Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great White (not so) Mighty Wurlitzer - Updated

I couldn't get by the second paragraph of the Patricia Robertson's  painful op-ed in yesterday's G&M: Ignatieff comes a-courtin'
Mr. Ignatieff, rural Canada -- as you may already suspect -- currently belongs to Stephen Harper. There's a reason for that: He's one of us.
As Moon Unit Zappa would say: "Like, gag me with a spoon".  I spent a fraction of a second pitying Ms. Robinson and her most likely futile attempt to make a living as a freelance writer if this piece was symbolic of her work.  Then I moved on to look for a coherent opinion.  But the Impolitical post this morning highlighting a good LTTE in response to the article got me thinking about this some more during a long wet and snowy bike ride into work.

First of all, I would like to explain part of her rural experience:
When it comes to bridging the gap between urban and rural Canada, you're out of your depth. When I moved to a Saskatchewan farm town from Calgary in 2004, I was in the same predicament. I knew nothing of rural life and, boy, did I step in cow manure on a regular basis. I've been shunned, redeemed, shouted at and welcomed with equal measure.
  to her.  As a born and bred westerner whose family has owned farms and cattle and has spent plenty of time in rural settings, I am not surprised at her reception.  People in farming communities may have different educational backgrounds and concerns than urban Canadians but that doesn't mean they despise education or are unsophisticated.  I have talked to several farmers who have travelled in Europe, would be delighted to see their kids get into Harvard and are extremely well read and intelligent.  Some one is guilty of
pandering from your lofty perch
but I don't think it is Ignatieff.  Rural Canadians are people with hopes and dreams not characters from Hee-Haw.  The fact someone with her attitude was welcomed at all points to the generous spirit of "rural" people rather than an animus towards education, sophistication and intellect.

The article is full of Conservative talking points mashed together as though by a random quote generator.   Only a few examples are necessary because we have all seen these before:
Mr. Harper is working on a hockey book.
we value accountability
We also value thrift and pragmatism
It all seemed too much like it was scripted from the PMO.  So I did some Google searches on "Patricia Robertson "a Saskatchewan-based writer".  What I found was an article in the Star on Colony Collapse Disorder , a reference to her as that other Robertson and some very peculiar but interesting articles.

The first was a piece, ironically enough, on the Friends of Public Broadcasting website titled "The Sound of Silence".  Like the op-ed; unimpressive and quickly forgotten.  Except for the impression that it is something a Harperite or the Toom Tabard himself would approve of.

The second was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press (Lipstick mafia flees) which is worthy of further review because the odd stance it takes.  She claims to be "a stalwart Liberal party supporter" although it would be understandable if you thought the words came straight from the Conservative war room.

On Dion:
The head Grit desperately needs a language coach and some podium confidence. Learn to annunciate.
The man is bland. He lacks personality and is forgettable
Dion has proven a weak and threadbare opponent to the more savvy and in-control Harper government. 
Watching the awkward Dion tromp self-propelled in the woods like a lost winter camper does not endear him to redneck Western piston-heads who prefer camo-painted, gas-guzzling sleds and quads to snowshoes.
Funny for a stalwart Liberal to mouth "Not a Leader" platitudes.  The comment that
Dion can't even cajole the Bloc Québécois and NDP into a temporary coalition to oppose Harper,
brought forth a smile.

Her comments on Harper, however, brought back bad memories:
I know what Stephen Harper stands for: Arctic sovereignty, NHL hockey, Bing Crosby fireside sweaters, the $10 haircuts and the party-is-over for the Adrienne Clarkson-hugging, artsy demographic.
Stalwart Liberal, my latte sipping ass.  If anyone bought that, I have an Accountability Act to sell them.

So what to make of Ms. Robertson, freelance writer, and her curious op-eds?  In his book,  "The Mighty Wurlitzer" Hugh Wilford outlined efforts by the CIA to influence the media.  This phrase was subsequently adopted to refer to the systematic network of conservative media outlets that promulgate the Republican party line.  Most notably, the discovery that Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and others accepted money for favourable coverage of Bush.

Does a northern parallel explain the inexplicable ability of Ms. Robertson to have her drivel published?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But consider the implications if this is the case.  The Globe article gives us a broad brush view of the incipient attack ads.  Ignatieff holidays in France, has committed the heinous crime of being "urbane, educated, articulate, informed and witty", a "displaced diplomat" and a "secular humanist".  If she had called him a metrosexual the relationship to the attacks of John Kerry in 2004 would be complete.  They also have a stench reminiscent of the initial attacks on Dion.

If this is the vein the Conservatives hope to mine, it is repetitive but no one has ever accused the Harper brain trust of an excess of imagination.

It might also highlight some Conservative concerns.  Perhaps they are worried about Liberal inroads to their "rural" base.  By attacking his strengths you expose your weaknesses. 

Update:  I meant to include the point that if this is a Conservative plant, it highlights the fact that they see their base as a bunch of uni-dimensional unsophisticated hicks.  Nice.
Update 2*: If Patricia Robertson is a voice representative of rural people (westerners in particluar) and they are the caricatures she paints them to be, why did she write that for the G&M.  If anything says elitest Central Canadian establishment to the putative hicks she describes in her articles, it is the Globe and Mail.  I am surprised, therfore, she used that vehicle.  Tied into the zeitgeist of rural folks as she is.

*When I bash out posts over lunch, I forget to put everything in sometimes.  Hey it happens. 
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