Saturday, September 08, 2012

On timelines

For the most part, I tend to be skeptical that annual caucus retreats should be seen as having any substantive impact on the political scene. But the NDP's meeting last week in St. John's did provide some noteworthy news in the form of Tom Mulcair's election readiness timeline:
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wants his party to be "completely ready" by the fall of 2014 for a federal election that he predicts will come sooner than expected.
"We're counting on the past to guarantee the future," Mulcair said. "We're thinking that the likely timeline is the spring of 2015, which makes it even more important for us to be completely ready for the fall of '14."

Mulcair opened the retreat by advising his caucus that "a two-year countdown has started for us."
"By the fall of '14, we've got to be completely ready to take on the Conservatives in the next election with a much more generous and fair vision of (sic) type of Canada that we all want to build together."
Now, the most important consequence of the announcement may be to negate exactly the danger Mulcair raised as to a snap election. While I'd think it's an open question whether Stephen Harper's instinct would be to seek an early election or hold onto power as long as possible, it's probably fair to say that the only way we'll see an election before the fall of 2015 is if the Cons think they can catch the other parties off guard. And if the NDP signals its plan to be ready early, then the effect may actually be to push Harper back toward the fixed election date.

Meanwhile, the steps involved in being ready for an early election figure to have some spillover benefits as a matter of general party-building, particularly if the option of early election planning is contrasted against the option of taking a break from other activity. 

At the same time, though, there's also some opportunity cost involved in charting an election course immediately if that takes away from a focus on longer-term movement building. And it'll be worth ensuring that the 2014 focus merely represents a slightly altered timeline as part of the greater project of leading a more progressive Canada.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dr. Dawg tears into the National Post's gratuitous union-bashing:
(W)hen it comes to unions, a careless disregard for facts seems to affect journos like a disease. They fall back on their prejudices, cutting and pasting their ready-made anti-union copy in their sleep.
Unions have one of the only remaining institutionally democratic structures in Canada. Union leadership is far more accountable than the Harper government, held to much stricter standards, and able to move forward only with membership agreement—the latter, of course, being the union.

Members are just ordinary working people cooperating with other ordinary working people. The necessary political and structural changes needed to confront our sworn enemies effectively will take place only with their consent. But it’s precisely that democratic potential that scares the hell out of secretive governments, rigidly hierarchical and undemocratic corporations, and their media mouthpieces. Nothing new here at the National Post—let’s move along, brothers and sisters, and give them something to really make them squeal.
- Thomas Walkom weighs in on the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection that elected NDP MPP Catherine Fife. And while I don't think his mooted move to the right is inevitable, it's certainly worth pointing out the virtuous cycle that comes from higher-profile candidates stepping up to join the NDP's team (and being rewarded with electoral success).

- Dean Bennett reports that the National Energy Board has refused to allow questioning about insurance and cleanup plans involving any oil spill resulting from the Northern Gateway pipeline. And Brian Morton notes that lives are apparently no object when it comes to the Cons' desire to get out of the job of safeguarding our coasts.

- Finally, Kayle Hatt analyzes the NDP's 2011 Quebec support and concludes that the party's gains in fact came mostly from federalist or soft sovereigntist voters.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Musical interlude

54-40 - Ocean Pearl

On preordained outcomes

Joe Oliver is trying to pretend that the National Energy Board actually gets to determine whether the Northern Gateway pipeline gets approved:
Oliver avoided directly answering a question as to whether Ottawa would ram through approval should the project get the thumbs down, but acknowledged the outcome is rarely negative.

He said the government would certainly follow any conditions the panel might recommend in order to give the project the green light.
But lest we forget: it's the Cons who have decreed that the NEB has no authority to say "no" to the Gateway based on environmental effects - even if it determines that the pipeline will result in the extinction of humanity, or at least a steady stream of supertankers running aground up to 500 metres above sea level onto pristine islands. And while the Cons may be counting on the media being gullible enough to believe that the NEB's conspicuous lack of authority to nix the Gateway for environmental reasons means that it's giving the thumbs up, we shouldn't be so easily fooled.

On alternate options

Following up on this week's column, here's a quick update on the planned voting processes in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race.

Contrary to what I'd theorized, there apparently won't be a paper-based system at convention itself. However, the same-day voting may be carried out either online or by telephone - meaning that if any issues arise with one of those systems, there will still be another outlet for members to vote (whether at the convention or from elsewhere).

Meanwhile, the time frames for advance voting have also been designed to ensure that voters have time to submit a ballot by mail if they so choose.

Which is to say that while the party isn't using exactly the means I'd expected, it still looks to have nicely planned to make sure there are multiple options for voters.

The End of the Blue Grit?

Yes, last night's Kitchener-Waterloo by-election resulted in a resounding victory for the Ontario NDP and new MPP Catherine Fife. But perhaps more noteworthy is the signal the result sends to the McGuinty Libs - as well as his partymates elsewhere in Canada.

In effect, the Libs' by-election message boiled down to two themes. Most of the party's campaign centred on worker-bashing, with a particular focus on picking a needless fight with teachers just as they returned to school. And when that proved to be a failure, the Libs tried out some of their well-worn national-unity hand-wringing - which of course served as the go-to cover for the federal Libs' shift away from social justice toward corporatist policy in the '90s.

But both messages fell flat - and the Libs' failure to pick up the seat provides only a tiny part of the evidence. Even more significantly, they lost an even larger share of their 2011 vote than the PCs (who were supposed to face far more downside based on the loss of a high-profile MPP).

In effect, the Libs' Con-lite messaging led to Con-lite results, to the benefit of a party which actually stands for progressive values. And adding last night's result to the end of Jean Charest's run as leader of the Quebec Libs and the continued stumbling of Christy Clark in B.C., the trend looks to be unmistakable: Libs trying to govern from the right are losing ground on all sides.

Of course, with federal and Quebec leadership races looming, the Libs have some opportunities to try to change course. But their glee in throwing labour under the bus will surely make it more difficult for the Libs to try to win back any of the territory they've ceded to the NDP - and it's far from clear that there's anywhere left to go.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Winslow Wheeler compares the NDP's F-35 hearings to politics on the opposite side of the U.S. border:
The differences between Canadian politicians and members of Congress are utterly stunning. Unlike here, oversight in the Canadian Parliament is alive and well. In Canada, I found two political behaviors unheard of in the United States: Opposition politicians actually try to understand the issue they are talking about, and they take offense at being lied to.

My re-orientation started when, lo and behold, without giving long, windy, and poorly informed opening statements, the parliamentarians asked questions directly relevant to my testimony about the cost to buy and operate the Canadian version of the F-35. They were not reading off or cribbing from memos but were reacting to what I had said; we had an actual discussion, one member at a time. They probed my estimate of the potential $200 million-per-aircraft cost -- not the $75 million Canada's Department of National Defense (DND) had been advertising. They also poked at my prediction that the cost to operate the F-35, after purchase, would be at least three times DND's original estimate.

The members' questions were constructed by themselves on the spot and reflected that several of them had done their homework. For example, Matthew Kellway of Ontario had clearly read and understood an article in Proceedings, the U.S. Naval Institute's journal, written by the U.S. chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, questioning whether radar-evading "stealth" technology was viable against current and future countermeasures -- a key question in Canada, where "stealth" dominates the debate about the F-35 almost as much as cost.

Most remarkable was their predisposition to listen, integrate the new information they heard, synthesize it to formulate a new understanding, and then ask more questions. 
 - But it's worth noting that Wheeler may have overgeneralized in linking his positive impression to Canadian politicians generally - as Allan Gregg points out that the Cons are doing their utmost to drain Canadian politics of evidence and critical thought:
I have spent my entire professional life as a researcher, dedicated to understanding the relationship between cause and effect. And I have to tell you, I’ve begun to see some troubling trends. It seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy is declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise. And even more troubling …. Canadians seem to be buying it.
The thing that is disconcerting and unsettling about all this is not just the substance of these Bills, but why a government would want to disguise that substance. Maybe dismantling the Wheat Board; or pre-emptively squashing collective bargaining; or sending more potheads to jail is a good thing. But before we make those decisions, let’s look at all the facts; have a fulsome and rational debate; and make a reasoned decision of what is in the best interests of all the parties involved. For voters to determine whether these are measures they support or oppose requires that they know what is at stake and what the government is actually doing. Moreover, for the rule of law to work, the public must have respect for the law. By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledy-gook of double speak, governments are admitting that their intentions probably lack both support and respect. Again, the lesson here is Orwellian … in the same way that reason requires consciousness, tyranny demands ignorance.

 Raising this is not a question of right versus left. It is rather- in the words of Al Gore – a question of right versus wrong. And also make no mistake that this is not simply an attack on, or a claim that the sole practitioner of masking intent is The Harper Government. Jean Charest, introduced Bill 78 as “An Act to Enable Students to Receive Instruction from the Post Secondary Education They Attend”. Under some fairly benign circumstances, it basically bans the freedom of assembly. And under the pretext of another perpetual war – the so-called War on Terrorism – the President of the United States not only routinely orders the execution of foreign nationals, on foreign soil, without any semblance of due process whatsoever, but boasts that this as one of the greatest accomplishments of his Presidency. And the American media routinely applauds him for it. Now I know it’s not comfortable to offer suspected terrorists due process, but isn’t this exactly the kind of behaviour Orwell was warning us about?
While the circumstance in Canada 2012 is obviously nowhere near as dystopian as what Orwell depicts in 1984, I really do think that there are some unsettling parallels going on here that we ignore at our peril. I also think it’s time to gather the facts….and fight back.
- Fortunately, Paul Wells for one is meeting the Cons' latest line of echo-chamber talking points with due mockery.

- Meanwhile, Stephen Maher reports that the Cons' illegal election tactics in Guelph may now be under investigation by the CRTC along with Elections Canada. And Glen McGregor notes that the Con staffer initially thrown under the bus seems to have had little to do with Robocon (even as his documented track record of party-sanctioned attempted vote suppression makes him a less-than-sympathetic scapegoat).

- Finally, John Dunbar offers his own broadly representational visualization of Enbridge's plans for Douglas Channel - featuring a supertanker in the middle of an island 500 metres above sea level.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

On special treatment

Shorter Brad Wall:
Based on my close personal connection to Stephen Harper developed through years of shameless toadyism, I alone can assure you that he won't be playing favourites among the provinces.

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership rules (PDF) are nicely set up to encourage a broad outreach effort by candidates.

For further reading...
- The NDP's leadership page is here.
- Buckdog is running a dedicated blog for leadership news.
- And Cam Broten is the first candidate to formally announce that he's running. But perhaps the more noteworthy development from Broten's launch was the presence of MLA Danielle Chartier - which signals that another speculated candidate won't be entering the race herself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- There wasn't much doubt from the recent storm of astroturfed Twitter messages that NDP candidate Catherine Fife stood to do well in tomorrow's Kitchener-Waterloo provincial byelection. But I'm not sure anybody anticipated she'd have a sixteen-point lead over all comers - and the stunning result should offer reason to doubt that vilifying workers (as the McGuinty Libs have done with teachers) is a remotely popular position when there's a credible alternative on the ballot.

- It takes some effort for anti-environment minister Peter Kent to do worse than his party has done in the past. But he's managed the feat when it comes to coal power generation, watering down what already figured to be inadequate regulations while also signalling that the federal government will abandon the field in provinces which actually make extensive use of such power.

- I haven't followed the twists and turns in the Eurozone as closely as some. But it surely can't escape mention that outside financial interests are pushing Greece to make its economic problems worse by increasing the hours and days to be worked by employees in the name of labour market "flexibility" (rather than doing anything at all to actually increase the availability of jobs).

- I suppose we should have seen it coming. But the Saskatchewan Party's push to have the health sector governed by "lean" principles has officially crossed the line from encouraging the application of potentially useful ideas, to funnelling millions to private-sector consultants for no apparent reason.

- Finally, Pat Atkinson comments on Saskatchewan's proposed federal electoral boundaries with some advice for Con MPs:
Under our electoral system, redistribution is a reality of public office. For those sitting Conservative MPs who may not get the cakewalk they have enjoyed in the past, it's time to stop complaining.

Instead, get to work and meet your constituents, return phone calls and emails, represent interests that may be different from yours and your party's, and attend public events in all areas of your constituency.

A wide open field

Others have already weighed in on Quebec's election results. But let's note that for all the drama of an election where it was an open question whether voters could stomach any of the three main contenders, the outcome may set the stage for sweeping changes in the fairly near future.

I've already pointed out an apparent opening for a Quebec NDP to win over a large number of voters. And last night's results could hardly have been better designed for the NDP join the mix in the next election cycle - even if they figure to produce some negative outcomes in the short term.

For at least the next couple of years, the right looks to be in the driver's seat in Quebec. The CAQ, holding a solid balance of power, will be able to control the agenda of the governing PQ. And I wouldn't be surprised to see links develop between the CAQ and the Harper Cons to make sure that any devolution of power happens only on the Cons' terms.

But if Quebec's political direction is going to be based on the common ground available between the CAQ, Cons and PQ, that figures to raise questions for a large number of voters who voted PQ based on its (however questionable) self-identification as a progressive party. And while an impending leadership race might offer an opportunity for the Libs to move into that void, it's doubtful that they can erase the memory of their most recent government within a single minority term.

Meanwhile, last night's results don't signal any huge growth potential among Quebec's smaller parties either. Quebec Solidaire added only a single extra seat to its total and fell far short of the balance of power in an election where "none of the above" options looked to have every chance of breaking through. And Option Nationale couldn't manage even that much.

So the progressive vacuum may be even more conspicuous by the next Quebec election than it is now. And a well-organized NDP should be in an ideal position to win over the same types of voters who have become staunch supporters federally.

Of course, the one catch is that a minority government means that the NDP - like all other parties - will have to be ready for an election at any moment, rather than being able to build over a period of several years. But the uncertainty of a minority government may also present some opportunities. While the parties actually represented in the Assemblee Nationale will find themselves trapped in will-they-or-won't-they confidence vote speculation, there may be all the more room for a strong new option to sidestep the fray by echoing the message of cooperation that worked so well for Jack Layton.

In sum, both last night's general "meh" toward Quebec's existing policies and the minority government that resulted may serve to set up ideal conditions for the emergence of a progressive federalist party. And it only remains to be seen whether the NDP can make its entrance in time for the next election.

Update: Margo McDiarmid reports that Tom Mulcair is instead suggesting it's unlikely a provincial party will materialize before 2015 - which looks like a significant missed opportunity to build the NDP at both levels of government if it proves correct.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats nodding off.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matt Taibbi provides what may be the definitive take on Mitt Romney - as the plutocrat running as a deficit nag made his own personal fortune loading up businesses with debt and charging millions for the privilege:
And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.
- Meanwhile, Diane Roberts discusses how Romney and his ticket-mate see religion as an excuse for neglecting anybody who doesn't share their luck in life. And Joseph Stiglitz sees Romney's tax avoidance - along with Ryan's plans to virtually eliminate any taxes the likes of Romney would otherwise pay - as contrary to fundamental fairness.

- Mark Sumner comments on how the Republicans (like their Conservative cousins) are perfectly happy to trash their own government in order to serve their long-term plans to get it out of the governing business altogether:
Mitch McConnell told you the goals for this season from the outset. There's no mystery here, not even more than a token attempt to misdirect. The Republican aim -- the announced, undisputed goal -- is simply to see that the economy does not recover. Not to pass legislation, or promote any plan, but to just make sure that things stayed as bad as possible. To that end, they took every opportunity to crush anything that might help.

Why? Not just because it would help President Obama, but because any recovery that could be connected to government action might show that government can be an effective, helpful force. That's what Republicans can't allow.

The One True Narrative, forged when the land was young and Mitt Romney just an abusive son of privilege living off a portfolio of stocks, is this: government is the problem.

Everything that Republicans have done in the last thirty years is meant to serve that theme.

Government agencies, whether they are FEMA or MSHA, must be weak and ineffective. Government regulations, such as those that guard markets and protect workers, must be harmful. No government action can be seen as competent, much less exceptional. And absolutely nothing the government does can possibly be beneficial to the economy.
To that end, Republicans only have to gum up the works. Democrats have to show results. Republicans, despite appearances, aren't so stupid that they don't understand the advantage this gives them.
- Finally, Ian Welsh offers up a depressing but all-too-plausible view of where our economy stands now, as well as where it looks to be headed in the decades to come.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Monday Morning Labour Day Links

Assorted content for your Labour Day reading.

- The Star comments on the place of the union movement in the face of a determined push to silence workers:
Given the challenges ahead, and all the ground that’s been lost so far, it remains to be seen if the new union will succeed in building “a powerful social movement fighting for all working people.” But the takeaway is that on this Labour Day, unions still have the vision to imagine a better life for working people, and the will to try to bring it about. The long march continues.
 - Meanwhile, Craig McInnes recognizes how bleak a future where the corporate right manages to trash the labour movement would look:
Whether the decline in union membership is seen as a benefit or simply inevitable, what's often lost in the economic debate is the value of unions to the communities in which they operate.

There are the historical benefits that we take largely for granted that were achieved for everyone through long and difficult struggles - the weekend, for example.

But there is also the ongoing benefit of higher wages. Using data from the 2011 Census, the Canadian Labour Congress calculates unionized workers in Vancouver make an average hourly wage that is, at $27.09, almost $5 an hour higher than non-unionized workers. That benefit - seen as a negative by the Fraser Institute and other commentators who view life only through the business pages - makes life easier for unionized workers and their families.
If the demise of unions means ordinary working people can't aspire to be consumers, to achieve a reasonable standard of living, it's hard to imagine the communities we have built on that expectation can continue to thrive.
- And Judy Halven observes that what we need is to focus on creating good jobs for Canadian workers, rather than unstable, low-paying jobs for the benefit of multinational employers:
Thinking about Labour Day 2012, we need to turn our attention to limiting “bad” jobs and increasing “good” jobs. “Good” jobs have good pay, full-time hours, benefits, pensions and more. We can remind ourselves about the $260-million forgivable loan the Nova Scotia government gave to Irving Shipbuilding for the federal shipbuilding contract. While some “good” jobs will no doubt be created, they will go to semi-skilled and skilled tradespeople — mainly men. Though some women will get jobs on site, the majority of new jobs for women will be created in the restaurant, bar and service sector. These jobs usually pay minimum wage, plus tips, and could be considered “bad” jobs.

Wealthy people seem to know all about “good” jobs, as they tend to have them. The average income for the richest one per cent of Canadians was $405,000 in 2007. Between 1997 and 2007, the richest one per cent (246,000 people) took almost one-third (32 per cent) of all growth in incomes. In addition, the tax system is making them richer. In 1948, the top marginal tax rate on incomes over $250,000 was 80 per cent. In 2009, that rate was cut almost in half to 42.9 per cent for incomes above $126,264.

This Labour Day, we need to work to eliminate the obstacles for the 99 per cent who want to make a decent living in this province, obstacles such as low wages, part-time work and large handouts to corporations. The Occupy movement’s message — “We are the 99 per cent” — is as true for us today as it was a year ago.
- But on the bright side, Dean Baker notes that Canada can still serve as a positive example of the value of organized labour - at least, compared to our neighbour to the south:
When the Employee Free Choice Act was debated in 2008, the anti-union groups argued that majority sign-up (which was a major provision) would lead to workers being stuck with unions they didn't want. Their story was union thugs would intimidate workers into signing union cards against their will. 
The differing experience in Canadian provinces over time gives us a simple way to test this claim. If workers were intimidated into signing cards, then we would expect to see a higher rate of de-certifications in provinces after they have put in place laws allowing for majority sign-up. 
In fact, there is no evidence at all that there was a rise in de-certifications after majority sign-up was adopted. In several provinces the de-certification rate fell after majority sign-up was allowed. This would seem like pretty solid evidence against the "union thug" story. 
All of this matters because if we chose, we could make US labour law closer to Canada's. That might over time bring us somewhat close to Canadian unionisation rates. 
People who care about inequality should have this at the top of their agenda. In our bag of tricks to reverse the upward redistribution of the last three decades, higher unionisation rates should rank near the top.

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Yes, that will do quite nicely.

Which isn't to say the Saskatchewan Roughriders can rest on their laurels. Yesterday's 52-0 win wasn't based so much on a dominant offensive performance as on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finding all kinds of creative ways to give away points. All the 'Riders then had to be was opportunistic enough to take advantage and smart enough to avoid returning the favour - and the team had no trouble reaching those standards.

But it's a huge plus to see the 'Riders keep their edge throughout a victory, rather than letting an opponent get back into the game. And the final score showed that if every 'Rider unit simply does its job, the result can be a rout on the scoreboard.

Moreover, the 'Riders also got to see plenty of new talent emerge. Drew Willy was as effective running the team's full offence in the second half as he's been on short yardage throughout the season, making it clear that the 'Riders can get by even without their starting quarterback. Jock Sanders had an effective game as a utility player, making it all the more bizarre that he was omitted from the previous game's roster. Joe Lobendahn took no time at all to start disrupting the Bombers' offence in his first 'Rider start. And perhaps most significantly, Brooks Foster made two superb catches to offer another much-needed target for Saskatchewan's quarterbacks.

Of course, the 'Riders can't count on seeing too many opponents in as much disarray as the Bombers yesterday - and indeed should expect a much tougher test next week as the Bombers look to avenge the loss. But it's still a huge plus to be able to combine a big win with plenty of room for improvement. And hopefully a long-awaited return to the victory column will prove the start of yet another streak for a team that's been up and down throughout the 2012 season.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Plenty of commentators are using the Labour Day weekend to discuss the place of workers in Canadian society. Sid Ryan notes that depressed wages are bad news for Canada's economy generally. And Morna Ballantyne and Steven Staples point out the need for unions to reach out beyond their membership - particularly to highlight how collective bargaining helps workers throughout the workforce.

- Meanwhile, Lorne Gunter longs for a future in which there's no such thing as a good job.

- Tonda MacCharles offers an Ontario perspective on the Cons' gutting of environmental assessments. But it's worth wondering whether the Cons' decision to decree that regulators have no business actually evaluating environmental impacts from a policy perspective will allow outside parties to play a greater role in shaping public opinion - such as, say, the experts who have concluded that tanker traffic off the B.C. coast poses unacceptable environmental risks. (Handy hint: I wouldn't want to be the one trying to justify allowing tankers to operate based on the claim that there's only a 73% chance of a major spill.)

- Finally, David Roberts raises some issues for journalists trying to cover parties who are outright hostile toward the idea that truth matters (among other norms which are normally required for a democracy to function):
The right term is “post-truth politics.” What Kevin is struggling to describe is that Romney’s campaign is not contesting the truth value of its assertions so much as contesting whether truth value itself is relevant.

One effect of the radicalization of the right over the last few decades has been the discovery of just how much our politics is held together by norms rather than rules. There’s no rule you can’t filibuster every bill in the Senate by default; there’s no rule you can’t interrupt a president’s State of the Union; there’s no rule you can’t hold the routine debt-ceiling vote hostage. It simply wasn’t done. But if you shrug off the norm and do it anyway, there’s nothing to stop you.

Similarly, it seems that the lip service given to truth in politics is but a norm itself, one with increasingly tenuous hold. Political campaigns have always lied and stretched the truth, but when caught in a lie, would typically defend themselves (claim it was actually true), retract, or at the very least stop repeating the lie. Either way, the presumption was that truth-telling had some moral force; one ought to tell the truth, even if that commandment was often honored in the breach.

What’s creepy about the Romney crew is that they don’t do any of those things. They don’t deny, they don’t stop, they just don’t care at all. What they’ve realized is that, given today’s hyper-polarization and fragmented media, there’s no practical risk to lying. It doesn’t hurt them, in terms of getting votes, so why shouldn’t they do it?
And lest there be any doubt, the combination of systematic fabrication and dishonesty and planned interference with democratic processes is just as much the modus operandi of the Harper Cons as the Romney Republicans.