War of Ideas? Not a Chance

National Post Comment

May 2004


As we all pant and circle like dogs outside our master's door waiting for Paul Martin to drop the writ, so we can all rip round the country on big shiny buses, burning expensive oil and pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, it is useful to ask why? Why are we in the fourth election in 11 years, this last one totally unnecessary until November 2005? As a writer for the Fort St. John, B.C. Alaska Highway News said recently, the Grits have an election fetish.

It is an expensive fetish: Over $200-million will be spent to soothe Mr. Martin's mangled ego; not to mention -- according to this Fort St. John wag -- "550 tons of election materials, making it the single biggest waste of time, energy, and three ring binders since high school."

No kidding. Reading Liberal platforms is like reading cotton candy, there's absolutely nothing there, but somehow it still makes you sick.

Mr. Martin says this is going to be a "War of Ideas." Well, that would be funny, were not the taste in our mouths so ghastly. Mr. Martin can't be in a "War of Ideas," about health and education because (a) he has no ideas; and (b) any idea would see him beat up by his many and multiplying constituents, primarily of course, the teachers' and the public sector unions. All the useful, proven ideas about those two "issues" have been thrown up by the right, and pretty much all of them end the featherbedding by the white collar do-gooders who have plush lives. If you include hospitals, the Liberal government funds public services and interest groups to the tune of $49-billion a year, which is kind of persuasive when it comes to keeping things exactly the way they are.

Track that in a bit, and you'll find that every leftish-of- center lobby group and advocacy group in Canada is in the pocket of the federal Liberals. Canadian feminist, multicultural, and official- language minority groups typically depend on government grants for between 50% and 80% of their budgets. Out here, last December, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which advocates massive income redistribution and (astonishingly) increased taxes, received a $1- million grant from the federal Liberals. All that money is spent persuading citizens that any other ideas but increasing socialist dominance are "extreme" or "fascist" or continue the "white capitalist dog patriarchal status quo."

Compelling people (us) to support groups that we might not agree with is flat-out coercion, it shuts down public debate, and blocks the free exchange of ideas. For instance, if the official two- language thing isn't the biggest and longest running taxpayer ripoff in any democratic country in the entire world, you'd have to prove it to me. A senior bureaucrat in Ottawa told me last week that 95% of her work, and all the work in Ottawa, is conducted in English, but that everyone must keep upping their language skills, at $37 an hour (paid by us), and the older the English person gets in the service the more likely are his skills to fail (from disuse) and his job is taken by a French-Canadian. This is a catastrophic waste of talent and money. But can we have a little talk about that? I don't think so.

In the States last autumn, the press was much full of the launch of the Center for American Progress, a think tank run by Bill Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta and funded largely by George Soros, which was going to fill the intellectual deficit of the centre-left. At least they admitted they had a deficit. What was their first idea? A flat tax. Now don't all howl at once, since we do all know the flat tax has been floating around the right-wing for 30 years, and routinely decried as an "extreme fascist Christian patriarchal white capitalist running dog" idea.

Finally, someone noticed that really the Center for American Progress was an attack machine. There were no ideas being generated. There was no scholarly research. It was a spin tank, doing sophisticated oppo research with high-level talking points. The "scholars" at the Center for American Progress were salesmen for the progressive point of view, and all the scholarship they were looking for was that magic eight-word phrase they could slap on a bumper sticker. Sort of like: "extreme Christian, fascist patriarchal capitalist status quo." That is because on the left, there are no new ideas. The last new idea was floated a century and a half ago, by Karl Marx. As one anonymous Democrat worried about the fundamental direction of the party said: "The problem is not the bumper sticker. The problem is the car."

That long, hard, necessary conversation has been going on for decades on the right. Their ideas about welfare, about health, taxes, and education, in every small-scale area in which they have been allowed to be tested, have increased the sum of human happiness and freedom. Don't look for any of them to be discussed for the next six weeks.