First they took “Secret Agenda” now we can’t say “ideology”Posted: August 13, 2012
In the National Post, Chris Selley writes that “it is time to retire the word “ideological” from Canada’s political lexicon. It doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore.” He goes on to explain that while we may call the actions of the Harper government hypocritical it is a far cry to call them ideological, since they have very little in the way of logical consistency. This is where Selley loses me; I don’t think “ideology” means what he seems to think it means, even though he takes the time to list the Oxford definition of it. His position seems to be that logical inconsistency is the opposite of ideology, rather than the hallmark of it. This is not true at all; ideology smooths out contradictions, allows us to ignore evidence and is irrefutable.
As an example, in both the last elections in Ontario and at the federal level, the NDP put forward a plan to remove the HST from home heating. Their position was that it would help the poor and the middle class, for whom utilities bills can be quite expensive. The plan was little more than knee-jerk populism; not only are there better ways to provide assistance to low income households, outside of a subsidy for everyone, but lowering prices would encourage consumption and conflict with the NDP’s environmental agenda. Logically, the plan was a nonstarter but they championed it, campaigned on it and defended it. Their ideology is that they are the defenders of the poor and the middle class so they did something that someone who believed in those things would do. It didn’t matter that their plan was not thought out and self-defeating; the point is that it be ideologically, as opposed to logically, consistent.
Returning to Selley’s piece, he centers on Jason Kenney’s arguments about immigration. While he is willing to grant that Kenney might be mean-spirited on the file, he asks, “Is he pursuing an ‘ideological’ agenda on migration? If so, it’s tough to tell what the ideology is.” What Selley seems to be looking for is a plan, i.e. “we’re going to (increase/limit/stop/etc.) immigration”, and what he’s getting is an ideology. It is not difficult to discern a streak of xenophobia, of scaremongering, of Islamophobia, in the Conservative’s words and actions. These are all ideologies and they are the ideologies that forgive the logical inconsistencies that Selley is so happy to point out. Worse than that, we’re being led to think we should take the word “ideology” as a substitute for the term “secret agenda.” Throughout the text, the two terms could be interchangeable (and, in fact, Selley’s piece would make quite a bit more sense if the two terms were interchanged). Viewed in this way, the piece fits in well with the already established political conversation as a nice flank cover for the Conservative government. With the same indignation that they have claimed they do not have a secret agenda, they can now claim that they are not ideological even though this is clearly not the case.
Perhaps this is the lesson that Liberals should take from this whole debate; that we should have led with accusations of ideology rather of a secret agenda. By any reasonable definition of ideological, the Harper government is nothing but. With this accusation, you can (correctly) predict they will ignore evidence, contradict themselves and violate unwritten rules. In fact, had we lead with an accusation of an “ideology” rather than of a “secret agenda” we could have accomplished both goals at once. It is only with ideology, the firm belief in a cause higher than a single issue, that a secret agenda can be born.