Don’t call it a dynasty

In the wake of Jeb Bush’s recent vow to “explore the possibility of running for President of the United States” (which in the elaborate dance-of-seven-veils that is contemporary campaigning has interpreted to mean he’s definitely running for President of the United States), commentators across the spectrum have been wringing their hands over how “dynastic” American politics has become.

Noting that “a Bush has been on six of the last nine presidential tickets,” Mark Steyn sourly observed that “one man and his sons will have supplied three-fifths of America’s presidents within a quarter-century — in a republic of over 300 million people.” Many cited the number 34 as the age you’d have to be without ever seeing “a Bush or a Clinton” on the presidential ballot. Aaron Blake at the Washington Post went even further, claiming that since 1964, “there have been only three elections (midterm or presidential) in which a Bush or a Clinton hasn’t been on the ballot somewhere for something.” 

People like to be cynical about the state of American democracy in no small part because it helps justify apathetic non-participation in the political process, which is always easier than the alternative. The idea that American politics is controlled “by two families” who control all elections is but the latest meme in this regard, equivalent to other shallow tropes like “the corporations run everything.”

Reality, of course, is a lot more nuanced than any tidy theory of fetishizing last names can hope to reveal.

“50 years of Bushes and Clintons” certainly sounds like a frightening number — until you realize that nearly 30 of those simply describe the long (and it should be noted, not particularly consequential) political career of George H.W. Bush, with eight of those describing his entirely forgotten vice presidency. The number of general elections contested by a “second generation” Clinton or Bush, similarly, is exactly two — when George W. ran. So let’s avoid any fallacies of large numbers.

But what about the families themselves? One can make a credible claim that the Bushes are bluebloods of the old style (though never as rich as folklore presumes), but any attempt to paint the Clintons as such is painfully tortured. As Bill Scher noted in The Week, Bill Clinton, “the patriarch of the supposedly insidious Clinton monarchy is the stepson of an Arkansas car dealer.” He rose through the ranks to become governor of the nation’s 17th smallest and eighth poorest state, before mounting a quixotic presidential bid he wound up winning largely due to a lack of viable alternatives from the Democratic establishment.

That Bill’s wife would proceed to serve two terms in the United States Senate and then mount a presidential run of her own surprised few, considering what an ambitious politician Hillary had always been in her own right. As 90s-era jokes about the “president and her husband” made clear, it was never obvious who was riding whose coattails. Now a former secretary of state to boot, should Hillary choose to pursue the presidency a second time she would do so as one of the most objectively qualified candidates in US history — certainly more than her husband ever was.

That little matter of qualification is no small variable when it comes to separating a genuinely dynastic political system from one that’s merely had a few independently successful politicians sharing the same surname.

On the Bush side, Dubya and Jeb were separately elected governors of two geographically distant, culturally distinct states, and both crafted unique political brands to do so — one as a strong social conservative closely aligned with the born-again Christian subculture, the other as an immigrant-friendly multiculturalist. As a trio of presidents, father and sons would likewise represent three distinct strains of Republican ideology, with Senior the moderate Reaganite, Junior a foreign policy hawk, and Jeb a post-Tea Party centrist.

By contrast, countries with a genuinely hereditary political class, like India, the Philippines, or perhaps soon Canada, believe qualification begins and ends with pedigree, and presumes voters are simple-minded and nostalgic enough to entrust their national leadership to even the most spectacularly inexperienced politicians simply because they liked their folks.

Nothing of the sort is happening in 21st century America. Decades of individual deviation within two small political families (whose public image, it should be remembered, is largely defined by marital infidelity and oedipal insecurity) have made it quite difficult to articulate what exactly “brand Bush” or “brand Clinton” represents to the average voter. The five politicians contained within are each distinct and complicated enough to demand careful consideration in their own right.

Which is exactly as it should be in a democracy.

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Anti-anti politics

A powerful force in politics today is the strength of what we might call “anti-anti” sentiment. Self-doubt and cowardice prevent a lot of us from stating exactly what we’re for, but few have anxiety about stating what we’re against. And what we’re against, increasingly, is other people being against other things.

In America, the notion of anti-antism has its roots in the so-called “new left” of the 1960s, who often went around declaring themselves “anti-anti Communist.” Which is to say, they were neither anti-Communist like mainstream Democratic politicians — who had committed all sorts of monstrous crimes in Vietnam and elsewhere in pursuing that goal — nor pro-Communist like some of the socialist parties of Europe, who were equally unattractive apologists for the totalitarian oppression of the USSR.

Being anti-anti-Communist allowed leftists to criticize American foreign policy remorselessly, often openly echoing Soviet talking points, yet simultaneously dismiss responsibility for emboldening the other, “equally bad” evil empire. The result was a kind of aloof detachment from the strategic realities of the Cold War in favor of unimpeachable self-righteousness and moral purity.

Today, we see similar tactics emulated across the spectrum on a host of  issues.

On the environment, for instance, many modern conservatives embrace a worldview best described as “anti-anti climate change.” Their cause is not in favor of CO2 emissions, nor is it — as their critics endlessly allege — blind support for oil, coal, and pipelines. Instead, it is merely a critical orientation rooted in a deep, reactive skepticism of the sort of people who have the loudest voices within the environmentalist movement. Aware that the climate change cause is championed most vigorously by those whom they are already skeptical (progressive politicians, Hollywood liberals, urban street protestors and their ilk) offering policy prescriptions of the sort they ordinarily oppose (regulation of business, tax hikes, social engineering), their default stance is contrarianism.

An even more vivid example would be the current moral crusade to curb the “rape culture” of our schools and workplaces, championed so vigorously by the online social justice set. There has been an enormous amount of pushback from the right towards much of this, to which the social justice types have replied that anyone critical of their agenda must be actively in favor of rape, misogyny, gendered violence, and sexism. A more accurate reading would see anti-antism at work — obviously no one is pro-rape, but many conservatives do find fault with society’s increasingly liberal standards used to determine whether the crime occurred, and what other behaviors should be considered culpable.

It’s not a phenomenon limited to the right, of course. On the left, engagement with post-recession fiscal issues has become fairly anti-anti, in which we routinely see austerity measures opposed not because anyone, beyond the hardest hard core Keynesians, actually supports debt and deficits, but rather because it’s considered important to not concede an inch to those free market demagogues who “got us into this mess,” etc, etc.

Ditto for abortion, which Wendy Davis — an anti-anti politician if there ever was one — attempted with decidedly limited success to mobilize a liberal coalition around. Not celebrating the procedure, nor desiring it to be completely unregulated and unrestrained, but rallying furiously against anyone who might have a problem if they were.

Similar things could be said about the neutral-but-defensive liberal reaction to race riots in the aftermath of Fergusson, or indeed, the troubling behavior of Michael Brown himself. Then there’s the the convoluted existence of feminists we could describe as being anti-anti-anti rape culture, in which even brazenly untrue allegations of sexual assault, such as the ones contained in that now massively discredited Rolling Stone story, are defended simply because acknowledging their flaws could embolden the anti-antis.

The problem with these modern strains of anti-antism is the same as what made the original doctrine of anti-anti Communism so unimpressive — it’s a style of argument based on criticizing the tactics and agenda of your enemy while never revealing your own, and thereby lazily abdicating the difficult, but intellectually critical obligation of defending the conduct of those who have.

Any philosophy worth taking seriously should include some attempt to define a positive vision of an ideal society, and thereby a set of measurable, achievable goals — which in the political world means policies — to be pursued to this end. A ideology that only identifies its enemies only goes halfway; one that merely criticizes its critics’ criticisms goes even less than that.

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Canada’s weird monarchy problem

I drew a big long cartoon for Medium about the monarchy and Canada. Sort of a cartoon manifesto on a issue I’ve obviously been quite passionate about over the years.

I’ve had some fun drawing long form cartoon essays of this sort (check out my past offerings on rock stars and cell phones).

I’d be curious to know if there are any other topics you’d like to see me tackle in this form.

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Posturing on prostitution

Premier Wynne’s decision to pick a fight with Ottawa over the Harper administration’s new prostitution law reveals several things about the state of contemporary politics in Canada —  little of it encouraging.

The first is what The New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin once dubbed the “colonization” of the political system by the legal system.

In instructing her attorney general to “advise me on the constitutional validity” of the Conservative government’s Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex but not the selling (reversing Canada’s previous status quo) the Ontario premier is making it clear that parliamentary passage does not represent any sort of conclusion within the lawmaking process, but merely a beginning.

To today’s progressive elites, laws passed by the nation’s elected representatives are but an opening bid, destined to be haggled down — or ideally overturned —  by a phalanx of lawyers and judges with sensibilities more enlightened than the ignorant rubes that fill our legislatures. Premier Wynne was strikingly blunt about this, conceding that while “I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer,” she is nevertheless breezily optimistic the legal process will ultimately echo her opposition.

That politicians of the left can so frequently carry themselves this way — that it can always be happily taken for granted that Conservative legislation is but a unanimous Supreme Court ruling away from the trash heap — should trouble many more than it does in what it reveals about the dominance of a single strain of philosophy within a judicial system based on subjective interpretation of an ambiguously-written constitution.

The other theme is more sinister. The progressive bona fides of contemporary liberal politicians like Wynne are increasingly established not by tax policy, spending policy, or indeed public policy in general, but rather a series of mostly symbolic positions on a number of emotionally-charged social issues.

Like most modern parties of the left, Wynne’s Liberals are overwhelmingly the party of the urban — in the last provincial election hers won all but two of the dozen-or-so downtown Toronto ridings. Urbanites, in turn, tend to be more educated and wealthy than their rural, Conservative-voting compatriots, and more obsessed with the sort of status jockeying and ostentatious flaunting of enlightened thinking that comes with inhabiting a white collar universe where career and social benefits are often tied to one’s mastery of abstract knowledge and fashionable intellectual trends.

In the mind of the urban progressive, one’s stance on a matter like the appropriate legal status of prostitution is now simply a metric for measuring the presence of virtues like open-mindedness and moral libertarianism. Hence, opinions on prostitution are not really about prostitution at all, but rather government’s right to regulate the private realm of sexual activity, which the socially correct are expected to resist.

As the head of the Toronto NOW recently put it, in an editorial defending her decision to run prostitution ads in her newspaper, “the new prostitution laws are part of a political agenda that aims to turn the clock back on the acceptance of human sexual diversity and our right to choose our own individual paths.” It’s basically the “same struggle that the LGBTQ community has waged for full human rights,” she adds, evoking the modern left’s all-purpose analogy for measuring moral decency.

Yet tragedy invariably arises when we insist on abstracting serious issues in this fashion. The sex trade is not just a thought exercise, after all, but a real-world enterprise centered around the exploitation of female bodies for profit, a trade which by its dehumanizing design inflicts a terrible physical and psychological toll on its participants. Thanks to their wealth and education, ruling class progressives understand this, and are the demographic most likely to avoid participating in the sex trade themselves, or dwelling in close proximity to it, just as they are the demographic most likely to avoid hard drugs, out-of-wedlock births, and the various other irresponsibilities they enjoy defending intellectually.

As Charles Murray succinctly put it, what we are witnessing is the rise of a political and media elite that doesn’t “preach what they practice.” The end result is a society in which the real-world tolls of liberal social policy, the horrors of physical exploitation, substance dependency, family breakdown, and emotional trauma are born disproportionately by the social classes whose ignorance is most dangerous and whose influence is smallest within the realm of the powerful.

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OPEC’s rising tide

A new toon posted on the Nib about OPEC’s recent decision to undercut American oil prices through overproduction.

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Where are the comics?

A number of you have asked this question, and I apologize for not providing a clear answer sooner.

Longtime readers will know that I’m constantly experimenting with this site and its format, of which I am never fully satisfied. I’m always either trying or promising new ideas to best reflect my current priorities as an artist and writer, but often those change faster than I can change the site.

Right now, I’m making most of my income as a television commentator for Sun News, a conservative TV station here in Canada. My secondary source of income is my comics, which I am now specifically commissioned to draw once-a-week for a website called The Nib, which is hosted by, run by my pal and yours, noted lefty cartoonist Matt Bors. A third source of income is writing editorials on Canadian politics for the Sun News website. A fourth source is doing long-form comics, such as this one on rock stars for Medium or this one on cellphone sizes for CNN (I have one coming up about the monarchy I’m quite excited about).

Readers of this site have come to expect cartoons accompanied by essays, which I am having a hard time finding the time to write these days. I could just post the cartoons as stand-alones, but I feel that would be redundant, and divert traffic from The Nib, who I feel loyalty to as an employee. Hence, this site has been rather cartoon bereft recently, and for that I apologize. I have begun to use this site as more of a forum for slightly idiosyncratic essays on topics I want to engage with, but have no other appropriate forum to do so.

As usual, I appreciate the feedback of you, my readers. I read all your commnets and take your opinions seriously when you tell me what you want to see from this site. I have some exciting projects underway right now, including a new informational wesbite in the spirit of my Canada Guide, and possibly even a book.

For the time being, however, let me just provide you with some critical links if you would like to more actively follow my output.

I am quite active on social media, so first and foremost please follow me on Twitter and join my Facebook page (still called Filibuster, but they won’t let me change it) for real-time updates the moment they happen.

And here is a link to my most recent cartoons, as archived on The Nib.


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Women’s Issues

Dr. Matthew Taylor of the European Space Agency was publicly reduced to tears this week, the latest victim of what The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman dubbed the “self-serious, hypercritical, omnipresent, never-ending, and unpredictable justice system” that is contemporary social media.

Taylor stood accused of wearing a garish shirt featuring scantily -clad (though by no means pornographic) depictions of women at a media scrum following his team’s successful completion of the Rosetta meteor-landing mission. That the shirt was a gift designed by a female friend mattered not — the judges of the internet courtroom have a hair-trigger for these sorts of things, and their ruling of guilt was swift.

Over here in Canada, meanwhile, heightened tensions in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault scandal have provoked an equally striking instance of kangaroo justice. Two female NDP MPs anonymously accused two male Liberal MPs of harassment, and Liberal boss Justin Trudeau promptly exiled both from his party in response. But the purported victims have simultaneously “declined” to make their complaints official, or otherwise participate in any grievance resolution mechanism. That puts the two ex-Liberals in a curious sort of purgatory as far as due process goes, but from Trudeau’s perspective it’s much safer to err on the side of ruining two men’s careers than enabling “rape culture.”

When we speak about the climate of the times, the phrase I keep coming back to is “moral panic,” the idea of a public constantly whipped into a lather about frightening, dangerous phenomenon that may or may not actually exist. Panics relating to omnipresent sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are currently proving most salient, with much madness being done in their name.

All available evidence suggests incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment are at unprecedented lows, while metrics of female achievement sit at unprecedented highs. The recent midterms, for example, saw a record number of women get elected to Congress — a fact which has been true of basically every election of the last nine decades. That women still have much to desire in terms of safety and success goes without saying (and everyone says it constantly anyway), yet contemporary feminism’s disinterest in such “big picture” questions in favor of picking fights on the periphery, or compromising fair process to secure satisfyingly salacious prosecutions, has prompted even ordinarily sympathetic corners to worry things are starting to get a bit, well, McCarthyesque.

The roots are broad. Educated, upper-middle class women still tend to view their gains as fragile, and it can take a while for any community to abandon a skepticism of opponents from whom hard-fought rights were only recently extracted. Women similarly remain a highly-coveted demographic as both consumers and voters, meaning there’s considerable capital to be gained from stoking and appeasing their insecurity and anger — emotions which tend to be strong motives for action.

Articles, videos, cartoons, and advertisements that offer women empowering stories of confrontation with sexist society — be it a documentary on walking the streets of New York or an 11,000-word essay on the gender politics of Frozen have become easy clickbait, while liberal politicians and activists seeking to curry favor with the female electorate have found reasonable success framing conservatives as proponents of misogynistic conspiracies. Twitter and Facebook provide the grassroots chorus, and the result is a culture walking on eggshells.

That much of this is excessively censorious and judgmental — and at times, even totalitarian — is indisputably true. Yet the conservative in me can’t help but wonder if there may be some tertiary cultural benefit to this new era of heightened sensitivity, too.

Sensitivity to indignity and vulgarity have been historically conservative virtues after all, while many of those most vigorously fighting feminism’s most recent incarnation have been crass and cruel. As ideologues, today’s loudest anti-feminists — stereotypically embodied by the fringes of the “Men’s Rights” and GamerGate subcultures — are motivated by a strange sort of juvenile libertarianism, with arguments based more on unrestrained entitlement than anything else. The freedom to be offensive, ignorant, and insensitive are taken as positive ends unto themselves, while any expected standards of conduct or decency are construed as persecution and oppression.

Writing about the current freak-out over the dubious pandemic of university rape, Heather MacDonald in the Weekly Standard speculated that such feminist moral panics may be inadvertently “neo-Victorian,” in that the heightened climate of fear they foster may wind up generating a more conservative social culture. A culture in which we become a lot more instinctively cautious about meaningless sex and depictions of women’s bodies, and moderate ourselves with exaggerated displays of mannered restraint. A culture that’s considerably less sexually liberated (or, in current jargon, “sex positive”) but also less promiscuous, obscene, and lustful.

In some ways, it will also be a culture hypocritical to the current panic’s stated aims, at least in the sense many men will be inclined to patronizingly regard women as inherently delicate and hypersensitive. But if the result accompanies a revival of chivalry, protocol, and manners — and indeed, less boorish politicians and scientists dressing like grown-ups — that’s hardly something to mourn.

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Democrats fail at division

Conventional wisdom on the American left holds that while the Republican Party has grown steadily more right-wing in recent years, Democrats have remained comparatively moderate. Liberal activists and commentators usually observe this sneeringly, characterizing the Democratic establishment as cowardly or weak for allowing their side to stagnant in the centre, and it’s why aggressively liberal Democrats like Elizabeth Warren (or hell, Barack Obama) tend to be such populist darlings.

In some respects it’s a fair analysis. Socialism actually polls quite well with the Democratic base, but only a tiny smattering of Democratic Congressmen openly claim the label (pace, Allen West). And as Noam Chomsky never tires of observing, aggressive pacifism is much more popular with liberal voters than is generally reflected by Democratic policy.

But the modern left is increasingly not defined by economic issues or foreign policy, but rather unyielding militancy on what we’ve come to call “social justice” issues —the drive to liberate women, blacks, immigrants, and gays from the perceived cruelties of a society dominated by chauvinistic white men.

On this front, Democrats are absolutely taking further and further left, in both rhetoric and policy. And if Tuesday night is any indication, they’re not gaining much from it.

Wendy Davis, the Texas legislator who became an overnight liberal superstar for leading an 11-hour filibuster against a contentious abortion law, saw her campaign for governor fall flat once it became clear her hardscrabble single-mom biography had been heavily massaged and her demonized abortion bill was actually fairly moderate and broadly popular. Her feminist pitch having flopped, she spent the rest of the campaign in a near-constant state of backtracking and clarifying.

Similar flailing defined the Senate race in purple Colorado, where incumbent Mark Udall was rebranded “Mark Uterus” for campaigning exclusively against the pro-life credentials of his Republican opponent. The Republican in question, Cory Gardner, had in fact ostentatiously softened his once-strident anti-abortion position in the face of backlash, but the Udall campaign refused to let it go, mounting what the traditionally liberal Denver Post dubbed an “obnoxious one issue campaign.” A darkly comic pre-election column in the British Guardian featured an interview with an irate Democratic donor flush with irritation: “f—ing abortion is all he talks about!”

In Louisiana, meanwhile, embattled senator Mary Landreau offered a cloying caricature of an excuse when asked to explain the unpopularity of President Obama in her state — an unpopularity that was unquestionably dragging her down by association. “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” she moped.

The New Republic would praise the quip as a clever ploy to “juice black turnout” (though less reported, in that same interview she also implied Southern sexism might be pushing her numbers down), but even if it did, the appeal was too niche to yield meaningful results. Landreau won 94% of the black vote, but only 18% of whites.

Mind you, her racial appeals were a model of subtlety compared to some of the handouts seen in Georgia. In that state, which featured a tossup race for an open Senate seat, the local Democratic Party distributed flyers featuring photos of doe-eyed black children holding cardboard signs reading “DON’T SHOOT.”

“If You Want To Prevent Another Ferguson In Their Future… Vote!” the brochure implored. This, at the time when the early liberal narrative of Ferguson — a black teen murdered by a racist cop apropos of nothing — is becoming increasingly disputed by new revelations about the nature of the fight between the two men.

In short, the left’s obsession with identity politics seems to be turning the Democratic base into an increasingly bitter coalition of those who relish in victim identities, and whose sole animating cause is the demonization of perceived victimizers.

Attempts to narrowly market “women’s issues” as abortion and birth control has made the Democrats less the party of women than the party of young, single women — your Lena Dunham and Sandra Fluke types — who see reproductive rights as the very essence of liberated femininity. To women who have aged beyond the sexual anxieties that come with early adulthood —  perhaps even to the point of understanding that the legal status of abortion (and abortifacients) is not an all-or-nothing proposition —  the whole thing comes off as rather condescending and juvenile.

Similarly, a disproportionate Democrat focus on stoking minority anxieties, implying a hidden racist agenda in basically every Republican criticism or initiative, has led to powerful alienation from whites resentful of this incessant blame. Republican voters are vastly more likely than Democrats to believe American race relations have “gotten worse,” in recent years, an opinion that doesn’t reflect indifference to minorities so much as deep skepticism that the reflexive impulse of the Obama administration to sensationalize and politicize racially delicate episodes like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin are doing much good.

By it’s very nature, a two party political system will always encourage the polarization of society. It behooves any ambitious partisan machine to push policies and rhetoric that win the loyalties of the fattest slice of this split.

Democrats are proving very good at dividing, but their conquering could use some work.

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Oil and identity politics

Amid much talk of alternative fuel sources and energy self-sufficiency, a stubborn fact remains — America still imports an awful lot of oil. Around 10 million barrels a day, to be exact. It’s a need that may be one day eclipsed, but for the time being it’s simply economic reality, and one that poses a unique dilemma for American liberals. Even if we concede that America’s end goal should be no oil imports at all (if not no oil, period), does there exist a moral imperative to ensure oil imports that do occur — that have to occur for now — come from nations whose internal politics are at least progressive enough to alleviate the indignity?

As the left anxiously debates the justness of the proposed Canada-to-US Keystone XL pipeline, this is one argument that’s rarely been heard — the moral case for weaning America off the oil of third world dictatorships and onto the oil of happy, liberal Canada.

It’s a pitch currently being made by a somewhat unlikely source — noted conservative rabble-rouser and oil apologist Ezra Levant — who today released a YouTube ad that explicitly seeks to antagonize American liberals by tying the case for Keystone to the social issue near and dearest to their hearts: gay rights.

Unambiguously entitled “OPEC HATES GAYS,” the ad depicts two painfully bourgeois gay men encountering a shop with a sign in the window reading “NO GAYS.” As they walk away offended, an incredulous voice-over demands, “If you wouldn’t shop at a store that discriminates like this, then why would you buy your oil from countries that do?”

The metaphor seems a bit clunky, but only slightly. After all, for all intents and purposes America is shopping quite happily at the “no gays” store — of the country’s largest non-Canadian oil trading partners, most have appalling human rights records on homosexuality. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Nigeria gayness is banned altogether, and often viciously prosecuted with jail time, beatings, crackpot “therapy,” or even death. In Russia, homosexuality is tolerated but not encouraged (as the Putin regime made abundantly clear in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics), while nominally permissive Venezuela sends similarly mixed messages through its alliances with decidedly homophobic regimes like Islamist Iran, Assad’s Syria, and Hamas. Even in the more democratic Latin American petrostates like Ecuador and Columbia, same-sex marriage and gay adoptions remain illegal.

Canada’s gay rights record, in contrast, has never been ambiguous: homosexual intercourse has been legal since the 1960s, every province passed anti-discrimination and adoption laws in the 90s, and the federal government approved gay marriage in the early 2000s. It was not without reason that the atmosphere was so smugly self-congratulatory this past June as Premier Wynne — now North America’s first openly gay elected head of government — kicked off World Pride in Toronto; Canada has a deserved reputation as a global pioneer in the fight for LGBT equality, a legacy that continues to this day as the battle moves down the alphabet to the transgender-rights front.

Identity politics is fast becoming the creature that ate everything in modern political debate, particularly on the left, where politicians and pundits seem increasingly bored with economic and foreign policy issues that lack a readily available link to some fashionable victim group. In this sense, the idea of linking trade to social justice concerns is nothing new, from the apartheid boycotts of the Reagan years to the anti-Israel disinvestment campaigns of today — to say nothing of the virulent domestic crusades against everything from Chick-fil-A to Mozilla in retaliation for perceived homophobia.

The gamble of the OPEC HATES GAYS campaign is to assume liberals can be just as easily motivated by a “positive” call to action, in the sense of being guilted to consume a certain product as a way of abstaining from another, rather than simply boycotting a wicked seller without shifting to an “ethical” alternative. The justification would be that while no one really needs fried chicken sandwiches or homemade soda, we all need gasoline. If the numbers of Keystone’s most enthusiastic backers are to be believed, approval of the pipeline could carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude into the United States every day, more than enough to cancel out imports from Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria combined.

To be sure, the polls suggest most liberal Americans are broadly supportive of Keystone — to the extent it’s controversial at all it’s only with the hardest left, most environmentally dogmatic wing of the Democratic Party, which seems to be exercising disproportionate influence over the White House at the moment (largely to milk campaign cash out of wealthy climate change alarmists like Tom Steyer, the theory goes).

Such types may well be single minded enough to be thoroughly disinterested in any conversation about fossil fuels that doesn’t begin and end with outlawing them, but presuming they possess even the slightest twang of realism, the question of whether America’s short-term oil imports should pass the social justice equivalent of EPA guidelines in the meantime remains a salient one.

Campaigns like this insist upon an answer.

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Why #Ghomeshigate matters

Jian Ghomeshi, a CBC “star” to the extent that unpopular network has any, was fired on Sunday for reasons that remain officially murky. In a long Facebook post, Jian claims it’s because he’s very sexually kinky (a fan of “role-play, dominance and submission”), and his lifestyle embarrassed his bosses. This was then promptly undermined by an epic Toronto Star story published a few hours later, which revealed that at least four women have come forward claiming various forms of sexual abuse at Ghomeshi’s hands, including quite grotesque and violent sexual assault. That would certainly make any CBC embarrassment over his sex life a lot more justifiable.

The Star tells the story of three ex-lovers who were initially seduced by Ghomeshi’s fame only to be subsequently horrified when subjected to his deranged sexual appetites, which included beatings, chokings, smotherings, and verbal abuse. Ghomeshi says everything was friendly and consensual; the woman claim otherwise.

The women are said to have never laid charges (and still remain anonymous) because they fear the retaliation and shaming that could ensue from taking on such a powerful celebrity; a fear, it should be noted, for which precedent exists — blogger Carla Ciccone claims she was harassed by Ghomeshi-fans some years ago after writing about going on a creepy date with him.

As a progressive darling working for Canada’s flagship progressive network, the Ghomeshi case presents a striking test of the left’s willingness to enforce its ideological norms against one of its own.

In recent years, progressives have chosen to make defending the rights of women in the face of sex criminals an increasingly central component of their raison d’etre, even to the point of compromising traditional commitments to common law standards of innocence, evidence and due process along the way. Such sacrifices have been justified with the thesis that ours is a society of “rape culture,” in which dominant institutions — including the legal system, schools, business, government, and the media — either conspire to ignore, openly tolerate, or are systematically indifferent to female claims of sexual mistreatment, thereby making the tolerance of low standards of proof from female accusers an entirely justifiable counteraction. A just society, such thinking goes, is one that understands sexual violation as a crime that exists entirely in the eyes of its self-identified victim, and not one the victim-identified perpetrator has a right to negotiate his way out of.

Thus, the fact that the Ghomeshi story may come off as simply “he-said-she-said” to some, should do nothing to dissuade progressives who have previously made very clear in a number of high-profile online “social justice” campaigns — from the purported campus rape crisis to #gamergate — that what she said should be more than good enough for them.

Particularly damning in this regard are the characterizations of CBC management during this whole affair — both in the Star story and Ghomeshi’s own defensive claims.

In the Star‘s retelling, Ghomeshi’s fourth alleged victim, the co-worker who claims to have been sexually groped and harassed by Jian at CBC studios, says she complained to Ghomeshi’s producer only to have the producer turn around and instruct her to make their workplace “less toxic” — as if not getting molested on the job was somehow her prerogative.

Ghomeshi himself similarly claims that in regards to his other three accusers, CBC top brass has assured him “there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent,” a conclusion they evidently reached hearing only Jian’s side of the story (“I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual.”) The firing was about PR damage-control, and little else.

If a right-wing media darling like, say, Ezra Levant was facing multiple accusations of vile sexual assault from several different women, and if his defense consisted entirely of assurances that his bosses believed his story and accusations of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by “a jilted ex girlfriend,” it would go without saying that the progressive left would honor their own standards and demand massive retaliation towards such an obvious manifestation of rape culture.

The CBC has now shown itself to be culpable in precisely this fashion.

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