Stories behind the stories
Patrick Gossage's op-ed column in today's Star has inflamed some Liberals, if my email inbox is any indication. Gossage has traced the Liberals' problems back to the infighting of the Martin-Chretien years and pinpointed Martin's battle against Sheila Copps as one of the moments when things started to go badly.
After covering the Liberal party for most of the past 23 years or so and writing a book or two about Liberals, I think it's fair to call this a distinguishing feature of the party -- every development can be traced back to a moment when someone's feelings were hurt. Long before Copps' feelings were hurt, Martin supporters were feeling rejected by Chretien, and before that, Chretien's gang was offended by its treatment under John Turner. And on and on it goes, winding its way back into history, perhaps as far as the Paleozoic era, as far as I know. (By the way, Gossage knows this history well, and in my view, his choice of the Copps' exclusion is kind of an arbitrary spot to pick for backdating the Liberals' troubles. Jane Taber and I were just discussing all the nastiness we witnessed when we started reporting on the Liberals back in the 1980s.)
After I mentioned this business of old grudges to one Liberal on email last night, I started to wonder whether this is something particular to politics generally -- and whether it helps explain what turns people off this world all together.
You can't really understand Stephen Harper and his Conservatives either, for instance, unless you know what's hurt their feelings in the past. Harper became put out with Mulroney's Conservatives in the 1980s, then he had a falling out with Reform Party leader Preston Manning, then he became the official Opposition leader and nursed grudges over how he was being treated by Liberals and the media, and so on and so on. And this explains a lot, if you have to work in this world every day, as we do.
I'd imagine it's difficult for anyone outside this world, however, to understand all this angst without a guidebook. And many people may well say: hey, I'm supposed to get over my grudges and hurt feelings when I go to work, why can't these folk?
Of course it proves the point that all politics is personal, but it also may prove that it's ALL personal -- in the absence of serious discussions over policy, vision and values, we are left with only stories of grudges and feuds.
As I write this, the Liberals are in the midst of a caucus meeting where they're choosing their new, interim leader. I don't know whose feelings are going to be hurt in this process (Garneau and Rae have gone to some lengths to say it isn't a contest, just a "choice.") But it being a Liberal gathering, chances are that some old divisions will have to be revisited. That's just how it goes.