Friday, March 16, 2012

On saintly proclamations

Ed Broadbent's recent foray into the NDP's leadership campaign has certainly attracted plenty of media attention. But it's worth taking a skeptical look as to why the story has been such a media favourite - and why we should resist the temptation to focus our discussion of the race on the shiny-object factor associated with Broadbent speaking out.

First, we shouldn't mirror the media's eagerness to declare that a commentator like Broadbent may singlehandedly create an issue worth discussing where none existed before. Most of the questions have been addressed at other points in the campaign by candidates and other observers alike - and indeed we should have been able to expect some response from Mulcair whether or not Broadbent added his voice into the mix. And if the press is only finding a story to report on now that it better recognizes one of the speakers, that should be seen as all the more reason not to rely on its news filter (rather than an excuse to buy into the hype).

At the same time, it's also worth highlighting that a well-respected party elder doesn't cease to be a member who's entitled to hold - and express - his own views simply by virtue of having led the party in the past.

I won't deny that it serves plenty of purposes to divide a party up into less-experienced members useful only as disposable operatives for higher-up forces within the party, a middle-aged cadre which actually makes decisions, and a group of "saints" who are supposed to be above mere politics. But I'll argue that the purposes served by that division are rather incompatible with the NDP's goal of being more diverse and more representative of the will of citizens than its competitors. And to the extent we either privilege Broadbent's comments or declare them offside based on his prior leadership, we only play into the desire to set up tiers of membership which undercut the goal of basic equality in participating in party affairs.

Of course, Broadbent has used his profile to great effect in pushing Brian Topp's campaign before. And so there's little doubt that he's taking full advantage of his opportunity to become a story unto himself so as to take the campaign in a direction preferred by his choice of candidates. But we shouldn't presume that he or any other NDP member (other than those playing specific roles in the leadership campaign itself which demand neutrality) is bound to avoid commenting on the party's future direction.

At the same time, though, the rest of us aren't bound to follow the views of a Broadbent (whether to attack them or to echo them) any more than we're stuck accepting the leadership camps' choice of brands. And so we should focus on the merits of Broadbent's comments only to the extent they actually present important considerations - rather than buying into the all-too-easy media framework that what Ed says is more important than the real decisions at hand.

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