Category Archives: Politics

Essays on politics and current events.

2020 Vision

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 12, 2019 • Politics

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N THE DAY Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born, 13 October 1989, Nancy Pelosi was two years into a Congressional career that would yield the highest ranking female politician of American history. Pelosi inherited a seat twice vacated by death, the first of Phillip Burton and the second of his wife Sala. From the former Pelosi also inherited a commitment to AIDS research and legislation, concerns which at the time set her apart from the Washington establishment and in particular the Reagan administration.

I begin here to remind the reader—should the reminder be necessary—there was a time Nancy Pelosi was something of an Ocasio-Cortez figure, pushing controversial and outside-the-box thinking on recalcitrant colleagues. As a San Francisco Democrat, Pelosi came to Washington from a district that had been consistently blue since she attended her first national convention in 1952. In the alchemy of these contradictory themes, of safety and boat-rocking, the career of Speaker Pelosi was forged.

No one survives even in the safest of districts without wits, and Pelosi is a sharp and shrewd politician. Obamacare could well and with good reason have been called Pelosicare, dependant as its passage was on her considerable skills. She is among the most competent and effective Speakers of the House of the past forty years. But longevity has its hazards. It wasn’t long ago that Pelosi held up the liberal end of the argument. Today we have the younger and more strident voices of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar—a fresh generation of Democrats keen to take on the President. Pelosi has now become the resistance, not of Trump but of the mavericks within her own party.

The President will not be removed from office by means of an impeachment vote. Pelosi’s calculation is that hearings will only aid Trump’s fortunes in 2020, by supplying fuel to his engine of paranoia and vindictiveness. She’s been around long enough to have noticed that impeachment is now (along with the special counsel) an all-weather political tool, drawn from the chest as a matter of routine business, a habit that does not exactly thrill the public. “You can’t impeach everybody,” she has said, when in fact her career seems to have taught her that you can’t impeach anybody—not even Bill Clinton, whose removal from office had the support of the House but not of the Senate.

The case for impeachment has two aspects, one political and one principle. On the political side one must calculate the electoral hazards, and who can doubt that Pelosi has done so. The principle aspect requires an answer to the question, Does the President merit impeachment? Pelosi’s rivals in the Democratic party have answered this question to their satisfaction. They want to exercise the oversight function of Congress and send a message that no President is above the law. Pelosi however appears interested only in the political calculation.

She believes the centre will hold and that Trump will succumb to something that she calls self-impeachment. The voters will decide. Perhaps in the meanwhile evangelicals will restrain the President in matters such as mass raids and deportations. Secretary Acosta’s illegal sweetheart deal with the child mass-rapist Jeffrey Epstein? The president’s call. There is no role for Congress. When presented a question touching upon the behaviour of the Trump administration, Pelosi spills the phrases I’m not focused on / don’t know much about / am not interested in that. “We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that,” she says, without much by way of specifics. As for the mavericks in her party, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Oof. Pelosi has gone beyond not wanting to rock the boat to not wanting to sit in it.

A year ago Joe Biden was the seasoned politician and the beloved Obama sidekick. He was untouchable until suddenly he wasn’t. Survive long enough and you will confront your own obsolescence. It may be that Pelosi is steps ahead of the rest of us, playing a Democratic version of Trump’s QAnon four-dimensional chess. Perhaps Trump will “self-impeach” and the world will be better for it. Perhaps the best course of action is to wait. Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat. She’s among the smartest politicians out there, until she isn’t. ⌾

Doug Ford and the Communication Wizards

From time to time, a pig needs lipstick

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 21, 2019 • Politics

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OUG FORD’s cabinet shuffle arrives in the waves of discomforting polls and cold receptions—the most noted being the Raptors parade, where people booed the leader of a party self-described as For The People. The government concludes that they have not communicated effectively. In an age when the Party runs its own news channel, on social media, and has taken every opportunity to stage propaganda stunts (featuring cabinet ministers posing at convenience store shelves and gas pumps across the province) it’s equally plausible that they are communicating only too well. The people now know Mr. Ford and his works better, and as a result they are not happy.

Out has gone a Minister disliked by parents of autistic children, not only on account of the government’s cuts to services but also the manner in which the cuts were handled. Was this a failure of communication? Minister MacLeod did no worse than Doug Ford, who told Tommy Lenathen in 2014 to “go to hell.” Lenathen you’ll recall had a son in an Etobicoke home for teenagers with autism, whose residents were characterized by Ford as criminals responsible for ruining the neighbourhood. Lenathen issued a formal complaint against Ford and in response was accused of waging “jihad.” As far as I’m aware nothing came of this sound-and-fury exchange but smoke and ink. Like so much of the Toronto Ford years, there was little substance behind the noise, even Ford’s threats to buy and re-sell the home amounting to nothing more than angry bluster. Communication, ladies and gentlemen.

Having found himself as so often in the past tossing among rough waters, the Premier has rolled heads to make way for recruits who are, we are encouraged to believe, better at the business of managing the message. But let’s pause to note two things: Ford is an agent of malice and chaos, and in this capacity the source of his own misfortunes, and the blunders of his team are on-brand, precisely of the style for which Ford himself is notorious. As a municipal councillor, he drew a rageaholic’s delight in stirring the pot and raising the temperature. There was no issue he could not and did not leave more acidic than he found it. He was and is his own worst enemy, and his restless schtick of aiming a chubby finger at so-called jihadists and elitists changes nothing.

Still, from time to time a pig needs lipstick. Don’t expect the style or the substance of Mr Ford to change: this shuffle is about optics. Replacing the former Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is Rod Phillips, once tasked with the unenviable job of handling the proto-Ford mayor Mel Lastman. Let the CV show that as long as Phillips was in the building, the instability of Lastman’s ego didn’t yield a gigantic black hole. Likewise the new Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, once upon a time protected the Harper government from itself, as a communications staffer. Anyone who was in Ottawa during the Stephen Harper years understood that Communications was a euphemism for party discipline and the screwing of thumbs, a prime necessity in a party cobbled together from diverse and in some cases lunatic elements whose loose lips might on any given day sink the ship.

The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith, is the Government House Leader, a job given to those with a knack for imposing discipline and herding sheep. Like Lecce, Smith will inherit the public ill-will harvested by his predecessor. But the course that brought us here is unlikely to be re-oriented. Every portfolio will be mandated to cut eight cents from the dollar and to consider nothing sacred. Fortunately it turns out that cuts are good for you. The former Minister of Education reminded us that larger classroom populations promote resilience in children. Perhaps the present Minister of Education (who at age 32 is somehow old enough to have been a campaign staffer in the Mike Harris years) will be more saavy. After all, he’s had the benefit of the only decent form of education, a faith-based private education.

Or more likely the Ford administration will continue to have the look and feel and aroma of an administration shaped by the ever-intemperate ever-pugnacious Doug Ford, because that’s what it is and always will be. In no longer than it takes to say “Chardonnay Sipping Elitist” the cunning communicators of Queen’s Park will be recommending some variation on dented cans of tuna fish to Ontario parents, like their spiritual forebears of the Harris government. Ford will continue to surround himself with cronypals, and the cronypals will make it their prime directive to produce a caucus of standing-ovation dittoheads. Back home the voters will wonder over the point of sending MPPs to Toronto, only to have them turned into sheep by Dean French and fed scripts for Borg-like regurgitation in awkward social media videos. This too is a form of communication—a bad form, and one I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more from the communication wizards. ⌾

Update [22 June 2019]:

Dean French Resigns