Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carole James on Cruise Control

There is nothing especially deplorable about the cautious centrist business-friendly tack that Carole James took at the recent BC NDP convention. I agree with Rod Smelser's comment on Bill Tieleman's blog that "[n}o professional political strategist in any nation in the democratic world has ever recommended any strategy other than a pragmatic, centrist one for any party that is on the doorstep of winning power and wants to go that last, extra mile." I also agree that Carole has performed acceptably well in both of the last two election campaigns--well enough to win in 2013, just as Mike Harcourt performed well-enough in 1988-1991.

My criticism is of how many NDPers are dependent on what political scientists call the "absent mandate"-i.e. the mandate that comes not from genuinely persuading the voters to support the NDP platform, but simply from waiting until the normally governing party rots from within and its ability to win local pluralities in a majority of ridings collapses. Since many MLAs and operatives can count on this happening 3 or 4 times during their working lives (i.e. enough times for their favoured legislation to pass and for their public pensions to vest), they don't bother doing the really hard job of selling their ideas to a majority of constituents. Nor do they favour an electoral system that would give them more incentive to do so ( a degree of proportionality will force governments to care about every voter). "Carole will probably win anyway, so don't worry about it."

The problem with the absent mandate is that it quickly dissolves once in office, like a castle made of sand. It was frustrating to watch the Harcourt government, with its bright youthful cabinet and impressive policy agenda, struggle to explain their policies and mobilize support from the public. I predict that Carole James, who reminds me of Harcourt in more ways than one, will experience a similar fate, even if she does succeed in being the first woman to lead a party to victory in a B.C. general election.

What Obama Should Have Said to Israel

President Obama has the right priorities and he articulates them well. For that reason alone, he merited his election, and probably merits re-election as well. But he also came out of the starting blocks compromising, instead of using his power and prestige to make others compromise. He thereby wasted some of the political capital he had when he was elected, and has encouraged his opponents and adversaries at home and abroad to paint him as being 'weak'. This mistake was understandable, at least in the area of domestic policy, because he was trying to learn from the examples of Presidents Carter and Clinton, who ran into trouble after antagonizing Congress. But a President is upposed to have more latitude in foreign policy than in domestic policy---even if foreign policy touches upon some important domestic constituencies.

At the outset, President Obama should have set a new, tougher tone with Israel in order to expedite the peace process. Specifically, he should have listed a set of penalties for Israel for continuing to build settlements anywhere in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem:

1) witholding government loans;
2)deducting the amount of aid money to Israel in proportion to the amount of money that Israel spends on settlements; and
3) indicating that henceforth the US will not automatically wield a protective veto over UN resolutions that are hostile to Israel.

Now, it is true that Israeli P.M. Netanyahu has recently ordered a temporary freeze on settlements in the West Bank ,but not East Jerusalem. That is because he was embarassing and angering the President of the United States, who had been under growing pressure to apply sanctions. So he deftly avoided that eventuality by "voluntarily" agreeing to stop some of the settlement building.

But it should be President Obama letting Netanyahu off the hook, not the other way around. And then only if all , and not just some, of the settlement building is stopped.


It was amusing to hear former Vice-President Dick Cheney accusing Obama of "dithering" over his decision about Afghanistan. This certainly doesn't appear hypocritical when you consider how "decisive" Bush and Cheney were about Iraq in 2001-2003. But it is hypocritical when you consider that the proper focus of the War on Terror--Afghanistan and Pakistan--has been neglected for six years. All the more reason to call the Bush presidency one of the worst in history.

Friday, November 20, 2009

David Vickers, R.I.P. : The Best NDP Leader We Never Had?

Did you ever wish that we could have a premier who could combine the practical intelligence and self-confidence of Glen Clark with the moderation, procedural values and common sense of Mike Harcourt? With an extra dollop of character, vision, and good judgment to boot? It nearly happened in 1969, when Tom Berger led the NDP into an election that was called early by W.A.C. Bennett precisely to prevent the electorate from getting to know the new leader. It could have happened again in 1984 when David Vickers was passed over for the likeable but soon-to-be overwhelmed stalwart Bob Skelly. "Seniority without substance is a dangerous thing," would have been an unkind cut, but the truth is, the NDP was just as prone to make the wrong choice as its Social Credit opponents were. And that is exactly what both parties did.

David Vickers had paid his dues--as an outstanding lawyer, as a briliant young Deputy Attorney-General in the Barrett government, as a tireless advocate for the homeless, as a prominent Solidarity spokesman, and later as a distinguished judge on the B.C. Court of Appeal. That he never became premier is a shame.

British Columbia still awaits its first, badly-needed Allan Blakeney.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who Deserved the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize?

1. George Soros and Bill Gates, for channelling business philanthropy in some new and highly constructive directions; or
2. Bob Geldof and Bono for channelling popular music in some new and highly constructive directions; or
3. President Barack Obama, for the intellectually defensible reason that simply having a President of the United States with the right priorities for a change is more important at this juncture than just about anything that anybody else could do.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

President Obama's Show of Un-Strength

If President Obama continues to try to please his opponents and to let others push him around, he will not be as successful as JFK or Reagan. That's too bad, because he has all the other qualities of being a great president.

First, he gave ground to conservatives on government health insurance. He was right and they were wrong. SO why the give?

Second, he gave ground to leftist trade unionists by needlessly provoking the Chinese on tire imports.

Then he allowed his White House to get drawn into a verbal spat with FOX news--a can't-win scenario that only boosted FOX's ratings and made his Administration look petty.

NOW he's giving in to the Israelis on settlements--allowing them to consolidate the expansion of major settlements--and 900 new homes in East Jerusalem--without a whiff of sanction.

Obama may yet get his health care bill signed into law and a climate change treaty ratified--but I am afraid that they will surface in such watered down forms that they will be vulnerable to attack from both sides-- by the Left as insufficiently drastic and by the Right as being expensive with little tangible benefit.

When the President was sky-high in the polls, he could have been bolder on all of these issues. Now that his ratings have fallen to ordinary levels, he is even more likely to behave in an 'ordinary' manner. He must resist that temptation. Be BOLD, Mr. President. Be BOLD.