14 January 2011

Paternalism on display

Members of Danny Williams’ personality cult tend to infantilise themselves and those around them. It’s an expression of paternalism, one of the hallmarks of the past seven years in local politics.

Take for example, this comment on a post by Nalcor lobbyist Tim Powers over at the Globe and Mail:


2:12 PM on November 27, 2010

I know we have to believe there are strong leaders out there who will step forward and continue the work of Danny Williams. Quite frankly, with the news of his departure, I felt somewhat orphaned, a sense of being left alone surrounded by those who will, again, try and rob us of what we have achieved. You are correct: we cannot take a step back. Danny has set the bar high enough that no politician will dare settle for less and survive the people's wrath. Deceitful people, like the PM and other provincial people will continually try to impede us as they have always done. Thankfully, we now have the confidence and pride to stand up to them.

The basic construction here is that a group of people were childish and incapable of properly looking after themselves until a strongman political leader stepped into protect them.  This strongman then gifted the child-like people with self-esteem.

The same sort of ideas have cropped up in several online comments by different people.  They all have variations on the same idea:  he gave us pride.

Take a look at the words “I felt like an orphan”.  The idea behind it, though, seems to be paternalism, although your humble e-scribbler has rendered it a little differently.  Individuals are supposedly incapable of governing themselves and must be cared for by an authority figure. While it is usually referred to as paternalism, having someone who is apparently not part of a ruling elite advance the idea seems to be more a case of reducing oneself to a child-like state of incompetence, i.e. infantilizing.

You can see here the victim mythology that is prevalent in certain segments of political culture in Newfoundland and Labrador.  According to this view, outsiders take advantage of the place and its people, sometimes helped by locals.

surrounded by those who will, again, try and rob us of what we have achieved

And that’s a related and very intense part of Williams’ political message:  fear of outsiders with the corollary that only Father Dan  - or some comparable parental figure - could protect his children.

Is it any wonder how many of Danny’s loyal followers have used Brad Cabana’s birthplace as a reason to suspect him and his motives?

Minnie on Night Line proposing all sorts of conspiracies including that Cabana is a Harperite plant sent to cause strife among the Danny faithful?

Or Ross Wiseman in a scrum with reporters noting, almost as a throw-away line, that Cabana hasn’t been in the province very long.

Talk about dog-whistling Ross.

But it all fits the pattern.

- srbp -