A few words on Mulcair's victory as NDP leader
Mar 25, 2012

A few words on Mulcair's victory as NDP leader

As one of those who opted to vote for a range of "not-Mulcairs", I can certainly empathize with those who might be disappointed that Tom Mulcair is now the official resident of Stornoway and the leader of the NDP. As something of a call for unity, I want to make a few points that are, I think, helpful to those in something of a funk over the situation.

The inevitable outcome of being involved and following politics is that we build mental relationships with specific candidates. We develop feelings that we like or dislike them, trust them or don't trust them, and generally form an emotional connection. It is not much different than the quite poignant feelings of disappointment or happiness that occurs after a favorite sports team loses or wins a big match.

I wouldn't say this doesn't matter at all, but the real consequences of politics is one of policies and at the end of the day the individuals involved don't much matter beyond their efficacy at getting different policies put in place. So my first request would be to set aside whatever feelings of personal attachment you might have and modulate your enthusiasm based on the metric of policies. Hopefully, this is already largely the case, but I think many - including myself - will become quite naturally emotionally invested in candidates and will be disappointed that they lost at least partly because of this emotional connection and not purely because of the differences that will result on the policy side.

On this vein, it is worth noting that Mulcair is very different on the personality side from someone like Jack Layton. This became very clear watching Mulcair's victory interview with Peter Mansbridge.  This has a distinctly different tone than the type of victory speech that Layton would deliver. It is cool, analytical, technocratic. He will talk about something like how accurate his election team's predictive polling was. In contrast, Layton was the rousing populist who would undoubtedly have been optimistically speaking about what this meant for Canadian families.

These personality differences make a big difference in how people react emotionally to a politician. But in a pretty significant sense they don't actually matter. Personally, I am more of the analytical technocrat than the populist by persuasion so I sort of identity with Mulcair's personality even though I suspect many don't and this was not about to change my low ranking of him on a policy level. It is true that these differences do make a difference in the efficacy of policies by changing the electability of the candidate; in this case, I think Layton's style is preferable in terms of getting favorable quotes in the media that appeal to others. However, other than electability (not something must anti-Mulcair voters were criticizing him on, many seemed to accept he might even be more electable), much of these personality differences simply don't matter. We were never trying to reproduce the personality of Layton, it is about replacing him with someone else with policies we like that is capable of implementing them even if it was an entirely different appeal at the personality level.

Finally, when I go down my list of reasons why an did not prefer Mulcair over the other candidates, in the vast majority of cases the other parties are significantly worse. I don't like his positioning on Israel and the Middle East, but Harper is the most hawkish lay pro-Israel Prime Minister. I don't like his tax policy as much as Topp's, but it is certainly far superior to Harper's. Etc. We can push for the issues we care about in the normal way: talking about them and bringing them to our politicians attention. Whether our leader is the optimally fits our exact policy slate or not does not change this and, I think, the differences in policy between the NDP candidates while not entirely trivial are also not all that different while being significantly different from both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

One of the defining debates of the last couple weeks of the campaign was on whether Mulcair was going to shift too much to the center or whether his "bring the center to us" rhetoric was more accurate. It never became clear precisely what this meant at the level of policies and it as more of a rhetorical difference.

At the end of the day, my plea for unity is two fold. Firstly, let us judge the outcome based on the policies and chances of implementing those policies for this is what truly matters in politics, not who implements them. The effects of politics are too significant and real on society to do anything else, despite our proclivities for a sports team mentality. Secondly, it is worth stepping back from our tightly focused positioning of the NDP leadership race and recognizing that much of the race was personality based with relatively minor policy differences and, further, that in the contrast of the wider political spectrum in Canada, Mulcair is certainly much closer to where a supporter of the other NDP candidates than anything else on the stage.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Jymn said...

Of course unity will prevail but to those anti-Prohibition Dippers, Mulcair is a huge step backwards. It will be hard to accept the rather archaic view of marijuana held by Mulcair, including falsehoods. In the age of Bill C-10, largely an anti-pot measure, we need a voice of reason, not an echo of pro-Prohibition voices from the right.

Anonymous said...

This really helped me to put it into presepective. Nathan Cullen was a long shot to begin with. The wildcard entry in play offs if you will. He managed to get to third. that's like the 99 odds horse placing to show. I'm still hugely disappointed in charlie angus' comment in regards to nathan in the toronto sun and it makes me feel we have a long way to go for unity.... BUT...

I'll give it a shot.

Annie said...

I think that Harper will be glad, because both intend to get rid of the Liberal Party. He is definitely no Jack Layton.... Cullen was the closest to Jack...the NDP made a big mistake..power over ethics?

bazie said...

Actually the anti-marijuana point is a good counterexample of something where the Liberals are now to the left of the NDP on this issue.

Oemissions said...

glad to read this
i was more against Topp than I was against Mulcair I viewed both of them as part of the Older Boys Club and Topp's personality plus poor speaking skills left him in about 5th place on my list even tho he had some policies i liked
Cullen won me over early on in the race. We love Nathan.
The sports mentality is my observation as well.
None of our Canadian politicians shouted with outrage when all those people In Gaza were being bombed.
The doctor, screaming on the phone, the one who treated Jewish women as well as Palestinian women,screaming yAllah yallah,y'allah at the loss of his 3 daughters in his home...still haunts me
And our politicians response was: Hamas needs to stop throwing rockets
I must confess that it was not until the last election that I began to really like Jack Layton.
I am already warming to Mulcair.
Being part of the 60s generation, ofcourse I am for the legalization of pot but I think we better figure out it's production and distribution.
Mulcair seems to have an excellent reasoning ability and is very thoughtful on issues.

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