So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth- Revelations 3:16
In a political party there are few things as reprehensible, or indeed as volatile, as the combination of cynicism and populism. For an example of this we need only turn to the embarrassment that was the Michael Ignatieff campaign; run with an arrogance born of the former and a desperation significant of the latter. It was a pitiful, ugly thing from beginning to end.
It is for this reason that there’s almost something sad about Liberal apologists who continue to cite voter apathy and disproportionate representation as reasons for their defeat. We know exactly how and when the Liberals lost and it had nothing to do with how many people showed up to the polling station. It can be summed up in five words: at least we get votes.
It was one of the few beautiful things in what had otherwise been a rather sombre and mediocre night: the head of the Liberal party in a nationally televised debate confirming what many of us had known all along, and in doing so outing himself as the remorseless charlatan he is. This was not the moment the campaign ended however, but rather a summation of why it was over before it had even begun. How anyone trying to defend the corruption, and dishonesty, and failures of the Liberal party could respond with a statement so arrogantly contemptuous of voters is really all one needs when explaining what took place this past May.
It is for this reason that I can only express a certain amount of wariness at trends I see beginning to develop within the New Democratic Party. With its unprecedented success in the past election we have seen an influx of so called “centrists” attempting to drag us further and further right. It could be seen in the censoring of supposed “anti-Israel” commentary, or in the frightened, desperate way in which they tried to distance themselves from even the very word socialist. These are just a few moments in which we’ve managed to witness the cowardice and malleability of the supposed “centre” left. With everything they do, they demonstrate further what fearful invertebrates they really are.
It is the very mix of cynicism and populism we saw in the Ignatieff campaign, with its deference to popular opinion and its utter absence of anything resembling conviction. Socialism is unpopular, criticism of Israel is unpopular, workers’ rights (alarmingly) are unpopular, and the centre left has decided that it no longer has the stomach for unpopularity. For them it is better to be an echo chamber for public opinion, or in failing that to say nothing at all. Anything is better than saying something that might upset somebody and draw unwanted attention. Better just to ride the wave under the guise of centrism and keep collecting a paycheck. What we have now is a group of people so afraid of the public, so afraid of saying something someone might even – gasp – disagree with, that they would rather forgo discussion entirely.
I, for my part do not give a fuck whether opposing Israeli apartheid is popular or not. Or sticking up for workers’ rights. Or the rights of homosexuals. My own opinion is enough for me, and I reserve the right to defend it against any majority, any time, any place.
Perhaps what would alarm the supposed “centre” most is that I identify as one of them. I do it however, knowing that centrism, true centrism, comes not in the form of compromise but rather in contempt of popular opinion. I recognize the importance of a secular democracy in the Middle East, the value of Israel as an ally and perhaps most importantly the threat they face from the fascists and thugs that surround them; but that does not mean I don’t stand with my Palestinian brothers and sisters in the face of Israeli expansionism. I don’t need it to be popular to call Ariel Sharon a war criminal, or to say the same of Henry Kissinger, just as I don’t need it to be popular to support the war in Libya or Afghanistan. Centrism means being able to think for oneself, not moral cowardice and avoidance of “unpopular” topics. It is to form one’s own opinions free of party politics, and with it the belief that compromise is not always desirable for its own sake.
Instead what we have are a group of weak stomached conformists who rather than being willing to adopt unpopular positions have chosen to adopt no positions at all. Or barring that, positions dictated to them. At times, even the word “liberal” has taken on another rather nasty connotation for these people as they try harder and harder to distance themselves from the hated “left”. As the Liberals learned, this type of crass populism is a slow acting poison, but it will get you eventually. It is the erosion of moral courage for the sake of short lived popularity and unattainable compromise, and as the Liberals now know, if you say and do nothing for long enough, eventually people will stop listening.
To be left of centre was at one point to be a free and critical thinker, but now it has decayed into nothing short of bland, mirthless conformity. It is one thing to oppose the Gaza Flotilla, or partial birth abortion, and it is quite another to actively and fearfully attempt to suppress discussion on anything that might not go with the flow of popular opinion. Those are the types of centrists we don’t need. They are as much the enemies of reason and critical thought as any extremist, and their aversion to the unpopular is deserving of nothing short of ridicule and contempt. It might mean not being popular, but at least we’ll be saying something, which is better than the unscrupulousness and cowardice which destroyed the Liberal party.