Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Chantal Hebert writes in today's Toronto Star that, while the growing list of NDP candidates "has all the makings of a decent future NDP cabinet, it has few of the trimmings that project strong leadership." However, after the party chooses a leader -- Gerry Caplan writes in The Globe -- the party's success will depend on how successfully he or she makes peace within the ranks:

The leadership process makes conflict almost inevitable and deeply divides the party. In politics, a party leader is a big deal. If you decide to run it’s because you’ve come to believe you’re the best person for the job. From there it’s a short hop, skip and jump to being convinced you’re the only person for the job, indeed the indispensable one. Soon you have not a soupcon of doubt that if anyone else won it would be a disaster of irreparable, epic proportions.

As the campaign goes on, and especially when the candidates are forced to meet repeatedly in debate – listening for the hundredth time to each other’s tedious gags, spin lines, talking points, personal stories, promises, banalities – their animosity, even contempt, for each other steadily grows. Only the potential need for a second-ballot deal prevents a public eruption. When the losers are forced to line up behind the victor after the final ballot, you can be sure they’ve been strip-searched for hidden weapons.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Therefore, opportunism is the name of the game:

the bitter antagonists [are] obliged to work together or the winner choos[es] the loser as a lieutenant, as in Mulroney-Clark, Chr├ętien-Martin, JFK-LBJ, Obama-Clinton, Ignatieff-Rae. The high profile Romney-Perry fiasco has yet to play itself out of course, but it does seem likely one will punch the other’s lights out on national TV one night, a fitting climax indeed.

But if acrimony is the lasting legacy of the race -- as was the case with Mr. Chretien and Mr. Martin -- the party can destroy itself from within. Jack Layton wanted his legacy to be a country which could rise above its bitter partisan divisions. The race for the leadership of his party will demonstrate if those who wish to succeed him have taken that legacy to heart. The NDP's success will be depend on what kind of peacemaker it elects.


Kirbycairo said...

People throw around terms like "strong leadership" but it is never clear exactly what that means or to what degree such things matters. History is a very strange thing. Sometime it seems to favor a ruthless and powerful leader like Napoleon, and at other times peaceful and conciliatory leaders. We don't need an "objectively" strong leader at any given time we just need the right one. Harper's autocratic style has worked for him for a while, and there will come a time when it won't work for him or others anymore. At the end of a long period of Harper, people might just be looking for a much warmer figure who can reach out to others, and there are a number of NDP leadership candidates that can live up to that. Nathan Cullen, Romeo Saganash, and as of today Robert Chisholm.

I think that many political commentators can't see the big picture because they are so steeped in the day to day battle of party politics. But the truth is that the left everywhere is struggling to reinvent itself with a new kind of politics. We know the real failure of leftwing movements that adopted the political style of our enemies and we need to find a new way of doing things. But we have to reinvent ourselves in the face of a rightwing that is more ruthless and Machiavellian than ever. It is a difficult dilemma but one from which we can not turn away. That is why we need to look to people like Cullen or Saganash, because they represent the strength not of "power" but of solidarity.

susansmith said...

I agree with that summation. Jack legacy instills that it not be a war or create division.

Owen Gray said...

At present, I have no favourite among the announced candidates, Kirby. At one time, I thought Thomas Mulcair's Quebec roots would serve him well as leader.

But, upon reflection, I don't think he's the kind of peacemaker the party needs.

All I know for sure is that any leader of a Canadian political party these days has to be fluently bilingual.

I understand that five of the candidates meet that qualification. We'll see who emerges.

Owen Gray said...

You're right, Jan. If these folks are to remain true to Jack's legacy, they are going to have to come together for much better reasons than sheer opportunism.