The big news this week was the bombshell interview given by CSIS director Richard Fadden to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on The National where Canada’s spy chief alleged that a number of cabinet ministers in provincial governments are under foreign influence. Red flag, or McCarthy smear?
Early last year, a mid-level diplomat named Richard Colvin rocked Ottawa when he alleged before a Commons committee that Canada was turning a blind eye to Afghan torture and some therefore argued complicit in torture and guilty of war crimes. Whistleblower or troublemaker?
The reaction to both events is very telling of our national psychology and perhaps of the psychology of western democratic citizens. The condemnation of Fadden was swift and there’s even talk that those around the Prime Minister are considering his hasty ejection while Colvin was romanticized as a small guy with a big message. Perhaps Fadden’s biggest miscalculation was that he wasn’t so small. Imagine the inverse of the outcome if Fadden had juvenilized himself in the equation by alleging that big bad daddy Stephen Harper knows that there are Chinese elements within provincial governments and that he’s covering it up. Of course, this would have been a different sort of career mistake for Fadden, but he would have found himself with the backing of the Canadian media rather than round condemnation. A modern folk hero standing up against the order! Instead Fadden is the perceived order and the order is trampling on smaller people.
When the west was entangled in a ideological and proxied military struggle with the Soviet Union, there was a external threat to our way of life, who we were as free citizens and our freedom to choose our future. When America emerged from the cold war as the world’s remaining superpower it suddenly found itself to be the only adult in the room. While an anti-establishment movement was growing within its borders, it was small and kept out of the mainstream because most were focused on the external threat, the structured order that sought to gain control.
As students of history tell us, the good guys won. The West did not wash away with the red tide of communism that lapped its shores for half a century. But now, the West is the order without threat. What are freedom-wired folks supposed to do without an external threat to their freedom?
Australia just got its first female Prime Minister. Most of us outside of Australia don’t know what she’s about but we surely know that its a good thing because we’re told that she succeeded in world that told her that she couldn’t. Same for Barack Obama; hope and change were simply code for tearing down the perceived societal order which was believed to be unbalanced. However, during the election, Barack Obama was America’s boyfriend. Now, that he’s president, he’s their father. That hope and change? More of the same. And those hopeless anti-establishment romantics? They throw bricks at the G20.
In Canada, Liberals have been the establishment for the overwhelming majority of the last 100 years. This establishment party has always had a knack for the gosh-gee little guyism. Anti-americanism was the Liberal stock and trade because in the politics of paternalism, America was the larger external threat to our way of life. We even had to regulate what Canadians could watch on television to protect them from this ordered systemic threat designed to subjugate us. The p’tit gars de Shawinigan? The desperately disordered Paul Martin? These men were forgiven because, well, they’re we just doing the best that they could against a bigger and meaner entity.
Stephen Harper finds himself in a world without personified threats to the Canadian way-of-life. Instead, he has trouble tapping into the politics of paternalism on both sides of the equation. First, he is paternalistic. He’s described as being calm, collected, calculative, “always three chess moves ahead”. Though he comes from the middle-class, it is a challenge for him to be perceived as the guy that fights with us rather than the guy that tells us what to do. On the other hand, the external challenges that would have buoyed his brand in the past have taken up an amorphous form. From the asynchronous challenge of the Taliban to the black-shirt anarchists at the G20, there’s no face to what menaces Canadians. And those that menace our ways of life? They are trivialized and get our arrogant sympathy. Some in this country view allegations of complicity of torture against the Taliban to be small people hurting small people while the big guy is uncaring. G20 protesters get more coverage from the media than the policy determined at the conference because the perception is that small people are sidelined while the establishment makes the rules.
A father figure is one that denies abortion or a gay marriage while a mother figure just loves you for who you are. Stephen Harper has smartly understood that Canadians eschew these elements of the paternalistic state yet he struggles with the maternal. The “nanny” state is one that tells us that we must, rather than mustn’t. We must “share our toys” according to maternal governance. Paternalism dominates in “our dad can beat up your dad” situations (ie. when external threats are perceived). In the absence of external threat, our defender is perceived as he who denies us. Currently, the children are upset about global warming, globalization, and fake lakes. Better that than red balloons and gulags, I suppose.
What is Stephen Harper to do? He cannot hope to re-raise us as well-balanced adults can he? In order for Harper to safely navigate the politics of paternalism he needs to be seen as smaller man fighting with us smaller people against the bigger world that threatens our way of life. Canada is the most sea-worthy vessel on the stormy seas of the global economy but there is no personification of the threat that surrounds us. Who is the Gorbachev of the global bank tax? Whom do we fight as we fight for small business and for the ma’s and pa’s that sell things in small towns? Who is the face of the looming union pension bubble that is about to burst?
Why do we as Canadians, and perhaps more broadly we in the west, tend to put more stock in the words of those that fight the establishment tell us rather than believe what we’re told by the establishment? How do we sort out what benefits us from that which disrupts? We are innately freedom-seeking people. In the absence of something external that threatens us, we turn our attention within. The ultimate expression of freedom surely isn’t anarchy and it certainly isn’t socialism, but without form those that romanticize this challenge to the order as mischaracterized expressions of freedom will continue to push these notions, often violently. And those of us who think one’s size and challenge are the only moral yardsticks will only continue to enable disorder at our own expense.