Congratulations to Harper and the Conservatives, and to Layton and the NDP. Iggy was such an unmitigated disaster that I really hope people will take back at least some of the crap they said about Dion last time. In retrospect, it was clear Iggy had a problem considering even I, a liberal but Layton-hating, Russian-Jewish Canadian intellekshual living in the States (i.e. his exact target demographic!), thought he was kind of a doofus and shouldn’t have been elected. Oh well, so much for the facts. Now for the emotions.
If Facebook is any indication, a lot of my friends and acquaintances in Canada seem seriously puzzled, upset or scared by the Harper victory. “Hey Canada, We are Fucked” one succinctly put it. “disgusted” “frightening” and “you. have got. to be kdding me.” are some reactions. If anyone’s happy about the election, they’re keeping it to themselves. What I want to say is this is as it should be. As I mentioned I kind of like Harper, and although I didn’t and wouldn’t vote for him or his party, I think they have been competent so far on the big issues*, and I think in majority government, they will continue to be competent. I think David Frum put it pretty well in saying this should be a lesson to Republicans in what a socially tolerant, multi-ethnic Conservative party can achieve. I’m not sure of the intelligence of that advice tactically, but holy fuck do I hope they take it. Although we will see what happens to Canada now, and if indeed the direst predictions of my friends come to pass, then I will change my tune. Hopefully, in that case, so will most Canadians. But for now, let’s keep in mind that Harper has been PM for five years, and nothing too scary has happened.
So why are my acquaintances so exasperated? “Is there any chance of protest?” asks a friend, and surely some conservatives would scoff at this – some respect for democracy that is! But listen, election night is not about the winners. The winners have the whole five years ahead. Election night is about catharsis for the losers, for the losers to shout and grind their teeth and cry and wonder how their countrymen could be so dumb.
As I mentioned, I am not feeling this now, but I know exactly how it feels and sympathise with my friends. Let’s wind back the clock to November, 2004. In 2004, it was my first time living on my own, and so basically my first time choosing singlehandedly what to pay attention to in the world. I was following the U.S. election so earnestly it was stupid (for someone who was living in Canada, anyway). I checked fivethiertyeight every few hours (was it still called that then? I don’t quite remember). I read the New Republic, the National Review, and occasionally Mother Jones. I knew the issues, the candidates, I saw the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. What was apparent was that, okay, Kerry may not have been that great, but Bush did not deserve to be re-elected. He started the Iraq War, tortured, and Patriot Acted, and did his utmost to piss off the rest of the world. Moreover, he was a blumbering idiot. Moreover yet, his campaign was ruthlessly dirty and ridiculous. Even swiftboaters and so on aside, the positive values his campaign promoted were jingoism and xenophobia. Plus, as I mentioned, I’m generally liberal, so even under normal circumstances I would cheer against the party on the right. On election night, I refreshed New York Times like 20,000 times. Although I knew it was a possibility, I couldn’t believe what was happening. State by state, going red. The recriminations on the left, the jubilation on the right. William F. Buckley, who, perhaps strangely, has a reputation as having been a class act, indeed acted like one, though. His column on the election, which I can’t find right now, was called “We didn’t know it would happen” and rather than boasting and celebrating or mock-consoling liberals, his column was about how elections are inherently unpredictable**. Perhaps having seen bitter defeat so often, he knew the feeling too well to dismiss it. This is worth remembering for my heartbroken friends right now. And indeed, heartbroken is the right word. At least, it was for me. I didn’t know what to do with myself I was so sad.
The next day I came to work and it all seemed pointless. Why bother, the world was fucked. I had some call to make to Chicago to purchase a replacement part for some scientific instrument. I called, and I said “Hi. I’m sorry about your election.” The lady said. “Yeah. Oh well.” Somehow that made me feel a lot better. So that is what I say to my friends. It’s okay. Tomorrow will come, you will commiserate with some strangers, and in the end, I’m sure it won’t be as fucked as the Bush presidency 2004-2008.
*except, as Zuuko rightly points out, respect for democracy, which is a subject for another post.