A friend, whose opinions I value greatly, asked me a most percipient question about last week’s post Trojan Horse—What’s Wild Bill Smoking These Days? Why, she asked incredulously, spend a beautiful day inside researching and writing a post refuting Bill Tieleman’s patently nonsensical argument about The Leap Manifesto being a Trojan Horse that will cause the NDP to leap to their doom from a very high place? She has a most perceptive way of getting to the core things-quickly!
“Well,” I said in a long breath, attempting to draw out the “well” long enough for my nearly seventy year old brain to try to recall the salient points of last week’s argument and come up with a cogent rebuttal for the value of spending a sunny Comox Valley fall day inside writing about Bill Tieleman’s pipe dreams hyping the danger of the NDP being tricked into jumping from a high place by a dangerous band of loonies calling for meaningful action on climate change. Whew!—it was a long breath! And here is my reply.
I believe it was worth my time to spend a whole sunny Comox Valley fall day writing about Bill Tieleman’s fears for the NDP not so much because he is a widely read columnist known for his coverage of the BC Legislature raids, for his leadership role in defeating BC’s attempts at electoral reform or even for his acclaim as Communications Director for the Glen Clark NDP government; what really inspired me to write the What’s Wild Bill Smoking post was this is the quintessential debate of the Twenty-first Century Left (or more broadly—Progressives). Should we (us red/greens) stand up and boldly declare our vision of a better world or should we try to keep alive some fragment of the vision of a just, equitable, sustaining and sustainable society in some remote backroom of our consciousness and only speak publicly of an undefined “Better!” or vague “Yes, We Can!” in hopes of an electoral victory which will propel progressive voices into public office from which we can begin to lay the foundations for that better world we dream of?
I am sure you recognize Obama’s meaningless slogan “Yes, We Can!” which left plenty of room for a presidency of broken dreams for a more vital democracy, a more equitable economy, a totally shattered dream of a more peaceful or environmentally healthy world. “Better” is the devastating 2013 campaign slogan of Adrian Dix and the BCNDP when Dix campaigned on an election promise that would thrill Bill Tieleman; (slightly paraphrased here) ‘Vote for me and the NDP. We won’t do much—well, maybe a little better than Christy Clark.’ That wimpy campaign didn’t even get the NDP into office when the electorate had been waiting 4 years to throw the Liberals out. Then there was the recent federal election where the NDP had expected to form government but ended up finishing a distant third when NDP leader Thomas Mulcair decided to follow the Tieleman don’t stand out line of thinking and entirely bury the NDP campaign behind a promise to balance all budgets at any cost—without any consideration to what that might do to Canada or the people, infrastructure and environment of our country. It happened in Ontario where the NDP ran on a vote for us; we’re not much different from anyone else.
Then there is the US election where, given the unbelievably stupid faux pas effort of the Republican candidate, should have decided this election before it started but Hillary can’t seem to connect with the voters. She’s a Tieleman dream—she doesn’t have anything to say. As the Bible warns, “When the vision fails, the people die.” Hillary has no vision that connects with people who are tired of an economy that serves only a few. They are tired of rhetoric from the top that talks about action on climate change but bows to big oil’s money when it comes time for action. Indeed, this inability to stand up and stand out may be playing itself out with tragic consequences for all of us as voters flock away from Hillary because she is so tied to the status quo that no one believes she stands for anything other than more of the same. So the Fool and Pretender are in a dead heat heading into the final lap of the Presidential race.
While Tieleman and the old guard Teilemanists run around saying sish, sish, keep quiet, don’t talk of big values or any values that might rock the boat/vote, Bernie Sanders ran a campaign directly against the Tieleman line and spoke so clearly of values it enthused a generation that had given up on politics. Bernie spoke directly to their values on things like getting big money out of politics, getting serious about climate change, creating a tuition free path to higher learning, to a meaningful commitment to publicly funded healthcare for all, to breaking up the conspiracy of big finance, to a truly progressive income and capital gains tax. And he put it together under the banner of “Social Democracy” or even “Socialist” to set it apart as a different way of looking at the whole package of who we are and where we want to go.
Where, oh where has the ability to dream big gone? Oh, where, oh, where can it be? Remember when John Kennedy rebuilt a nation’s ability to dream big by making the very idea of daring to dream big-to dream the seemingly impossible—the very core of preparing his country to step into the Twenty-first Century? “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. We choose to go to the Moon! …We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win”. Imagine if Mulcair had spoken like that about dealing with climate change or homelessness or rebuilding healthcare. Imagine poor old Mr. Tieleman cringing to hear of such bold leadership!
Or imagine what Wild Bill might have thought if he were around in 1933 when Franklyn Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was elected President of the United States and immediately proclaimed the New Deal—a radical agenda for change that would dramatically lift the United States out of a most desperate economic depression. Roosevelt’s actions were so dramatic that it came to be said of him that “Hoover (previous President with a definite Tielemanish bent) tried to save the banks and even the banks failed. Roosevelt tried to save the people and even the banks succeeded.”
FDR expanded the concept of freedom from want with his proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights”, an “economic” bill of rights to counteract what he viewed as the growing tyranny of the capitalist economic order declaring that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” The New Deal was a comprehensive change of direction. It inaugurated the Wagner Act to promote labour unions, and instituted the Works Progress Administration relief program (which made the federal government by far the largest single employer in the nation). It initiated the Social Security Act, and focused on rebuilding the nations agriculture with programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act set maximum hours and minimum wages for workers.
The thing the Tielemanites just can’t get their heads around is the simple truism proclaimed by Yogi Berra in the 1960’s “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Our grandchildren won’t have a habitable planet unless we reject reductionist Tielemanite thinking that tries to put a damper on our need to deal effectively and dramatically with climate change, social justice and a tolerant/accepting multiculturalism.
Ah, multiculturalism. One cannot even think the word multiculturalism without recalling how Pierre Trudeau’s powerful vision of a Just Society enabled him to negotiate Canada’s constitutional independence from Britain and establish a new Canadian Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms that, along with the Official Languages Act, ensured a country where mutual respect—even admiration of our differences– would buffer us against the hate propaganda of the Harper years. Imagine what Trudeau might have said to Donald Trump when his words to Canadians were “If Canada is to survive, it can only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another.” Imagine what he might have said to Wild Bill and his posse of pessimism when his parting words to us were “Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.”
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. Albert Einstein
Yes, my friend, I am most delighted to have spent one, now two, of our preciously few Comox Valley sunny Fall days writing/thinking about the changes we can make in creating a just, sustaining and sustainable society if we are willing to boldly speak up for those values. It makes me feel all sunny inside.