In March of 2010, it was revealed that several wealthy Alberta ridings had sent cash and staff to poorer ridings in Ontario and Quebec. (1)
Jason Kenney, Rob Anders and Stephen Harper, all confident in their bids for re-election, helped to finance several campaigns, including that of Conservative MP for Nunavut, Leona Aglukkaq. Shelley Glover, Saint Boniface, Manitoba, was another recipient.
What made the transfers questionable, was the fact that they did not report them to Elections Canada as "transfers", the way they should have, but as "donations".
However, while the media focused on that story, it was a comment made by Rob Anders that got my attention. "If people are true movement-oriented Conservatives, then it makes sense they would support those candidates and show up and support them and cut cheques."
I had heard the term "Movement Conservatives" many times, in relation to the New Right movement in the United States, and certainly recognized that the Reform-Alliance-Conservative Party, in all of its manifestations, was a "movement", and not just another political party.
However, in a moment of clarity, I realized that they are just part of the broader American movement. Rob Anders had studied at the Leadership Institute (2), Morton Blackwell's training centre for conservative political activists. (Other graduates included Karl Rove and Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed).
Blackwell is a key player, having worked on the campaigns of both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and was instrumental in bringing in the Evangelical vote. Blackwell, as I mentioned in the Introduction, also helped Preston Manning create the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, fashioned after the Leadership Institute. (2)
That revelation caused me to change the direction of my book. This is not simply about our Christian Right attempting to create a Canadian theocracy, nor is it about our now having a neoconservative government. This is about the fact that the American conservative movement has taken over Canadian politics.
And that should be troubling to everyone.
".... your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world." Stephen Harper. Speech to Council for National Policy, 1997. Made at the invitation of none other than Morton Blackwell. (3)Movement Conservatism 101
In his book The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman discusses the fundamentals of "Movement Conservatism". He says that the first step was to build "a base". How often do we hear of Harper's "base". It has become so common that the media now use the term matter of factly, no longer explaining who they are, what they are, or why he even has one.
"The base" has become more than just a group of loyal supporters, but people conservatives feed off, when they need a little noise, to drown out those opposing their actions.
When the debate over whether or not to fund abortions overseas, as part of the government's maternal health initiative heated up, Harper's then Chief of Staff, Guy Giorno, told his boss to “protect the base.” (4)
Karl Rove would often advise George Bush of the same thing (5). Protecting the base was first and foremost.
Blackwell once wrote a letter to a newly elected Republican, and offered his advice on "the base". "Your constituency is the voters, especially the coalition which elected you. You can't count on the news media to communicate your message to your constituency. You must develop ways to communicate with your coalition which avoids the filter of the media. Focus on your base. Write to them. Meet with them. Honor them. Show yourself to be proud of them. Support their activities. Show up at their events."
He also advised that you should never betray your base, by "outing them", if they wanted to remain in the shadows. That he claimed would be "politial suicide".
But the creation of a base has many levels.
Populist Level - The populist base, or what both Richard Nixon and Stephen Harper referred to as the "silent majority", are perhaps the most important element of movement conservatism, and in fact without them, there probably never would have been a movement at all.
The New Right learned how to tap into the insecurities and prejudices of a segment of the population that had become disenfranchised with feminism, gay rights and "political correctness". Reserving their comments for like minded souls, they were instead told to let it out. They weren't wrong. It was only the liberal society that was tramping on their rights.
As early as the 1950s, the National Review, edited by a young William F. Buckley, was defending the right of the South to prevent blacks from voting—"the White community is so entitled because it is, for the time being, the advanced race". (6)
A decade later, Ronald Reagan joined the movement, and without being overtly racist, made it clear, that he too was on their side. When he gave his first major speech in 1964,"A Time for Choosing," it was drafted to feed off paranoia. As Krugman says of Reagan, "His early political successes were based on appeals to cultural and sexual anxieties, playing on the fear of communism, and, above all, tacit exploitation of white backlash against the civil rights movement and its consequences."
He would carry that into his federal campaign and in 1980, stumped about states' rights (as in the right to continue policies of segregation), at Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered by the Klan.
In Canada, when the Reform Party was organizing, they too established a base of "white nationals". And while Stephen Harper and Preston Manning were careful not to write extremist views into their policies, the message got through.
According to Trevor Harrison in his book Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada
"... the notion that some Reform members may have strong Anglo-Saxon nativist inclinations is supported by more than merely the background profiles of its leaders, members and supporters. It is supported also by the words of many of its ideological mentors who depict Canada as not only historically an Anglo-Saxon country but also part of a wider Anglo-Saxon culture that is in need of recognizing and re-establishing its heritage. (7)They also fed off fears, brought on by immigration and a communist threat. But while leaders of the American movement stood with their base against blacks, the Reformers stood up to Quebec, who they claimed were getting special favours from Ottawa; and forced bilingualism.
Business Level - Their populist base provided the noise, but they still needed money, and for that they tapped into the corporate sector, with promises of lower taxes and massive deregulation. And by standing with corporations against unions, they easily created a base of the monied elite.
These people provided the funding for the think tanks, while the populist base provided the bodies for the Astoturf groups, even though they were often rallying against their own self interest.
Intelligentsia Level - This level was created when "movement conservatism" joined forces with the Neoconservatives. Milton Friedman of the Chicago School pushed back against Keynesian economics and the Welfare State, while men like Irving Kristol, who called himself the Godfather of Neoconservatism, produced scholarly papers promoting free market theories and denouncing "big government" solutions to social problems.
With an eager populace and more money than they could imagine, it became a smart career choice for many academics. In fact, at all levels, those who worked for the movement, were never unemployed. They moved from government to think tanks, and back again, always campaign ready.
The intelligentsia also created a special language. One speech written for a politician, could mean one thing to the populace, another to the corporate sector and yet another to other intellectuals. Krugman called it speaking in code. When they targeted a specific group with their message, it is "dog-whistle politics".
A good example of this was when George Bush called himself a "compassionate conservative". The masses heard "compassion", believing that he would protect the social safety net. However, he was actually referencing the 1992 work of Marvin Olasky, who called for dismantling the welfare state, and putting social services into the hands of Christian organizations to dispense at their will.
David Kuo, one of the Evangelicals who helped to put George Bush in the White House, caught the reference, believing that the "faith-based" group he was part of, would be given funds to start a domestic ministry, to fight against poverty.
As it turned out, Bush had no such plans, and in the end only corporations benefited from any "charitable" initiatives.
By now many have picked up on the coded language. "Choice" means "private", "private" means "corporate", and so on. There are also phrases that are common to the group on both sides of the border.
"Tax relief" is a good example of this.
When the Globe reported that nearly all Canadian workers would pay more income and payroll taxes in 2011, Jim Flaherty's office responded by suggesting that all sectors benefited from "tax relief". (8) That was a common term used by the Bush administration, to ward off the same kind of accusations. According to George Lakoff: On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words tax relief started appearing in White House communiqués to the press and in official speeches and reports by conservatives .... (9)
Bush and Flaherty used "averages", instead of actualities. G.W. announced that Americans would receive an average $1,083 in savings, when in fact the "average" American netted about $200.00. The huge savings by the upper class distorted the "median".
Religious Level - This refers to the Moral Majority or Christian Right, who now greatly influence public policy in Canada and the U.S.
Conservatives have painted themselves as the only party that believes in God. Daivid Kuo in his book, Tempting Faith: An inside Story of Political Seduction, speaks of how the Republicans suddenly became the party of church goers.
At Sunday morning brunches around Washington, they appear in their "Sunday best", dressed as though they had just returned from "service", when in fact many had come directly from their homes or apartments. It was important to keep up appearances.
With the Tea Party, has "movement conservatism" hit bottom? They are certainly the embodiment of racist populism and religious extremism, funded by the corporate sector, and marching against their own self interest.
Now that we can put a name to the odd combination of forces, and have an idea of what a Harper "base" might look like, it's time to go back to where it all began.
1. Harper, Anders and Kenney ridings transfer to 'poor' Ontario ridings, By Tim Naumetz, The Hill Times, March 8, 2010
2. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, By: Marci McDonald, Random House Canada, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-307-35646-8 3, p. 104
3. McDonald, 2010, p. 105
4. Guy Giorno: national man of mystery: PM’s chief of staff target for blame, but insiders say he gets big things right, by John Geddes, May 31, 2010
5. Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, By James Moore and Wayne Slater, John Wiley & Sons, 2003, ISBN: 0-471-42327-0
6. The Conscience of a Liberal, By Paul Krugamn, W. W. Norton & Co., 2007, ISBN: 13 978-0-393-06069-0, p. 9
7. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By: Trevor Harrison Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, p. 105
8. Tax man to hit Canadian workers harder in 2011, By Sunny Dhillon, Globe and Mail, December 28, 2010
9. An introduction to framing and its uses in politics, By George Lakoff, Cognitive Policy Works, February 14, 2006