In Warren Kinsella’s perfect world, the Liberal Party of Canada would continually be elected to a perpetual majority, with the NDP as a patronized opposition and whatever conservative activity survived in Parliament as a squabbling internecine mess to which no one with sense would pay any attention. A world that he was on his way to creating, as a political advisor to Jean Chrétien during his heyday.
Of course, Mr. Kinsella does not live in a perfect world. Not only have his beloved Liberals been reduced to the “third party” of the Commons, but as a political pundit, he’s been known for being burned, at least twice, by members of Canada’s conservative blogosphere: they revealed his ignorance of Holocaust tattoos, and forced him to apologize in public for a joke about eating cats in a Chinese restaurant. (And of course TVO did rebuke him for attempting to block a conservative blogger from appearing on Steve Paikin’s show.) So it’s completely understandable that his latest book, Fight The Right: A Manual For Surviving The Coming Conservative Apocalypse, would be written with a rancorous attitude.
And it shows. Mr. Kinsella knows that, in order to defeat an opponent, it’s first necessary to understand the opposition. Unfortunately for him, this is a task that he approaches with the attitude of a sulky ten-year-old tasked to wash up a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. He knows it has to be done, but he really, really doesn’t want to do it, and the result is a botched job.
When he tries to describe the differences between “liberals” like himself and conservatives, in his chapter on how a conservative thinks, he simply cannot break out of his self-imposed shell of liberal thought patterns. So instead of truly describing how a typical conservative thinks, from a conservative’s point of view, he lists a few items of research and filters them through his own rancour to produce a stereotyped, shallow strawman that he feels good about insulting. Which does the serious liberal politician absolutely no good: if this “conservative” is so unappealing, he’d argue, why do people vote them into power?
Ah, Mr. Kinsella replies, that’s because conservatives have learned to speak the language of values. Here, his argument fares a little better, mainly because he looks at the work of political strategists whom he admires, both left and right, mainly in the States. Here, he’s able to show that his rancour isn’t personal; he’s able to talk about conservatives like Ronald Reagan and both Bushes with a high level of professional respect. (Yes, I said both. He was able to have a chat with the younger Bush on a book tour, and came away with a positive impression.)
Can progressive politicians do the same? Mr. Kinsella thinks so, and points to the Occupy movement as an example of grassroots sentiment that could be harnessed by the political Left. The trouble, and to his credit Mr. Kinsella acknowledges this, is that the Movement has no motive for participation in formal politics, and crossing that gap may wind up diluting its potential impact.
Other weakness: although Mr. Kinsella complains that conservatives have been successful all over the place, the support for his arguments comes from Canada and the United States (yes, his targeted audience, but it still limits his scope). And, quite frankly, he doesn’t pay as much attention to the work of Jack Layton and the NDP as he probably should have, in analysing some of the success of the Left.
Anyway, about this blogpost’s title. Yes, Fight The Right does outline some potential paths that young Mr. Trudeau could pursue, to revive the federal Liberals. The real problem is that Mr. Kinsella is an examplar of the big-L Liberal that John Ibbitson warns about, as demonstrated by his enmital attitude towards the conservative movement. If Mr. Trudeau truly wants to re-establish the Liberals as a potent force, he needs a stronger, more detached understanding of conservatism and its relationship to Canadian society than what Mr. Kinsella is capable of providing.
As for the rest of us: Mr. Kinsella’s book is, ultimately and unfortunately for him, an ephemeral work. Maybe something for the flight from Toronto to Vancouver, but not really worth collecting dust on the shelf five years from now.