Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Populism 101: the Basics

           From an imaginary (?) manual of populist political tactics, "Populism 101":

1- The Best Defense is a good Offense

           Smearing is high political art. It requires knowing your enemy and your public. To be really effective you need to develop a good sense of timing. You have to know who to smear, how to smear and when to smear. Otherwise you waste your effort and run the risk of smearing yourself ("blowback")...

           I don't know if a handbook bearing the title "Populism 101" really exists but the attack dog psychology of the Harper government sometimes make me think so.

           Recently, for example, the United Nations' right to food envoy visited Canada and delivered a rather scorching account of the state of the nation: a spreading gap between rich and poor, more people falling through the cracks of a failing social security net, poor children at risk of malnutrition in a (supposedly) "rich" country, disparities in nutrition between Canadians of European origin and aboriginal Canadians..

            Rather than face up to these consequences of the neoconservative value system that has grown up in this country over the past three decades, the Harper government decided to go on attack mode. Populism 101! When one's actions or ethics are called into question, counterattack! Smear! Divert attention from facts (or accusations) and belittle the bearer of bad tidings (the ancient Romans permitted a householder to kill the slave that was sent with bad news to his door).

               Envoy De Schutter's surprising - and shameful - findings were left unaddressed:

""Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in 10 families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food needs," (one in 10: ten percent! Brain development and thus success in later life is highly dependent upon nutrition in young ages.)

                Instead of addressing Mr De Schutter's findings, the Harper government subjected him to ad hominen attacks on his character, competence and motivation.  "Pit bull" Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq dismissed De Schutter as an "ill-informed" and "patronizing" academic who is "studying us from afar. You can't do better than that: populists are at their best when they play the anti-intellectual card - that's a perennial winner!

                   But not to be outdone, "Immigration Minister Jason Kenney lashed out at De Schutter, suggesting the envoy wasted both his time and the UN's resources by spending 11 days here. 'It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada and I think this is a discredit to the United Nations,' Kenney said, noting that Canada sends billions of dollars in food aid to the developing world each year."

                Mr Kenney deftly deflected criticism here - another favorite populist tactic: the questions raised by Mr De Schutter had nothing to do with the billions of Canadian "aid" to the "developing" world but with the conditions of the poor in Canada itself. LOL!

                   Perhaps the true feelings of the Harperites toward the United Nations is reflected in the fact that during Mr De Schutters 11 day stay here, no cabinet ministers met with him! Indeed..

                Not too many stones were left unturned: health minister "Pit bull" Aglukkaq did not stoop from scapegoating. In her eyes, food security issues in the North resulted from protracted struggles with "environmentalists" trying to destroy traditional ways of life. (Now you begin to grasp why I think such a manual as "Populism 101" MIGHT exist..)

                The fact remains that 2 million Canadians - out of 34 million - are considered "food insecure". That's about 1 out 17 or about six percent of the population. 


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