Our Prime Minister knows his classics

August 23, 2008

With all that talk about cuts to arts and culture programs, it has been said, sometimes in terms barely suitable for a respectable broadsheet, that our Prime Minister has no interest for culture.

I beg to differ. Mr. Harper knows his classics. Given his recent political maneuvering, I think I know which book he keeps by his bed.

In 50 B.C., a politician named Gaïus Julius was in a similar predicament as Mr. Harper is now: Parliament was troublesome, but his coffers were full of cash and he had legions of troops spoiling for a fight. But Gaïus feared public opinion would turn on him if he appeared too confrontational. He needed some PR work done to avoid damaging his image. Thus, he sent his flacks to the capital to explain that while he would never think of doing anything drastic, he couldn’t allow democracy to be flouted by his opponents. He proposed a meeting with them.

In the book he wrote about the whole thing, he sums up his public stance:

“I was waiting to receive a reply to my own very moderate demands and hoping that a certain sense of fairness might be shown so that everything could end peacefully.” (The translation I have at home is livelier than the online text).

We all know what happens after that: having sufficiently demonstrated his unwillingness to take arms, Caesar takes a deep breath, crosses the Rubicon, wins his majority and goes ahead with Senate reform.

The only thing that doesn’t quite fit is the enemy, famous orator Pompeï. Surely that can’t be Stéphane Dion…

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Netroots and Netroops

August 5, 2008

Prof Greg Elmer is back from the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC and shares some thoughts with the readers of The Hill Times (the Canadian one), and with those readers only, since the text is shyly hiding behind HT’s subscription firewall.

The temptation to just cut-and-paste the text here is almost overwhelming, but I’ll be strong and urge you to buy, borrow or steal a copy. Here’s the teaser version:

Elmer starts off by quoting “American broadcaster and new media guru Douglas Rushkoff” (watch his invocation), who talked about the tensions between genuine online activists (Netroots) and political operatives using the same methods to bring partisan politics up to speed with the Internet age (let’s call them Netroops for fun).

Elmer mentions the Tories were the first out of the digital gate, urging their supporters to get active online and rewarding the most visible ones. He goes on to say that while Canada’s election finances regulations forces those party activists to keep an arms-length relationship with party machinery, but…

“The Blogging Tories’ first flashy and professional looking website mocking the Liberal Green Shift campaign theshiftygreen.ca raises questions about whether new campaigning funds are already trickling into established online party activist coffers, a point Stephen Taylor recently refuted. A well-known internet programmer, Taylor estimated that the costs of his shifty green website were “minimal,” and that the required software cost him about $10.”

And why should we care? Because…

As Ottawa finally starts to move to issue-based political debate, focusing on various tax and environment policies, future elections will likely see a new crop of net activists moving beyond parody, symbolic and first-person politics to a decidedly more interventionist brand of netroots online political activism and campaigning.

Although I’m not too thrilled with the way the “issue-based political debate” is shaping up, the good professor might be right.

UPDATE: On his blog, Elmer is responding to Jonathan Malloy’s opinion piece on the primacy of Parliament on public debate and why a politician can still understand Internet culture without ever going online. Sure, I’m making fun of Mr. Malloy’s text (some interesting points in there), but it’s so badly written that I feel he deserves it.

See also: Netroots and Netroops – post 2