14 May 2012

The Zen of Political Disasters: Becoming A Hole #nlpoli

As SRBP noted in an earlier post, the first step in getting yourself out of a hard political spot is to recognise that you are in a hole.

What often happens – as seen in the provincial Conservatives and the Burton Winters tragedy up to now – is that they cannot see that they are in a hole in the first place.

On Monday, the local Connies took it a step further.

They decided not to dig the hole deeper.   They decided to embrace the hole and accept it as part of them.  Being in the hole was not good enough for them. The Zen of Political Disasters gripped them firmly.  They decided to become the hole, or, more accurately, they decided to become a hole.

A long-time supporter of the provincial Conservatives called the morning radio talk show on Monday to defend Kathy Dunderdale.  Kathy is wonderful.  Kathy has done, is doing and will do marvellous things for us all.  She is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this place since the last Connie to rule over us all.  Now that is not exactly what the fellow said but it is a reasonable summary of it.

Then he made disparaging remarks about the crowd at the Telegram who do not share his view of Kathy Dunderdale. He mentioned the meeting with Burton Winters’ grandmother.  He also mentioned the number of people criticising Kathy over the way she handled it.

Now researchers will tell you than when people who hold a firm belief are confronted with a challenge to that belief they face something called “cognitive dissonance”.  That’s a fancy phrase that basically means they have two things that don’t fit together.  The mind wants to fit them together and so they reconcile the belief with the evidence that contradicts the belief.

Our friend the open line caller did exactly what people tend to do when confronted with this cognitive dissonance.  He made up a completely fictitious set of claims.  Kathy Dunderdale was the victim of a plot.  Some unspecified crowd called “they” had set a trap for her with this meeting.  When they tried to spring it, Kathy foiled their nefarious plot.

The media have been pounding away at this  because they just love misery. 

And the root of it all was the end of the sectarian school system almost 20 years ago.  Since the evil Liberals did away with sectarian schools, we have been set on just this course.  Politics in this province is gone down to the lowest level with this sort of mean-spirited attacks on good people, besmirching the good name of lovely people like Kathy who are only trying to do good for the world.

Now when you put it like that, this old Tory’s comments sound ludicrous.  They are almost laughable.  They are – dare one say it? – much the same as the kind of batshit rantings of a teabagger from the United States.

And if one were to say that, one would be absolutely correct.

Now his Connie friends will likely accuse your humble e-scribbler of twisting his words, of “spinning” them.  That’s what some of them like to think. That is what – quite literally – helps them sleep at night.

But, you see, what they are doing is merely another variety of the rationalisation that True Believers of any sort will do when their deeply held beliefs  come smack into conflict with that precious commodity called reality.  Tory True Believers do it.  Liberal True Believers do it.  So too do the Dipper True Believers, the Republicans, Democrats, Labour and the religious ones of ever stripe.

When they see their own words reflected back to them, they see that the words are too foolish for words.  But rather than adjust their own beliefs they make up even crazier ideas so that they don’t have to change that original programming.

Your humble e-scribbler has had a great deal of fun these seven or so years pointing out these sorts of discontinuities, the clash between the fact and the fiction, if you will.  Make no mistake:  it is fun. Entire television programs on cable have scored huge success and spawned other bigger successes out of basically doing the same thing.

Shortly after the old faithful Tory called in to talk of plots and conspiracies and the lost glory days when of religious bigotry held the province firmly in its grip, municipal affairs minister Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien appeared on the line.

He did not talk of conspiracies.  Fairity talked in measured tones of why he stayed quiet early on rather than discuss the simple facts and details of the search effort that ended so tragically.  The family needed to grieve, said Fairity and it was their thing to decide what to do and how to do it.

Before long he turned to the infamous meeting that never was. For the family to decide they wanted to bring someone else other than family to the meeting was wrong, according to O’Brien.  The fact the family wanted the person there did not matter.  It was wrong to bring in “technical people”.  To do that would be to “lose the focus of the meeting”.  To “lose the focus of the meeting” with the Premier would do a “disservice to the young man” who died.

Fairity did not explain why that was so.  In truth, he probably could not. But he insisted that what the family wanted to do was wrong.  Fairity went from allowing that the family should do as they saw fit to attempting to dictate what the family should do.

In the end he proposed that there could be two meetings.  in one the family would meet with the Premier.  They could not talk about an inquiry or any details of the search.  in the second meeting they could bring their “technical people” and meet with fairity, his officials, the police and anybody else they could stuff into the room.

In the bureaucracy as in football, they call this a pile on.  The officials pile on to the people from outside in an effort to overwhelm them and intimidate them.  About a dozen or so years ago, your humble e-scribbler sat in a meeting in which a minister brought every single person from one section of her department in addition to the deputy minister, the assistant deputy and her executive assistant. The only protection she didn’t bring was a police swat team.

Her purpose was all defence and that is what Kathy and Fairity are on about as well.  That former minister’s efforts screamed insecurity and so, too, do Kathy’s and Fairity’s. 

The provincial Conservatives may well have reached a defining moment in Kathy Dunderdale’s administration.  The definition isn’t good, but it’s what you get when you decide to adopt the Zen of Political Disasters and become a hole.

- srbp -