The Liberal Party has heeded that old adage of advertising: if you have a problem, feature it. After decades in the ascendancy as the most winningest party in the West, they have all but collapsed. A string of feckless leaders – Martin, Dion, Ignatieff – have left the Natural Governing Party without their aura of inevitability. But their very desperation has attuned them to the weaknesses of their thin-principled opponents.
In the days of their former glory, the Liberals appeared to the public as the perfect marriage of pragmatism and progressivism: positioned between national (and regional) parties on the left and the right, they could cast themselves as a plausible via media. But the mantle of competent management now falls on the shoulders of the Conservatives, while the country’s left-of-center political energy has migrated to the NDP, leaving the Liberals marooned in the middle. In the party’s heyday, voters didn’t need a reason to vote Liberal; after they suddenly fell from power and grace, the same voters didn’t have one.
And so, in search of a role, and bereft of a raison d’être, the party recently made an inspired (if desperate) decision: they took a page from the playbook of American politics. They choose, for their leader, the scion of a dynastic figure still steeped in nostalgia for a generation of aging boomers.
But, if you have a problem, feature it. The current Liberal leader’s very lack of everything that would qualify him as a good leader makes him an ideal politician, one in the mold of the current American president: he is a photogenic vessel for an unmodified party line. Just like Barack Obama, then, Justin Trudeau is a true believer. The simple vision of reality that most college students can maintain only for a few heady months is the true worldview of these so-called public servants. Trudeau’s recent speech given, appropriately enough at a McGill University event is a perfect illustration of his undergraduate understanding of the world.
Trudeau the Younger’s variation on the classic Liberal formula is the abandonment of the party’s traditional, delicate balance: instead of trying to bring pragmatism and progressivism together into new synthesis, he has amplified the latter to the exclusion of the former. Unlike another American president, Bill Clinton, whose politically inspired formula about abortion – that it should be “safe, legal, and rare” – at least cast prenatal infanticide as a sad and distasteful necessity, Justin Trudeau has elevated it into a positive good, leaving no room neither for compromise nor moral qualms. Indeed, in his speech, he makes the incredible and utterly indefensible claim that one “set of policies in post-war Canada generated more liberty for more people than any other. It was the decades-long effort of the women’s movement to gain control over reproductive health and rights. Indeed, let me be perfectly clear on this point. The Canada we know today is unimaginable without widely available birth-control and the legalization of choice.”
While one could easily dispute every point in these tendentious sentences (to say nothing of his other 5,000 sophomoric words), to do so would miss the most curious quality of Trudeau’s unsophisticated oration: its manner and its mode. Here, fuzzy language and muddled thinking are fixed into rigid and erroneous connections through the relentless rhetoric of so-called clarity; here, the grizzly act of butchering babies is veiled by a series of euphemism, quickly flitting between nebulous phrases and abstract nouns: so does the death of the child in the womb become, in Trudeau’s maze of platitudes, first, “reproductive health” and then, bizarrely, “the legalization of choice.”
In such a perverse view of the world, the density of real history all but disappears. When liberty is conflated with its utter abrogation in the totally denial of the rights of the unborn, every other democratic inheritance is corroded and compromised. Thus do the freedoms of the Magna Carta and Common Law fade before the controversial social upheavals of the 1960s. According to Trudeau, before abortion was legalized, Canada was not free.
Such preposterous pronouncements seem all but laughable, an obstinate ignorance which is beyond parody. Yet – and this is the point – the Liberals know that this caricature of history will likely go uncorrected. Indeed, Trudeau has turned a single canny judgement about the weakness of his political opponents into a master-strategy which just might work: he has called the bluff of all those to his right with a strident social liberalism that makes abortion, of all things, its unifying capstone. Stephen Harper’s well-known cowardice on the issue of abortion has invited just such a shrill challenge. And it is a charge the Prime Minister will ultimately be unable to answer, but only because he is unwilling to defend the rights of his most vulnerable fellow citizen. For, if the child has no rights whatsoever, what prevents him from endorsing Trudeau’s robust (but ludicrous) account of modern human rights?
After years of sufficiently competent management, Harper’s Conservatives can persuasively sell themselves as calm hands governing the ship of state. Yet, their craven political calculation not to defend the unborn has emboldened their opponents who have – perhaps correctly – sensed an expedient opening. Therefore, instead of being rebuked by the simple truth of unborn life, Trudeau’s abominable polemic will be met only by the embarrassed silence of so-called leaders who are unwilling to lead. By abandoning the unborn for the sake of a political strategy that was always too clever by half, the Conservatives may have actually made their own defeat all but inevitable.