Canada with social cons and is on record as opposing both euthanasia and marijuana legalization. Such reluctance is somewhat surprising given the libertarian bent of most of Canada’s most conservative new organizations and think tanks. The Fraser Institute, Canwest global, and Macleans, for example, all favor legalization of marijuana.

Now this may be a sign that the Liberals have chosen to abandon such a strategy. However, given Dion’s short time as leader and the prospect of election on the horizon, I consider this unlikely. This is one of the Liberals most developed lines of attack and in terms of the amount of publicity such a strategy generates one of the most successful ways of controlling media coverage.

Whatever the case, I think it unwise to abandon such a strategy if properly implemented (i.e., if the requisite policies are adopted). Outside of war and recently the environment, cultural issues tend to galvanize people in ways other issues do not and the Liberals desperately need to generate some excitement advant guard cache before going into the next election. Furthermore, although the Liberals seem not always to recognize it, what makes a issue a winning is not necessarily how popular an issue is with the public put what effect coverage of a particular issue will have on people’s perception of the major parties. SSM was great example. At the polls it was looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. What made it a winning issue is that it left the Conservatives defending a morally, legally, and intellectually untenable position and media and academics hampered them every step of the way. Where this relates back to the matter at hand is that should the Conservatives again champion the social conservative position on the aforementioned issues they will again be pillared by the media and academia.

Update

There seems to be some confusion as to what I am proposing. I am not suggesting for a second that should these policies be adopted that the become focal points of any campaign. The Liberals should stick to talking about core issues such as the economy, health care and the environment. What I am saying is that simply by introducing these policies the Liberals will generate plenty of discussion, a la SSM, and discussion of these policies in the media and elsewhere will hurt the Conservatives and help the Liberals. Far from urging the Liberals to be immersed in any debate, I prefer that they lay back. Pundits, academics and indeed bloggers are far better positioned to champion a particular policy than a political party. Like any good therapist, the Liberals should direct the discussion and do not become part of it.

14 comments:

Mushroom said...

Run an election campaign based entirely on euthanasia, legalization of pot, and stem cell research? What does it do to immigrant communities that the Liberals had success previously?

Hey, I believe in outflanking the NDP. But running a six week campaign trying to be Dion's Libertarian Freedom Party is bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Good strategy, Koby. I hope the Liberals jump on board!

Koby said...

Ok let me be blunt: What the fuck Mushroom. Question: have the Liberals tired to paint Stephen Harper as a social conservative in the past. Yes. Did the implementation of a strategy prevent them from proposing a whole range of policies and prevent them from talking about these policies? No. Politicians, even Liberal politicians, can walk and chew gum and the same time. Do I think the Liberals should propose the aforementioned policies. Yes. Should that become a reality, do think these are the only policies the Liberals should talk about? No that would be retarded. In fact, I have said on a number of occasions that I do not think the Liberals should spend a good deal of time talking about these policies. Political parties are ill equipped to handle hot button issues. The Liberals should stick to talking about core issues such as the economy, health care and the environment. Simply by introducing these policies the Liberals will generate plenty of discussion, a la SSM and therein lays the benefit of introducing these policies in the first place. The let lion out of the cage and do not play with. With any luck the Conservatives will take the bait, a la SSM.

Anonymous said...

Let me be blunt, Koby ... your strategy is stupid. Try finding a policy that appeals to Canadians ... the Liberals have sucked at doing that so far.

You and the Liberal Party deserve each other.

Koby said...

If the polls are to be believed there is strong support for stem cell research and euthanasia and the support for legalizing pot is far stronger than support was for SSM before the Liberals first broached the suggest with the Canadian people back in 2003.

Anonymous said...

It would work, but good luck getting the Liberals to make good.

Anonymous said...

Koby,

Harper called for a free vote in reopening same sex marriage in the last election. Some called it tokenism to appease the so-cons. Harper won the election, the vote was held and it failed with some CPC cabinet ministers supporting it. How do you define it?

On the three issues that I mentioned the Liberals need to propose at least a royal commission, if not legislation backed by a free vote in the upcoming session of Parliament in order to back up what was said in an election campaign. What it will attract is a massive mobilization campaign from Campaign Life, the Roman Catholic Church, and even a few rabbis and mullahs. Is it worth it for the Liberals to openly say these issues on the campaign trail? You suggest otherwise.

The NDP usually hold policy conferences and it passes many resolutions suggesting things such as immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, sanctions against Israel, and supporting Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. If the Liberals want to support stem cell research, legalization of pot, and euthanasia in a policy conference, I am all ears. Putting it in a red book that one can run an election year, than that is an another story.

Koby said...

“What it will attract is a massive mobilization campaign from Campaign Life, the Roman Catholic Church, and even a few rabbis and mullahs.”

I am fully aware of this and that is one reason I am pushing for Liberals to do this. I can not think of a better spokesperson for marijuana legalization than some Campaign for Lifer going on about the evils of marijuana use. It does not getting better for the Liberals than “Pro family crowd” and Conservative party walking in lock step. Actually it does. You forgot to mention, arguably, the world’s least popular man and his opposition to such policies. To summarize, not only would Campaign Life, the Roman Catholic Church, a few conservative rabbis and mullahs line up behind Stephen Harper, but so too would Dick Cheney, George Bush, John Walters, the Washington Times, Fox News, Jerry Farwell and James Dobson. With friends like these “Steve” will be lamenting who needs enemies.

“On the three issues that I mentioned the Liberals need to propose at least a royal commission”

With regard to marijuana, we have been there done that. The Le Dain Commission (1973) and the Senate (2002) already looked at the matter. The Senate recommended legalization in the strongest possible language. I do not see the need for a debate on stem cell research. There is really nothing to debate. No one serious takes the position that personhood begins with fertilization. Besides, given how popular support for stem cell research is in the States, there is can be no doubt that the issue will be a clear winner here. With regard to euthanasia, there will need to be a long debate, not so much about the merits of such a policy but about what limits should be set. The commons is the proper place for that. The longer the debate the better. Keep the Campaign for life talking as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

The Green Party of Canada has already gone on record as supporting the legalization of marijuana. Why not go with the folks who have the courage to say what's right?

Anonymous said...

Koby,

While Harper may have conservative views on euthanasia, pot use, and stem cell, as the PM he can use a valuable weapon. Silence. Not only himself but the caucus and the potential candidates as well. There will be fringe caucus members such as Myron Thompson and David Sweet who may say something about these controversial issues. Harper knows how to keep an arm's length from them. I suspect that the PM is doing this to Bush and Cheney.

Koby said...

Harper may very well try to remain silent when it comes to euthanasia and he certainly will say very little about stem cell research. However, I do not think he will remain silent when it comes to marijuana. That said, it would not matter either way. The tidal wave of coverage this will generate will wash over the Conservatives. Marijuana legalization is the Liberals nuclear option and one aimed right at the heart of America’s war on drugs. Make no mistake about it a promise to legalize marijuana is playing the nationalist card. Even if they wanted to, there is no way that the Bush administration could muzzle the legions of social cons and drug warriors in the States.

Anonymous said...

"Marijuana legalization is the Liberals nuclear option and one aimed right at the heart of America’s war on drugs. Make no mistake about it a promise to legalize marijuana is playing the nationalist card. Even if they wanted to, there is no way that the Bush administration could muzzle the legions of social cons and drug warriors in the States."

Koby,

I hope you know that it was me that you have been exchanging ideas in this posting. It is difficult blogging with google in some computers.

I have heard your arguments before, it was in the 1970s when Mel Hurtig called for the legalization of marijuana as a prominent Liberal. He left to form the National Party in the early 1990s. Has Mel Hurtig come back to the Liberal fold?

Mushroom

Koby said...

>>>>> “I hope you know that it was me that you have been exchanging ideas in this posting. It is difficult blogging with google in some computers.”

Ha ha. Yes, I suspected so. You do, after all, post about half the comments here. Thanks by the way.

>>>> “I have heard your arguments before, it was in the 1970s when Mel Hurtig called for the legalization of marijuana as a prominent Liberal. He left to form the National Party in the early 1990s. Has Mel Hurtig come back to the Liberal fold?”

That was then this was now. Canada was way too conservative a country to attempt anything like it back then. Besides, it would not have gathered anywhere near the press. There was no marijuana industry to speak of back then. Today, the marijuana industry is by far the biggest agricultural industry and marijuana is everywhere, particularly in BC. Walk down Robson, Vancouver’s main drag, pun intended, on a sunny weekend afternoon and there is a decent chance that you smell marijuana being smoked.

Unless the Liberals do something drastic, the Conservatives will win a majority. The Liberals are on the retreat on every front. Dion is proving to be an unmediated disaster. The Liberals only hope for holding Harper to a minority is to try to fortify their base of support of in Canada’s major cities and in the Maritimes. Leaving aside the Maritimes, this means 1) offering cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal more money and seats and igniting a cultural war.

Ryan Ringer said...

Well, Canadians are definitely on the side of pot legalization. Harper arguing against it would force him to take some pretty indefensible positions, and anyone who knows what they're talking about could easily defeat him in a debate on the matter. It would expose Harper's least attractive quality - knee-jerk social conservatism.

The Liberals don't have the economy card anymore, because the Conservatives haven't (yet) proven unmitigated disasters (just wait 'til they get a majority, though). And they're desperately trying to take the Environment off the table as an issue, too, though that's not going to happen - it's an issue in the next campaign no matter what. Dion has invested way too much in it to not run on it now.

The Liberals are in a bad position - cornered on the left by the Conservatives. We're probably going to lose the next election, so we might as well go down fighting for something. If there were ever a time to try and unite the centre-left behind one party, this is it - and to do that, the Liberals would need to present an unapologetically liberal platform, including an expansion of the social safety net for social democrats, a healthy tax cut aimed at the middle class to satisfy the business liberals, a focus on the environment obviously, and daring positions on marijuana, euthanasia and stem-cell research to get social liberals enthusiastic about voting Liberal.