Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is the right wing or the left wing controlling the agenda?

               LEFT WING versus RIGHT WING

Conservatives of the far right would have us believe that the media is controlled by left-wing zealots. Yet it they who are controlling the political agenda, especially in Canada and the United States. Yes, U.S. President Barack Obama is a Democrat, but he is hardly a socialist or a left-wing radical. Throughout his presidency, Obama has been hampered by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has gradually shifted the political paradigm in this country to the right.  The Liberals have become the "Progressive Conservatives" and the New Democrats have turned into the Liberals.  As for the Conservatives, they are akin to U.S. Republicans.

The next Canadian federal election is scheduled for October of 2015 and the party leaders, for the most part, are certainly not focusing on issues such as youth unemployment, pensions, the environment, poverty and homelessness. Conservatives have put the spotlight on the deficit, taxes and crime.  Not that these aren't valid issues, but other important matters have been moved to the background or ignored.  The Conservatives are determined to remove the deficit before the election.  They want to campaign as the party that put Canada's books in order.

Getting rid of the deficit is certainly a laudable goal, but at what cost?  Can it be justified if causes pain and suffering for the most vulnerable in society?  Is it worthwhile if it creates more inequality and a greater income gap between the haves and have nots?  It is unconscionable that the Harper government is attempting to erase the deficit sooner than necessary in order to further its chances for re-election in 2015.  By the way, the Conservatives never mention that the Liberals left a $13.7 billion surplus when they handed over the reigns of power to them in 2006?

Most politicians try to portray themselves as fiscally responsible.  While taxpayers' money should certainly not be wasted, a certain level of taxation is absolutely necessary.  Right wingers, however, have worked diligently to make "tax" a four-letter word rather than the the three-letter word it is.  Yet certain programs are necessary to maintain services, prevent poverty and protect the environment.  People need those services right not, not three years from now.

Since he assumed the office of prime minister in 2006, and especially since forming a majority government Stephen Harper has actively pursued his right wing agenda - cutting government programs, relaxing environmental and gun control laws and eliminating the long gun registry and the long form census etc.  Some changes have come sneakily through omnibus bills.

During the 2008 recession, however, the government temporarily abandoned conservative principles and used stimulus spending to spur the economy.  Combined with Canada's regulations on financial institutions (a conservative no-no but already put in place by previous governments), the recession was not as painful as it was south of the border.  The Harper government took ample credit for this and portrayed itself as a party of sound fiscal management.  Then, in order to appease its base support, it reverted to cutting and slashing social programs and public sector jobs.

In Canada, a prime minister with a majority government wields a great deal of power.  The leader of the majority government in Canada is not subject to the system of checks and balances and the division of power provided by the U.S. constitution.  While Prime Minister Harper received a mandate to govern from the Canadian electorate in 2011 via our "first past the post" polling system, it must be remembered that about 60 per cent of voters did not cast their ballot for the Conservative candidates.  Since there is no proportional representation, Harper is governing with the electoral support of about 40 per cent of Canadian voters.

The Canadian media have solidly backed the Harper government.  During the 2011 federal election campaign, the vast majority of the nation/s newspapers endorsed the Conservative Party of Canada.  The country's major dailies, including The Globe and Mail, The Gazette (Montreal), the National Post, the Calgary Herald, the Ottawa Citizen, The Vancouver Sun, The Hamilton Spectator, all of the Sun Media papers (the Toronto Sun, the Ottawa Sun, the Winnipeg Sun, the Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Sun), the Edmonton Journal, the Winnipeg Free Press and The Vancouver Sun, overwhelmingly supported the re-election of a Conservative government.

The only notable exceptions were the Toronto Star, which endorsed the New Democratic Party (NDP), but urged strategic voting for the Liberals in close Liberal/Conservative ridings,  Le Devoir, which endorsed the Bloc Québécois, Le Soleil (Quebec City), which recommended voting for the best local candidate, and La Presse (Montreal), which recommended various parties in specific ridings. Maclean's magazine also supported the Conservatives. Does that sound like a media dominated by left-wing and liberal thinkers?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an aversion to our public broadcasting network, the CBC, and his government has been insidiously destroying it with cutbacks to its funding.  Although Conservatives regard the CBC as a hotbed of liberals and radicals, such staunch right wingers as Kevin O'Leary, Don Cherry and Rex Murphy appear on its programs.

It is no accident that the word "Progressive" has been removed from the name Harper's party.  It is no longer the "Progressive" Conservative Party. The neo-conservatives are in control and moderate conservatives such as former Prime Minister Joe Clark, do not fit in.  Clark has been very forthright in his criticism of the Conservative government's record on foreign affairs, accusing the Conservatives of practically abandoning the global arena.  In his book How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change, published in 2013,  Clark writes:

The Harper government is skilled at conveying, and controlling, its own image among Canadians. But sometimes the most disciplined guard goes down, and the government actually says what it means.

Clark, a longtime external affairs minister, laments that Canada "has drawn back from the fight against international poverty, peacekeeping, Kyoto, arms control, a broad presence in Africa, and Canada's customary leadership in the United Nations, Commonwealth and related multinational institutions."

Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada

In the United States, MSNBC and such newspapers as The New York Times present a liberal viewpoint. Yet they are overshadowed by the vehemence of Fox News and far-right talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh.  Right wingers also have the support of affluent Americans such as the Koch family who donate large amounts of their money to libertarian and conservative causes.  Then there is the powerful and wealthy National Rifle Association and its relentless opposition to gun control.

In the United States, the Republican Party has been completely and utterly transformed.  It is unrecognizable as the party of Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It's becoming increasingly libertarian and under the control of the Tea Party.  From the moment President Obama assumed office, the GOP has been incredibly hostile towards him.  It refuses to co-operate with him or make compromises for the benefit of  the country.  Republicans are more interested in bringing down Obama than in America's well-being.  That is why they have attacked almost everything he's tried to accomplish.  That is why they have been as relentless and as vicious as a pack of wolves in their opposition to the president.

I understand the importance of the division of powers between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the American government.  However, the Obama administration has faced nothing but congressional gridlock and an abundance of ill will from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The situation has deteriorated to the point that the House recently voted to proceed with a lawsuit against President Obama (only five Republicans opposed the ridiculous resolution).

Republicans are alleging that Obama misused his executive powers, especially with regard to changes made to the federal health care law when the Affordable Heath Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) came into being.  Thankfully, the majority of Americans do not agree with the Republicans.  A recently CBS News poll found that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the lawsuit against the president,while 37 percent approve.

According to a report by CNN's Deirdre Walsh, many constitutional experts "have raised doubts that the courts will take up the case."  The onus will be on the House of Representatives to prove that Obama's actions were harmful to it.  What a colossal waste of time when the United States has so many pressing concerns!

Many Republicans have tried to portray Obama as a foreigner, an outsider, not a "real American."  The "birthers" have questioned whether he was actually born in Hawaii.  They intimate that his birth certificate is a forgery and that he was probably born in Kenya or Indonesia.  Unable to overtly mention the president's colour, they use his birthplace in order to paint him as some kind of foreigner.

In the words of Steve King, U.S. Representative for Iowa's 4th congressional district, "I'm not sure Barack Obama could pass the citizenship test."  King, by the way, was one of 11 members of Congress to vote against the $51.5 billion Hurricane Katrina Aid package for the city of New Orleans, claiming it was fiscally irresponsible. He later remarked that "the singular vote that stands out that went against the grain, and it turns out to be the best vote that I cast, was my "no" vote to Katrina."

Rep. Steve King (Republican, Iowa)

In March of 2008, King made the following comments about then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's middle name, "Hussein."

I don't want to disparage anyone because of their race, their ethnicity, their name - whatever their religion their father might have been, I'll just say this: When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States - I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al Qaida, the radical Islamist and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11.  

The views of Rep. Steve King are indicative of the outlook of many Republicans and Republican voters.  As for their hostility to President Obama, remember that there is a movement to impeach him.  Here are the words of Michele Bachmann, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Minnesota's 6th congressional district.

We will put a handcuff on one of the president's hands.

Remember too, that Rep. Bachmann was a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential campaign.  She is not some fringe politician.  Neither is Sarah Palin, former Alaska Governor and former Republican vice-presidential candidate.  Palin called for the impeachment of Obama in Breitbart News, a conservative website.  She claimed that more Americans would favour impeachment if they were aware of the actual meaning of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

When House Speaker John Boehner (Republican, Ohio) stated that Republicans will not impeach the president and that impeachment talk was a "scam" being staged by Democrats, Palin and radio hosts Russ Limbaugh and Mark Levin strongly rebuked him.  They felt that Boehner was denying impeachment as a possibility.  This is the kind of attitude  Barack Obama has had to deal with.  He is the target of more venom from an opposing party and right wing commentators than any president in years.

Republicans, of course, are not expected to endorse all of President Obama's policies. In a healthy democracy, opposing views must be taken into careful consideration.  Nevertheless, Tea Party types
ought to be reminded of their moral obligation,to work with the president for the sake of their nation. They ought to be told to put aside rancour and unreasonable partisanship.

In Canada, we have a prime minister whose majority government that can pass all the legislation it wants.  In the United States, the Democrats are stymied by the Republican majority in the House.  In both countries, the right wing controls the agenda.

- Joanne