Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Political Progress and the Emerging Ridicule of the Alberta Party

While I will direct my mind to the Alberta Party, much of the paradigm I will describe applies to the evolution of the Wildrose Alliance and the PCs, Liberals and NDP as well...we are all just at different stages and phases of this process.

I am inspired by a quote that I believe came from Schopenhauer.  He said to the effect that all truth passes through three stages.  First it is ridiculed.  Second it is violently opposed and third it is accepted as being self-evident.  I was reminded of this quote in a recent workshop I attended on "Unstoppable Conversations" that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It helped me get a handle on a framework for many of the thoughts about changes and transformations in the Alberta political landscape that I have been rumbling through my brain lately.

Back to Schopenhauer' s quote and the evolving nature of "truth."  First off, I don't hold much stock in truth.  It is too subjective, temporary and perceptually ambiguous a concept to deserve the weight it has in our political culture discourse.  I can accept the de Bono concept of a proto-truth.  To me that is something we hold on to as self-evident until something better (or just different???), comes along to occupy the mind space of a society.  That sense of a proto-truth is very alive in the context of the Schopenhauer quote too.  Truth changes.  It is not absolute.

The image of the PCs, Liberals and NDP are all at the third stage of  truth in Schopenhauer's world.  The self-evident niches for each of them are embedded in the political cultural context of the times and perceptions about them are set in the minds of citizens.  The PCs after 40 years in power are the natural governing party but they are off their game of late.  The Liberals are the oldest political party in Alberta but marked with a cultural meme that ties them to the federal party and the alleged evils of the often reviled National Energy Policy.  To many misplaced beliefs and mythologies make them a political non-starter for most Albertans. The NDP are not extreme but just not mainstream enough to be seen as ready to govern.  We like the NDP as critics of government in service of the public interest - but no more.

These conventional political parties seem to be able to sustain and reaffirm their political space on the left-right spectrum in the minds of most Albertans.  Otherwise they would lack a sense of significance and could just as well disappear from the consciousness of the everyday Albertan.  They tend to oppose each other in a political game of oppositional posturing and positioning, politely called "spin" but is in fact mostly just hard ball propaganda. They are not seen as nimble nor adaptable to the changing times or competent given the complexity of a shrinking world culture, globalized economy or the realities of an interdependent environment.

The Wildrose Alliance Party, in my perception, is moving into the second stage of truth, that of being violently opposed.  I say that because I am one of those who are actively opposed to the Wildrose Alliance governing philosophy of Libertarianism social policy and Monetarism economic policy and an environmental policy that is based on Climate Change Denial.

However, I would not call my opposition to the Wildrose Alliance Party "violent."  The rancorous rhetoric of the extreme right in the USA and the linkage of that rhetoric alleged to encourage actual physical violence.  Political based violence like the killings it Tucson and the murder of abortion doctors by radical hardcore conservatives of the assassinations of the 60s some say is returning.  The question is why and who, what and where is that level of violent opposition becoming normative in the States?  We know how it is becoming normative.  The gun culture of the United States of America and the decline of education standards, opportunity erosion and increasing fear, uncertainty and doubt about the future for too many Americans.

Back to Alberta.  I am more at the vehemently opposed level to the governing philosophy and political culture of the Wildrose Alliance.  My opposition to the Wildrose is is a matter of conviction and vigour, not hate and anger. I  do not want Alberta to be governed by that, or any other similar political dogma. My opposition, like every other moderate progressive I know or ever met, is intellectual and philosophical, not a matter of force and violence.  I am a democrat and will defer to the will and decision of an informed and engaged majority of voter.  Those who win elections with a mere 40% turnout casts a serious suspicion of those criteria being met in our elections.  We need both democratic and electoral reform beyond tinkering with advertising rules and rates of special interests groups.

The Alberta Party is just emerging on the political radar screen in Alberta.  As a result of such attention other partisans are stepping up the rhetoric and ridicule.  That puts the Alberta Party very much at the first stage of the "truth" - the ridicule stage. This stage one level of ridicule is coming from some supporters of the other parties but not the parties themselves.  This link is a perfect example. Here is a blog post with point of view on the political context of the stage one ridicule too.

I think this is all in good humour and pretty slick political PR too.  It is important because it is an attempt to frame the Alberta Party as something it is not before the party has a chance to express its own narrative of what it is and aspires to be come.

This is not a new tactic for hard core conventional political party operatives.  Harper spent an enormous amount of taxpayer supported money on television ads leading up to an election.  This negative campaign timing was pretty cynical because this stuff was pure political campaign advertising but done just in advance of an election so it would not be controlled nor limited by campaign spending laws.  Harper was successfully framing Stephane Dion, as the new leader of the Liberal Party in the public consciousness before Dion could set out his own narrative in the public mind. 

This kind of negative adverting is universally denounced and universally used - because it works.  Some Alberta unions did a high cycle television ad campaign in the last Alberta provincial election saying Stelmach Had No Plan.  That resulted in new legislation sponsored by the Stelmach government limiting third party election spending in the province.  So much for electoral free speech and opinion through advertising in Alberta.  Not a big deal really, because there is scant evidence that such advertising changes opinions in any event.  But as an offence to free speech...and government control of free speech - its a big deal.

The Alberta Party is trying to change the nature of the discourse with a policy of MLA Guidelines aimed at returning civility and professionalism back into Alberta politics.  I applaud those efforts.  They may be naive but the sentiment is not misplaced.  The theatre of the absurd that is Question Period or the pathetic discourse that passes as debate, dialogue and even public consultation in Alberta is disheartening.

My contribution to this effort at more civility and professionalism in politics in Alberta will be on this blog.  I will continue to be critical of the politics and the tactics of those with whom I disagree but I will not engage in personal attacks about politicians at least not without evidence-based justification.  When it comes to comments on how various political philosophies and promoted propaganda, I intend to be vehemently opposed where I disagree. But I will try my best not to be disagreeable in the process.  I hope my readers support this position with non-anonymous comments that are aligned with this approach.  I hope readers will be civil and vigilant in helping me keep to my word on this.  Just a small step but one worth taking.