Friday, 31 August 2012

Stockwell Day, Political Quotations, and Politics as Professional Wrestling

Today I read a very well written essay on the CBC news web site. I did not glance at the author's name but, clearly, he identified himself as a fiscally conservative man who believed that people who supported deficit spending were doing no favours for their country. He discussed, in particular, Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, but he did so respectfully, reiterating that both were charming and one was a friend.

I was surprised to find that the essay was written by Stockwell Day, the former leader of the The Canadian Alliance, a socially as well as fiscally conservative party that later merged with another to form the modern Conservative Party.

I checked a couple of pages of quotations by Stockwell Day to see if the same respectful sanity was on display in the past, and if I had undervalued him. The first such page that I looked at made me think that I had. He said such things as
Judges must be free of political interference or intimidation.
I wish the government and the Minister of Justice would address these legal and constitutional arguments, but they refuse to. They want Canadians to go blindly into their brave new world, but it is not wise for a society to move blindly in any direction.
and, on the old BNA Act remaining a British Act of Parliament until 1982, although it served as the written portion of Canada's Constitution
The thinking was that so long as the British kept our basic documents in their hands and so long as they kept the formal right to change them, changes in our system would be careful and deliberate.
There were also quotations there that expressed socially conservative views against gay marriage and for the place of religion in public life but, on the whole, he sounded thoughtful and sane.

I tried another page, which had quotations both by and about him, and my impression was quite different. He said, for example,
I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God and every word in it, cover to cover, is true.
The only way that some parts of the Bible can be reconciled with reality is to accept that they are true only as metaphors. A mind that cannot distinguish a metaphorical truth from a literal one is maintaining a wilful blindness.

Day used two logical fallacies against a Mr. Goddard, a lawyer doing the unpleasant duty of defending a pedophile in court.
Goddard must also believe it is fine for a teacher to possess child porn.
The first problem with this is that it is an ad hominem argument. It implies that Mr. Goddard is a bad man because he holds bad beliefs. It is also a straw man attack. He criticizes Mr. Goddard for what he "must" believe instead of what he actually said. In other words, Day was hitting below the belt.

Day also argued that prison violence should be part of the criminal justice system. At least, he seems to do so when he argues that a child rapist and child killer, Clifford Robert Olson, should be held in prison in such a way that he can be attacked by other prisoners.
People like myself say, 'Fix the problem. Put him in the general [prison] population. The moral prisoners will deal with him in a way we don't have the nerve to do.'
Finally, on educational standards, he said
God's law is clear: standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school.
This overlooks that the unavoidable fact that school is an arm of the government.

What do these quotations tell me? I learned that selective quotation can alter impressions. I also learned that being outside the realm of politics (as Day now is, since he did not run for election in 2011) allows one to be respectful to one's political opponents if one is naturally inclined to be so.

The game of politics, however, demands simplification to the point of vilification. Politics is theatre, and a politician giving a speech in the house or quick quotes to the media bears little more similarity to his own personality and beliefs than a professional wrestler bears to the hero or villain that he plays in the ring. Stepping outside the world of politics allows one to breathe a little more calmly and be oneself, as professional wrestlers, after a match, might take off their costumes and go for a beer. It's useful to remind myself of that, whenever I watch either politics or wrestling.

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