Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sorta political: "dumb as a bag of hammers"

I know Canadian politics are boring to non-Canadians. Heck, they are boring to most Canadians. But stick with this one.

That quote—"dumb as a bag of hammers"—comes from Stephen LeDrew who was president of the Canadian Liberal Party from 1998 to 2003. He was responding to a proposal from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien to pass a law that so severely limited corporate donations to political parties so as to render corporations' influence in politics insignificant.

The immediate effects of this law, as LeDrew predicted, were to destroy the Liberal party's huge fundraising advantage. Today, the Liberal party faces possible extinction. You'd think that people would be praising LeDrew for at least correctly assessing the consequences of Chretien's move. Instead, LeDrew is a forgotten man.

Which brings us to Cory Booker. The reason that LeDrew gets no credit is because he dared expose the hollowness of one of liberals favourite bits of mythology. Liberals love to accuse the right of being the servants of big business but the fact is that the liberal party in Canada always got far more money from big business than the conservatives did. The same is true of the Democrats who are far more beholden to big business than the Republicans.

And that is why Cory Booker is nauseated. He sees Obama playing what seems to Booker to be insane game of attacking big business directly. Using big business as a club to beat the Republicans is playing the game, directly attacking businesses that make huge donations to the Democrats is "as dumb as a bag full of hammers" or "nauseating" depending on your preferences. But is that right?

By the way, if you go to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, one of the biggest rooms in the place is the Railway Committee Room. That tells you a lot about the history of Canada. This country was bought and paid for by a bunch of big business people who built the Canadian Pacific Railway. Interestingly, just this last week the Canadian Establishment lost a huge proxy vote battle with a shareholder right's guy for control of Canadian Pacific. They didn't just lose the battle, they only got about ten percent of the vote. They were crushed and humiliated.

I suppose I should correct myself and say, the former Canadian Establishment lost a battle. Because that is what they are now.

And that tells you a lot about the delicate game that Obama is playing right now. One of the unexpected results of a globalized economy was to undermine the role of the big metropolitan centers. Cory Booker, as Stephen LeDrew did before him, may be more aware of the risks to the Democratic party that come with biting the hand that feeds them but Obama, as Chretien did before him, instinctively grasps that the power of the big financial capitals is declining. New York City is now what Chicago was in the 1920s—it is being bypassed. Increasingly, its real importance is for nostalgic reasons.

Therefore Obama is making a risky play but it's not nauseating or dumb. Of course, he is making this risky play because he knows he might lose in November. But whatever else Obama might brag about, he can't brag about economic success so it may be worth it to do what he is doing.

One thing we can say for sure, though, is that if he loses, his party loses as well and it will, as the Liberal Party did in Canada, pay a huge price for that gamble.

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