We know what the Egyptians, or at least their head honcho Pharaoh, did to attract the wrath of G-d. He wouldn't let His people go. But everyone paid the awful price - those ten vile plagues culminating in the genocidal murder of all Egyptian first-born.
But what have Canadians done to evoke the wrath of the heavens? What have Ontarians done? Or poor Hogtowners? Though it's our pharaohs who sin, only regular folks pay the price. It's a trifecta, folks. Harper the asbestos killer in Ottawa, Ford the city-wrecker in Toronto, and, come October 6, very likely Hudak the math-challenged in Ontario. Won't we be in a pretty pickle then? What have ordinary people done to deserve this plague of right-wing Conservatives? Equally mysterious, why have so many ordinary folks supported them?
It defies rationality to have come to this. Much of the world is still trapped in one of the great economic meltdowns in the history of capitalism. Yet whom have Canadians turned to in their justifiable anger but Conservatives? Hardly anyone of right mind disagrees that it was the insatiable greed and reckless irresponsibility of Wall Street, which had been deeply unregulated over the past 30 years, that plunged much of the world into its economic tailspin. In Canada, even Stephen Harper boasts about how our banks, thankfully constrained by government regulations, were prevented from going off half-cocked the way they did south of the border, which saved us from the worst of the collapse.
In a real sense, we can say it was social democratic restraints on the Canadian speculator class that saved us even more misery here, as if the great decline in manufacturing and high unemployment wasn't enough. And it was precisely the free-market religion so passionately embraced by Conservatives - whether Mr. Harper, Rob Ford or Tim Hudak - that could have damaged us further.
Conservative economic policies have had another overwhelming consequence: an astonishing increase in inequality and the incessant enrichment of those wealthier than some entire countries while normal people stand still if lucky or slip back. These two dynamics have converged nicely in the years since the collapse. Those who caused it, already rich beyond the dreams of avarice and with government funds bailing them out in the tens and hundreds of billions, continued to reward themselves with unimaginably large payouts. So the filthy rich got filthier while the rest struggle to make ends meet each week.
In fact, while the world continues to face humungous economic challenges, the world's wealthiest are getting even richer and more numerous. Whatever picayune slippage some suffered after the 2008 banking crisis, a new report shows they're already filthier than they used to be. This happy state of affairs has been dramatically enhanced by the generosity of governments everywhere in reducing even further the tax burden on the filthy, which of course has led, together with smaller recession-time revenues, to large deficits in governments' budgets.
These circumstances should logically have led to demands for more social democratic values to reduce the chances of further bankers' follies and to attack the problem of growing inequality. Nothing makes more sense than to turn to the state, J. K. Galbraith famously explained, as the only possible countervailing power to the vast might of the corporate sector. But right-wingers didn't give an inch, as the National Post's Jonathan Kay, of all people, pointed out in a thoughtful and surprisingly positive review of Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks's The Trouble with Billionaires in the Literary Review of Canada last year.
Bear in mind this is a man who thinks Jeffrey Simpson is "centre-left." Conservatives, Mr. Kay wrote, "do not even pretend to have a solution to the inequality problem. Based on my experience at the Post, I'd say that most do not think of it as a problem at all. I cannot think of a single Canadian conservative aside from Conrad Black who has made any serious intellectual effort to reconcile his or her faith in capitalism with the free market-engendered meltdown of the American economy. Instead, they mechanically spout ritualized denunciations of the politics of 'tax and spend'."
This of course goes double in the United States.
In fact there was only one strategy the right wing's propagandists, organizers and billionaire financiers could now follow - sheer, unmitigated chutzpah. Instead of acknowledging a whit of responsibility, they would do the opposite, preposterous as it seems: Blame government, taxes and unions, and distract attention from the filthy rich. This quite explicit strategy has been working for several decades; why not try it again? After all, shamelessness is the signal characteristic of those who survive and prosper in this life. Sure government regulations and bailouts saved us all from an even greater crash. Sure unions in the public sector helped their members maintain a barely modest level of middle class comfort and security, the precarious embodiment of the North American dream of upward social mobility. So attack both government and unions, what else?
Of course this makes no sense of any kind, except that it's working like a charm. It's elected many right-wing politicians, some so far off the conventional ideological continuum they're in a parallel universe of their own insanity. Thus the United States in the mid-term elections and the surrealistic contest for Republican presidential candidate. Thus a know-nothing union-baiting mayor in Toronto. Thus a Harper government, enabled by working class and middle class ethnic voters in Southern Ontario who somehow trusted him but distrusted a larger role for government.
Thus the sustained attacks across the United States, and now Canada, on public service employees who have been lucky enough to have unions to keep them from a life just above permanent financial anxiety. It shows the worst of human behavior and the failure of reason. Instead of solidarity with those lucky enough to hang on and with little responsibility for society's ills, frightened, insecure people have turned mean and vindictive towards those just marginally luckier than themselves, instead of turning against those who are in fact responsible for it all. These people are or should be natural NDP sympathizers, not conservatives. In that light, it was remarkably principled of the new NDP caucus to launch their filibuster last week on behalf of labour rights, widely considered fundamental human rights by those with decreasing influence.
For decades the goals of American conservatives, including the highly politicized corporate sector, have been transparent enough: Reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the rich. Reduce all government regulations that impinge on corporate profits. Destroy trade unions. Earlier this year the ultra-reactionary billionaire Koch brothers held a meeting of allies in Palm Springs, California, to plot "strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." They have had extraordinary success, under both Republicans and Democrats, in achieving all three, as Corporate Canada and its political allies have enviously observed.
But there have been major regressions in Canada as well. Tax breaks for un-needy corporations continue apace. Private-sector unions have become a tiny minority in both countries. In the public sector, where unions had some clout left, it's under ferocious attack across the United States and now suddenly in Canada (and in Greece and Britain and Botswana too, for that matter). All we need is a Tim Hudak victory in Ontario, and with his pals Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford, watch the attacks accelerate. Who will save us from this awful plague?