Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tone deaf

More than the responses of the chief economists, or the central bankers, or even those of the heads of governments, the interesting thing to watch in this economic crisis has been the responses of the other political players.

In the face of almost unprecedented economic uncertainty, collapsing credit markets, deepening job loses, and calls for government intervention of a magnitude to make even Keynes blush, the high dudgeon of political gamesmanship is passé. The name-calling, smear jobs, and histrionics played out for the camera that have been the currency of politics-as-usual appear as decadent as a diamond-encrusted chihuahua collar in this economic climate.

For opposition politicians and backbenchers, politics is now all about tone – the artful marking of differentiation in a way befitting the reality that Canadians are losing their jobs, retirement savings, investments and homes.

In the US, they’ve figured this out. Republicans - also humbled by this month’s drubbing at the polls – have mostly embraced the new tone, talking about helping the president-elect chart a course for recovery.

Here in Canada, Jack Layton got the tone just right. In interviews yesterday the New Democrat leader said he’s ready to take a cooperative approach with all parties to work on the economy, and urged the Prime Minister to put aside his “my way or the highway” tack of the past: "That's what we've heard for the last couple of years. I don't think Canadians liked it very much. I don't think it's what we need in a time of economic crisis."

Then there are the Liberals. In the earliest stages of their latest leadership race, they have already shown they are deaf to the new tone of politics. Both Michael Ignatieff and Today’s Bob Rae turned their first debate into an opportunity to snipe at each other over how debates should even be held. A party trying to understand why so few Canadians are listening to them can’t even be civil about how they will talk to one another.

Ordinary people worried about their pay cheques and their homes won’t have to strain much over the din of self-absorbed leadership contestants to know that the Liberal Party is still more concerned about their own problems than anyone else’s.

No comments: