In January of this year, the BBC published an interesting article: Why do people vote against their own interests? It was a light bulb moment, and defines to a tee the basis of neoconservativism, as represented by the Republicans in the U.S. and the Reform-Conservatives in Canada.
They are both clearly parties representing the interests of their country's wealthiest citizens, yet most of their "base" support comes from the fringes and those who stand to lose the most if neoconservatism wins.
Last year, in a series of "town-hall meetings" across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms. What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence ... But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform - the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state - are often the ones it seems designed to help.Why is that? Political scientist Dr David Runciman is quoted as saying:
If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them. They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.The Reform Party built an entire movement based on that theory. "So you don't trust politicians. Neither do we" they cried.
And across the border, when Republican Newt Gingrich watched those TV spots and read those ads he was inspired.
Indeed, Canadians became exporters of neo-con innovation in the 1990s. 'I would say Margaret Thatcher and Mr. [Preston] Manning are the two non-Americans we learned most from'', said U.S. Republican House Speaker, Newt Gingrich in 1995.'I know him [Preston Manning] because I watched all of his commercials. We developed our platform from watching his campaign.' (1)And using the techniques and talking points honed by Manning and the Reformers (Stephen Harper was chief policy advisor at the time), Gingrich's team created their "Contract with America".
It is thus not difficult to understand why the Republicans, in the run-up to the mid-term elections of last November , made such a point of dissociating themselves from Washington and identifying instead with popular sentiment on such issues. The dividends of defining Washington as the source of false values are seen in the results of the elections, which gave the Republicans control of both the House and the Senate. (2)It's ironic that so many people accuse Stephen Harper of being a Republican (including myself), but the Democrats in the U.S. should be calling the Republicans 'Reformers', and accusing them of copying Stephen Harper.
Preston Manning and the Reform Party played on those prejudices:
Vancouver - On his small square patch of Canada, surrounded by a nine-foot fence of English laurel, Reform Man is railing against the Frenchmen who run the bloody government, and dropping remarks about Chinese drivers.
"I admire a lot of those other cultures, but in their own country," said Sid Blanchett, a diesel engine mechanic. Mr Blanchett lives in north Vancouver, a hotly contested riding in the 2 June election. There are two signs outside his fence: one for the Reform Party, and another that says "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec". He's proud to be a racist and a redneck, he said, if that means defending his own culture, religion, and traditions.
Covering Reform can be like waking up in a Monty Python sketch, as one Vancouver journalist said this week. Old-fashioned caricatures pop up and say the most extraordinary things. Members belt out Oh Canada at party meetings, and while they drop clangers about blacks, gays, or Sikhs, the race they really detest is the French. (3)
Preston Manning is a smart guy and I have no doubt that he is not racist. But in the same way that his father's Social Credit party fed off anti-Semitism, Preston knew how to feed off people's insecurities. And when his MPs were quoted making racist remarks, he'd simply say that the Reform Party does not condone Racism, but rarely did anything else.
Having a clear critical dynamic, focused on the corrupt Ottawa establishment, was of the first importance to Reform's recent success. In this, as in so many other ways, this party has a similar focus to the United States Republican Party in its present mood ... Part of its appeal is to anti-Quebecois sentiment "let Quebec either secede", Reform says in effect, "or, preferably, stay in Canada but without any of the special privileges it seeks." Outside Quebec this message is extremely popular. It might be noted that Reform did not bother to run candidates in Quebec.
This explains his handling of the Jan Brown/Jim Silye incident.
The cases of Jan Brown and Jim Silye were typical. Among the most progressive and cosmopolitan of the Reform MPs, they also became known for their ability to shine in Question Period. Both were urban moderates and excellent communicators who developed positive relationships with the media and, in the case of Brown, a degree of national name recognition. Both were often unhappy with the "racist redneck" element in their caucus, and endured much criticism from other caucus members for their continuing attempts to broaden the base of Reform policies.
[Then] when [Reform MP] Art Hanger announced he was going on a "fact-finding mission" to Singapore to explore the use of caning and other forms of corporal punishment in the penal system, most Canadians were astonished and amused. Brown and Silye were humiliated, and said so publicly. "I don't want to be campaigning for caning and whipping," said Silye, a millionaire Calgary businessman and former Stampeders star. Brown, another Calgary MP and a corporate consultant with two degrees, agreed with Silye and suggested Reform would lose mainstream voters if it did not shake its extremist image. For their comments the two were raked over the coals at a lengthy caucus meeting in which one MP after another took the floor to lambaste the two, accusing them of betrayal ... (4)
In response, Manning did reprimand Ringma, but also suspended Jan Brown. Instead she quit.
Barely two months later, during debate on the government's proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act protecting homosexuals from discrimination*, the Reform caucus erupted again. When B.C. MP Bob Ringma** told reporters he would move gay or visible-minority employees to the back of the shop if they were costing him business, colleagues such as Dave Chatters, Leon Benoit and Myron Thompson agreed. In fact, Thompson went further, saying "If they were costing me business, I would remove them." Asked for her comments, Jan Brown replied, "I'm so saddened by this..." (4)
We might wonder at the logic behind this, but it goes back to the party's basic philosophy of "us against them". The Jan Browns did not fit into this, but the Rob Ringmas did. They were the people who kept the party faithfuls motivated to call themselves The Reform Man and display a sign on their lawn touting the party line "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec".
This Brings us Back To Why the Most Disadvantaged Oppose Those Wanting to Raise Them Up
Watch the following video and listen to how many times the Fox News personality uses terms like "elites in the media and academia", "academic circles" in a piece suggesting that Obama is a socialist.
Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas ... believes that the voters' preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.
The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking. Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. [my emphasis] The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.
And in condescending language, make any notions of offering a hand up, as a socialist plot. "These people believe that folks are poor because other people are rich." "Wealth redistribution" "drawing emotion from guilt, jealousy and envy" (all sins). So if God and the Republicans want to ignore the poor, it's only for their own good.
This guy even goes so far as to say that history has buried more bodies from the envy of socialism than the greed of capitalism, which of course is completely false, but they are playing to their "base". The people who should be demanding better from their government as equal citizens, instead are being led to believe that they should not be demanding anything at all.
"Glen Beck and the American people". They are on an even plane. Forget that Glen Beck works for a multi-national corporation, and earns 50 million dollars a year. He is still one of them. And those socialist academics, who are advocating for the lowest levels of society, are "elites". They don't belong to the club. It's "Glen Beck and the American people". Wink, wink.
At the Reform Party's opening assembly, many people left, especially seniors; when they realized what their policies, wrapped in a veil of ambiguity, really meant. An end to subsidies for farmers. An end to public health care. An end to unemployment insurance, Canada Pension and Old Age Security. (5) Those who stayed never really thought it through.
It was "us against them". They spoke their language. And if they felt any tinge of doubt, the Rob Ringmas would come out to remind them.
And while the Reformers preached that everyone was responsible for their own destinies, it enabled them to promote policies that hindered those destinies. The end to things like public health care and public education.
At the 1991 Reform Party Assembly, a guest speaker was William Gairdner, author of the book The Trouble with Canada, which journalist Murray Dobbin stated ".. helped lay the groundwork for Reform Party policy." (6) Reform Party policy which was then being drafted by Stephen Harper.
Of course making all schools private, would ensure that the disadvantaged remained disadvantaged, and the country's wealthy would remain at the top, while "the poorest citizens continued to serve the interests of its richest."
The Reformers gathered in Saskatoon saved perhaps the loudest cheers, whistles, and applause for Gairdner's last shot: 'And my favourite proposal, by the way, is returning choice to education by privatizing every school in the country'.(6)
Gotta' love neoconservatism, which has been dubbed "the revolt of the rich", who use the poor and disadvantaged as their foot soldiers. Brilliant. Wrong. But still brilliant.
1. Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, Pref. xiv-xv
2. Policy from the People: Recent Developments in the USA and Canada, By Philip Ayres, Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of The Samuel Griffith Society, April 2, 1995
4. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, By Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 318-319
5. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7
6. Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 165-166