Sunday, December 31, 2023

The New Year

The dying year has been difficult. Let's hope that we can collectively do better in the New Year.

Best wishes to all.

Friday, December 29, 2023

You Can't Go Home Again

Recently, some well-known progressives -- like Russell Brand, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and Matt Tiabbi -- have switched sides. Michelle Goldberg writes:

Part of the answer is probably that the culture of the left is simply less welcoming, especially to the politically unsure, than the right. The conservative movement may revel in cruelty toward out-groups — see, for example, the ravening digital mobs that descended on the podcaster Julia Mazur for a TikTok she made about the pleasures of life without children — but the movement is often good at love-bombing potential recruits. “People go where people accept them, or are nice to them, and away from people who are mean to them,” the Marxist Edwin Aponte, one of the founders of the heterodox but socially conservative magazine Compact, told [Kathryn] Joyce and [Jeff] Sharlet.

But I think there’s a deeper problem, which stems from a crisis of faith in the possibility of progress. Liberals and leftists have lots of excellent policy ideas but rarely articulate a plausible vision of the future. I sometimes hear leftists talk about “our collective liberation,” but outside a few specific contexts — the ongoing subjugation of the Palestinians comes to mind — I mostly have no idea what they’re talking about.

People are deeply suspicious of progress these days. The advent of Donald Trump and the Israel-Hamas war are two reasons one might wonder just how far we've come. And the Right takes advantage of events like these:

The right has an advantage in appealing to dislocated and atomized people: It doesn’t have to provide a compelling view of the future. All it needs is a romantic conception of the past, to which it can offer the false promise of return. When people are scared and full of despair, “let’s go back to the way things were” is a potent message, especially for those with memories of happier times.

The wise among us know that you can never go home again. That's an idea that offers no comfort. But it does allow you to see things realistically.

Image: QuoteFancy

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Will They Convict Him?

Donald Trump doesn't read books. He probably doesn't even read memos. But he does read polls. And the polls are saying something interesting. Norm Eisen, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker Osorio write:

The negative impact of conviction has emerged in polling as a consistent through line over the past six months nationally and in key states. We are not aware of a poll that offers evidence to the contrary. The swing in this data away from Mr. Trump varies — but in a close election, as 2024 promises to be, any movement can be decisive.

To be clear, we should always be cautious of polls this early in the race posing hypothetical questions, about conviction or anything else. Voters can know only what they think they will think about something that has yet to happen.

Yet we have seen the effect in several national surveys, like a recent Wall Street Journal poll. In a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump leads by four percentage points. But if Mr. Trump is convicted, there is a five-point swing, putting Mr. Biden ahead, 47 percent to 46 percent.

In another new poll by Yahoo News-YouGov, the swing is seven points. In a December New York Times-Siena College poll, almost a third of Republican primary voters believe that Mr. Trump shouldn’t be the party’s nominee if he is convicted even after winning the primary.

The damage to Mr. Trump is even more pronounced when we look at an important subgroup: swing-state voters. In recent CNN polls from Michigan and Georgia, Mr. Trump holds solid leads. The polls don’t report head-to-head numbers if Mr. Trump is convicted, but if he is, 46 percent of voters in Michigan and 47 percent in Georgia agree that he should be disqualified from the presidency.

So much depends on whether the legal system will catch up with Trump in time.

Image: Newsweek

Friday, December 22, 2023

Merry Christmas

This has truly been a year when we -- as the song says -- "need a little Christmas." We need the promises of hope and peace that come with the season.

Happy Holidays to all.

Image: Facebook

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Big One

The next election, Michael Harris writes, will be the most consequential in Canada's history:

It will be a choice between today, and all the tomorrows the planet may or may not have; between the cost of living, and the cost of saving what scientists warn is a planet being suffocated by carbon emissions.

Advantage Poilievre. Politics is not known for its long-term thinking, intellectual honesty, or factual reporting. It has become a string of self-serving narratives. Think of Poilievre’s absurd take on housing to deliver that point. He actually said that Canada has the most dirt, so housing should be dirt cheap.

Another comment from the shallow end of the pool. But this is the TikTok age, and Poilievre’s bumper sticker sloganeering resonates, especially if you happen to be living in a tent in a major Canadian city.

Justin Trudeau appears to be at the end of his run:

According to the polls, 58 per cent of Canadians have had enough of Trudeau. The dissatisfaction with the once shiny pony has shown up in poll after poll.

But his record is pretty good:

It is worth noting that public opinion seems to be impervious to the facts. When it comes to inflation, for example—perhaps the hottest of hot-button issues in today’s domestic politics—Canada has one of the lowest rates on the planet.

It lands in the top 10 countries in the world in fighting cost-of-living increases. Within the countries of the G7, Canada is right there with the U.S. and Japan with the lowest inflation rates. Canada is close to the top of the list of best countries in the world to live in.

But the way Pierre Poilievre tells it and sells it, Canadian kids are writing Santa Claus to ask for food, not toys, and the busiest bank in the land is the food bank. Farmers can’t afford to grow crops because of the carbon “tax,” and the media cheerleads for the elites, and death to the CBC, and don’t forget that Poilievre was a reliable paper boy.

According to the polls, while the prime minister rates a negative-33 on the favourability scale, Poilievre is in positive territory at plus-four. As for his party, the Conservatives are leaving the ruling Liberals in their vapour trail. According to the most recent Angus Reid polling, the Conservatives have a massive 17-point lead on the Liberals. At this moment, that is.

With such a huge lead in the polls, it will be in the Conservatives’ interest to get to an election while Trudeau remains yesterday’s political rock star, and today’s political liability.

This kind of data leads to one question:

Does the Liberal Party have a problem, or does it have a Justin Trudeau problem?

What would happen if Trudeau opted to leave on his own terms, rather than be fired? According to Angus Reid, 44 per cent of the soft Liberal vote would be less likely to consider voting for the Conservatives if there were a new Liberal leader.

Something to consider in this week before Christmas

Image: The Hill Times

Thursday, December 14, 2023

A Blood Feud

Not since the days of Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker has there been so much animosity between the leaders of the Liberal and the Conservative Parties. Susan Delacourt writes:

To state the obvious, they really don’t like each other.

Poilievre follows what he believes to be a winning formula, laying the blame on Trudeau personally for all the bad economic news. The Conservative leader darts from one sad tale to another, uniting all the disparate developments with some stock, repetitive slogans — “not worth the cost” and “axe the tax,” among others.

The Conservative MPs around him enjoy the barbs immensely.

Trudeau, who has made a habit of fielding all questions every Wednesday through all of his eight years in power (that’s three Conservative leaders and two interim leaders) also seems to be having a good time batting back the Poilievre digs.

Though it’s definitely been a more bruising year for Liberals than for Conservatives — if polls are any indication — both leaders are headed into the break believing they’ve landed some hits on the other.

For Poilievre, those hits are more on the sustained front — day after day of withering, biting criticism. For Trudeau, the past week has appeared to inject some energy into Liberal ranks.

Liberals also appeared to be taking heart in new polling from Abacus Data, showing a five percentage point drop in support for the Conservatives and an increase in negative opinions about Poilievre.

What will be the end result? I'm making no predictions.

Image: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Monday, December 11, 2023

Democracy On The Ropes

In Canada, democracy is on the ropes. Michael Harris writes:

Judging from the public’s view of politicians, especially incumbents, there is more than a little evidence that democracy is more than just running a fever.

The most unpopular provincial leaders in Canada are the premiers of the country’s two biggest provinces. Ontario’s Ford has an approval rating of 34 per cent. His counterpart in Quebec, François Legault, sits at just 31 per cent.

At the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has an approval rating of 25 per cent, while a whopping 58 per cent disapprove of his performance. That adds up to a net -33 rating for the prime minister—a political death warrant in most circumstances.

But federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre isn’t exactly setting records for personal popularity. Although the Conservative Party is a cab-ride ahead of the Liberals in popularity, just 37 per cent of Canadians had a favourable view of the leader of the opposition, against 33 per cent who held a negative view, according to recent polling.

So that means a modest plus-four favourability rating for Poilievre, but with a large block of Canadians still undecided. In other words, a lot could change between now and election day.

But at this moment, it appears as though voters are prepared to punish incumbents, particularly the ones in power during the COVID-19 pandemic, without being crazy about the alternative. The candidate they dislike the least is the one they will apparently be voting for. It is hardly what could be called robust democracy in action.

People are in a very foul mood:

It is actually anger bordering on rage with a touch of despair. Canadians are angry and despairing about the cost of groceries, heating their homes, getting a house, and running their cars. Poll after poll shows Poilievre with a huge lead over Trudeau in all but two files: climate change and affordable childcare.

With very little policy detail, Poilievre is the resounding choice to lead the way on bringing down the cost of living and reducing the tax burden. Poilievre is betting the farm that Canadians are willing to give up the fight against climate change in exchange for cancelling the Trudeau government’s carbon tax.

It's the same mood in the United States:

As in Canada, Americans are not overly enamoured with either of their presumptive presidential candidates in 2024. They are showing every sign of being tired of democracy, angry, and electorally vengeful.

U.S. President Joe Biden is caught between the same rock and hard place that is squeezing Trudeau towards the exit.

Faced with widespread anger over inflation, interest rates, immigration, and the sense that his country is somehow headed in the wrong direction, Biden faces a disapproval number even worse than Trudeau’s—a crushing 63 per cent. A mere 37 per cent approve of his performance as president. The only number that is going up for Biden is his age—and at 81 years old, that is a problem for his campaign.

But here is the burning issue. The question that will be answered next November is how much are Americans prepared to give up to have their grievances dealt with and their prayers answered?

How voters answer that question will make all the difference.

Image: CNN

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Getting Nastier

As Conservatives rise in the polls, their nasty streak gets wider. Susan Delacourt writes:

The fierce polarization between the governing Liberals and opposition Conservatives has put Canada’s support for Ukraine in the crosshairs — puzzlingly so, since Conservatives have not until lately shown any sign of wavering on that all-party support.

But to the surprise of many, Conservatives voted together late last month against a bill to implement a Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his team insisted they didn’t object to trade with Ukraine, in practice or in principle -- they just didn’t like the way the agreement includes words promoting carbon pricing.

The Poilievre Party is sounding more and more like Republicans:

Day after day, Justin Trudeau and key cabinet members have been sending up flares over what they see as Republican-influenced backtracking on Ukraine by Canadian Conservatives.

“We owe it to the people of Ukraine to support them today and not betray Ukraine as the Conservatives have done,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is herself a proud Ukrainian-Canadian, said in the House this week.

Again, though, in their crusade against the "carbon tax," the Conservatives took another poke at Ukraine this week. Canada’s Parliament was plunged into an all-night voting marathon on Thursday as Poilievre vowed that Conservatives would hold up all business with “thousands” of amendments and motions.

At around 5 a.m. on Friday, the House was asked to vote on an item in the supplementary estimates to finance what’s known as Operation Unifier, Canada’s mission to provide training to Ukrainian forces. One by one, in the House and virtually, Conservatives voted “nay.”

Liberals and New Democrats flooded social media with incredulous outrage.

Heather McPherson, the New Democrats’ critic for foreign affairs, said this on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter:

“Unbelievably, the Conservative Party has voted against support for Ukraine AGAIN! The Conservatives are hoping no one notices that early this morning they voted against $500 M to support the delivery of equipment and services to Ukraine in the defence of its sovereignty. Shame!” 

The country is tired of Justin Trudeau. But replacing him with Poilievre would be a grave mistake.

Image: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Not Mortal Enemies

Time changes things. Consider the picture that appeared a couple of days ago. Lawrence Martin writes:

The image leaped off the screen a couple of days ago. A photo of Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien grinning like lifelong buddies in each other’s presence.

“Always wonderful to catch up with a true gentleman and friend,” wrote former prime minister Harper, who posted the pals pic on X. The Conservative warrior obviously wanted his close ties to the lunch-bucket Liberal well known.

Mr. Harper’s protégé, the hyperpartisan Pierre Poilievre, probably wasn’t too thrilled. Mr. Harper, he knew, despised Liberals. Few could doubt that. David Emerson, the floor-crossing British Columbian who served in the cabinets of the Liberal Paul Martin and Mr. Harper, once told me that one of the big differences was the degree of contempt Mr. Harper had for Liberals. It was visceral, he said. “Sometimes it was just startling to me.”

So what was he thinking, giving a former Liberal prime minister a shout out while Mr. Poilievre, headed for an election, works to paint the Liberals as destroyers of the country?

These are, indeed, different times:

What’s pleasing about the Harper-Chrétien photo is that it is such a departure from the temper of our times, which sees polarization at a brutal level and many complaining that the country has never been so divided.

The perennial gripe about Canadian disunity gets a little tiresome. Yes, there are fissures, some of them serious. But when hasn’t there been? And why wouldn’t there be? Given our giant sprawling land mass, given the differences between east and west, between French and English speakers, between Indigenous Peoples and others, between right and left – what is to be expected? That there shouldn’t be divisions is irrational. That the divisions won’t endure is a pipe dream.

The new information age that gives vent to all the yellers and haters makes conditions seem worse. That they are worse than ever, as some claim, is delusional. As I have previously noted, we need only go back to the early 1990s, when we had a separatist party as the official Opposition, when the Reform Party was staging a rebellion in the West, when there was a deep recession with third-world debt levels, and when a Quebec referendum put the country on a knife edge.

That was when Mr. Chrétien was in power and Mr. Harper was soon to be. They were on opposite sides; their ideological differences mirrored those of the country and still do. But despite the differences, they maintained respect for one another.

Their good rapport is driven by a number of commonalities. They were tough-minded, fiscally prudent, problem-solving non-visionaries. They were suspicious of elites and passionate about the Canadian North. Historian Arthur Milnes, who has been in meetings with them, said: “What I witnessed in private is that both men are very funny behind the scenes and simply enjoy each other’s company. I recall them meeting privately at the late Ralph Klein’s funeral in Calgary. With their funny stories about him, they had each other, and me, in stitches.”

That doesn't mean that differences disappear:

Their camaraderie doesn’t mean there’s been a narrowing of the philosophical divide. Mr. Harper chairs the International Democratic Union, a global alliance of right-wing parties. Mr. Chrétien wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole.

But they remind us that political opponents don't have to be mortal enemies.

Image: National Post

Monday, December 04, 2023

Kagan's Warning

Robert Kagan is not optimistic about the future of the United States. He writes

Let’s stop the wishful thinking and face the stark reality: There is a clear path to dictatorship in the United States, and it is getting shorter every day. In 13 weeks, Donald Trump will have locked up the Republican nomination. In the RealClearPolitics poll average (for the period from Nov. 9 to 20), Trump leads his nearest competitor by 47 points and leads the rest of the field combined by 27 points. The idea that he is unelectable in the general election is nonsense — he is tied or ahead of President Biden in all the latest polls — stripping other Republican challengers of their own stated reasons for existence. The fact that many Americans might prefer other candidates, much ballyhooed by such political sages as Karl Rove, will soon become irrelevant when millions of Republican voters turn out to choose the person whom no one allegedly wants.

For many months now, we have been living in a world of self-delusion, rich with imagined possibilities. Maybe it will be Ron DeSantis, or maybe Nikki Haley. Maybe the myriad indictments of Trump will doom him with Republican suburbanites. Such hopeful speculation has allowed us to drift along passively, conducting business as usual, taking no dramatic action to change course, in the hope and expectation that something will happen. Like people on a riverboat, we have long known there is a waterfall ahead but assume we will somehow find our way to shore before we go over the edge. But now the actions required to get us to shore are looking harder and harder, if not downright impossible.

Barring some miracle, Trump will soon be the presumptive Republican nominee for president. When that happens, there will be a swift and dramatic shift in the political power dynamic, in his favor. Until now, Republicans and conservatives have enjoyed relative freedom to express anti-Trump sentiments, to speak openly and positively about alternative candidates, to vent criticisms of Trump’s behavior past and present. Donors who find Trump distasteful have been free to spread their money around to help his competitors. Establishment Republicans have made no secret of their hope that Trump will be convicted and thus removed from the equation without their having to take a stand against him.

Trump will not be contained by the courts or the rule of law. On the contrary, he is going to use the trials to display his power. That’s why he wants them televised. Trump’s power comes from his following, not from the institutions of American government, and his devoted voters love him precisely because he crosses lines and ignores the old boundaries. They feel empowered by it, and that in turn empowers him. Even before the trials begin, he is toying with the judges, forcing them to try to muzzle him, defying their orders. He is a bit like King Kong testing the chains on his arms, sensing that he can break free whenever he chooses.

Given the way the Electoral College functions, there is a good chance Trump could win again. If he does win, he'll not only be a problem for Americans. He'll be a problem for the world.

Image: The Washington Post

Friday, December 01, 2023

Perfectly Clear

Donald Trump announced this week that, when he's re-elected, he'll kill Obamacare. He tried that once -- and he almost succeeded. Why is Trump obsessed with Obamacare? Paul Krugman writes:

Much of it, no doubt, reflects the general hostility of the modern Republican Party to any program that helps less fortunate Americans.

But it’s hard to escape the sense that there’s also something personal involved. In his rambling speeches, Trump often seems to believe that Barack Obama is still the president. Regardless of whether Trump is actually confused about this, the Affordable Care Act was Obama’s biggest achievement. And everyone still calls the program Obamacare.

Is Trump vain and petty enough that he would take health care away from millions simply to demolish his predecessor’s legacy? You tell me.

Well, let's be clear: Trump is vain and petty. But there's more to it than that. Not only was Obama a much better president than Trump. He is a much better man. Trump proves that every time he opens his mouth and makes it -- as Richard Nixon used to say  -- "perfectly clear."

Image: Clear As Mud Second Thoughts