Transit City, big words like kleptocracy, and learning from our conservative opponents

As promised, we’ve spent the past week working through the six steps toward getting involved in social change that Amanda Sussman lays out in The Art of the Possible. We’ve reviewed one a day, using the Transit City plan as an example issue. If you missed any of the relevant posts, you can review the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth steps individually.

For today’s democracy post, since we’ve spent a week looking at a local issue and what we can do about it, I’d like to share some links that might give us all a little motivation.

The first is a recent piece in the Globe and Mail by Brian Topp, who says the recent Don Cherry debacle shouldn’t be underestimated, much less written off. Topp walks the reader through the “Orwellian double-talk” of kleptocracy, in which conservatives frame themselves as friends of the little guy in order to serve elite interests more effectively. It’s an approach that Topp says has become “the common currency of conservatives at all levels of government throughout the English-speaking world,” including our mayor.

“The conservative agenda,” he says, “seeks to impoverish all of Tim Hortons’ clients and to transfer their savings and income to people who view Starbucks as pedestrian. The conservative agenda is about the most massive transfer of wealth from ordinary people to the elite since the 1920s. The conservative agenda leads to more crime. The conservative agenda is about subordinating our sovereignty to global corporate interests – including the sale of our key assets to foreigners – and to the foreign policy agenda of another country.”

Ford’s agenda, of course, is just a local-level example of this ideology. But his successful campaign, and his continued support, prove that this approach works.

But it doesn’t have to. As Topp says, if progressives are willing to “stop building up our opponents by mocking or demonizing them,” and if we can shed our own lame liberal language and “find some clear words to point out the fundamental contradiction in the conservative message,” we can “beat the Conservatives in the race for our own base.”

The second link I’d like to share is to a recent piece in the National Post by Dan Gardner, an Ottawa Citizen columnist that I’ve quoted before. Entitled “Why the left hasn’t seized the day,” Gardner’s article argues that here at home, and all over the world, the left just isn’t putting up much of a fight.

He raises similar concerns about our ineffective academic language, citing a conversation with Jack Layton as an example. He argues that the left, or at least its rhetoric, is largely out of touch with the needs and concerns of today. He doesn’t offer as much in the way of alternatives as Topp, but he reinforces many of the same points.

Now, both of these guys are talking about something much broader than local politics, and certainly much bigger than Transit City. But they both point to a political approach that’s more effective – and more exciting, I think – than the approach progressives are currently taking.

We can be the cool kids in the corner, making fun of Ford and his supporters with smug superiority, but that doesn’t work. It sure didn’t work during the election, and in fact it probably played right into the hands of a campaign bent on demonizing downtown elites who supposedly look down on ordinary Torontonians. Isn’t it time we got over ourselves and tried something more effective?

Posted in Democracy