Wrecking cousins: Part 5
** (Yes, yet another instalment in my work-vacation project: reading Thomas Frank's book The Wrecking Crew, and singling out some parallels to conservatism here in Canada.)
Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has a piece in today’s Globe and Mail on the subject of grassroots movements. Funny, I’d been thinking of Manning as I read The Wrecking Crew. It struck me that Manning would have never been able to preside over some of the more brazen imitations of those politics that we’ve been seeing in Canada -- Manning was just not cynical enough; he was/is far too decent a politician. Manning was an outsider to the political establishment -- an important aspect of conservatism -- but as we’ll see farther down this post, he was never going to be able to pitch himself as the kind of bully-boy leader that the new conservatism requires.
Frank writes about how U.S. conservatives, like Canadian ones, often have to jettison their past (Mulroney, anyone? Manning?) and constantly pitch themselves as anti-government, even when they’re in government.
For a political faction to represent itself as a rebellion against a government for which it is itself responsible may strike you as a supremely cynical maneuver. If so, you are beginning to understand conservative Washington. Cynicism is of this movement’s essence. It is cynical not only in the way it wriggles about denying everything, dumping its former heroes, endlessly repositioning itself; but more fundamentally it is cynical about the very possibilities of improvement through government.
This is a movement that adores bullies, that cheers their bullying slogans at its conventions, that longs for a bully mean enough to put the wimps back in their place...
Seen from this perspective, politics is a showdown in which the soft and the weak get pounded by the hard and the strong. The symbolism is important in winger Washington, with its heroic “hammers” coming down implacably on the people it calls “squishes.”
That frame of thinking, exported north of the 49th parallel, explains why Canadian Conservatives had a hard time taking on a streetfighter like Jean Chretien, but revel in portraying his subsequent successors -- Martin, Dion and Ignatieff -- as hapless or weak. Dion was especially the target of these “you’re a sissy” style of attacks, but have a look at the pictures being used of Ignatieff in the latest attack ads -- blowing kisses, for instance.
Tough guys don’t do that. And conservatives have to be tough guys, as Frank writes in his book -- tough enough to wreck stuff.