Tuesday, June 02, 2009

On opinion making

In addition to contributing the tagline which you'll see above, Murray Mandryk's profile of Ryan Meili also provides plenty of fodder for the Meili camp. But perhaps even more significant than the gushing positives is the fact that the main negative doesn't actually seem to consist of much substance:
NDP supporters have always demanded their leaders to be already battle-tested for the rigors of Saskatchewan election campaigns. Paying one's dues means something in NDP ranks -- something far more meaningful than "a social democrat living a social democrat lifestyle" that Meilites have adopted as their unofficial campaign slogan. In fact, youthful smugness and ambition is frowned upon in NDP leadership campaigns. (Some of the roughly 13,000 eligible NDP voters might very well be the same ones who rejected Roy Romanow in 1970, or Scott Banda in 2001 for that very reason.)
Now, the Romanow example at least supports Mandryk's point in theory. But it's hard to see how "youthful smugness and ambition" were the reason for Banda's fourth-place finish (which itself beat out two cabinet ministers) as opposed to, say, the multiple better-known candidates who ran strong campaigns ahead of him.

Even accepting that "paying one's dues" has been a decisive factor in the past, though, it looks to be mostly a more parochial way of rephrasing the experience argument which I've already addressed - with a hint of loyalty testing added in for good measure. But it's hard to see how Meili's well-documented history of progressive activism and community organization would fall short of any reasonable standard for dedication to the NDP's causes.

Meanwhile, Mandryk's assumption that a vote for Meili would be seen as resulting in an "extended pit stop out of power" looks to be entirely misplaced. After all, he himself has tried to make the case (however flawed) that it's a Lingenfelter win that would set up the most favourable conditions for an extended Sask Party stay in power. But more importantly, Meili's rapid ascent on the leadership learning curve should give the party every reason for confidence that he'll be entirely ready to mount an effective 2011 campaign to start implementing his vision before long.

Ultimately, it's likely no less true for Meili than it was for Banda that the big question isn't whether the broader membership perceives youth as a negative, but whether he's been able to persuade enough members that his positive attributes are worth voting for. And we'll find out before long just how successful Meili has been in pitching his message of renewal to the party at large.

Update: The Meili campaign notes one other serious flaw in Mandryk's column:
Does a young, soft-spoken social-activist doctor have a chance to lead a party that prefers its leaders to be older, fiery seasoned pros who've paid their dues in the party's trenches?

The answer would have likely been a resounding "no" when the now-34-year-old Ryan Meili started his leadership bid in February as a virtual political unknown who had taken out his first NDP membership only eight months earlier. But a simmering desire for change among younger New Democrats in particular has heated to near boiling point over the Dwain Lingenfelter-camp-created membership controversy.
Lest there be any doubt, the "eight months" message has been one of the unsupported whispering points put out about Meili, who has in fact been an NDP member for eight years.

Update II: The column has now been fixed - see correction here.

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