26 March 2013

The debt is passed #nlpoli

Monday’s throne speech was so bad that people started making fun of it almost immediately.  On Twitter a few of us tried changing lines from famous John Kennedy speeches and giving them a local twist

You could find a variation on the moon speech:  we will go into debt,  not because it is hard but because it is easy.  Another tried German:  “Ich bin ein Bauliner!”

Or this one from the inaugural:

The debt has been passed to new generation, born in oil riches, untempered by profligacy, undisciplined by debt.

None could top the corrupted Kennedyism an actual speech by the Old Man, Hisself in 2006:

I say to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: "Ask not what we can do for our country, because we have done enough. Let's ask our country what they can do for us."

That’s one of the three things about the latest throne speech from the ruling provincial Conservatives.

So much of the speech is old.

Pages of the text, read by the Lieutenant Governor, are about things that supposedly happened in the past.  you have to say supposedly because a great deal of the claims about what things were like once are simply not true.  At all.

This tendency to look backwards has been the Conservatives’ hallmark.  They have always been concerned about the past, about fixing what happened years ago.  And then they praise themselves for stuff they supposedly did in the past.  Go back to 2006, a mere three years after they took office, and you’ll see this pattern.  The result is a sort of public onanism by people long past their glory days.

This speech is so much a relic of throne speeches past that the best words to describe it come from a post every bit as old: This is a speech that claims credit for finding things that no one lost.. It praises a lustre restored to that which had not been dulled. It lauds the cleansing of that which was not sullied. It remembers what no one forgot.  This speech sings grandiose hymns of self-praise to its author unhindered by modesty, humility, or fact. 

This speech is full of the sort of geriatric political masturbation we used to get when the Old Man was around.

Second, what isn’t about the past seems hastily pulled together:

We have to live within our means and continue to set clear and responsible priorities. It is about a balanced plan, a sustainable approach.

What does “it” refer to there?  There is no antecedent, something definite that the “it” substitutes for. The awkwardness of the speech at this point screams of an incomplete thought, or of sentences that used to be in there to tie the two thoughts together.

Third, there is the sense of  the deeply surreal that runs all the way through the text.

The provincial government is currently in a financial mess caused by over-spending.  The Conservatives have known – have publicly admitted – that their spending has been unsustainable since at least 2009. Yet the speech blames the current financial problem on the government’s over-dependence on oil revenues and on the fact that spending is too high.

When it comes to possible solutions, though, things get murky.  There are supposedly only two choices to solve this problem:  raise taxes or borrow money.  Neither is viable, supposedly.  The third option – cutting costs  - is left completely unaddressed. When the speechwriter tries to talk about what the government will do, things get vague:

With our economy now stronger than ever and private-sector employment at record levels, this is the prudent time to take on the challenge of focusing on critical priorities, streamlining our public sector accordingly and zeroing in on the initiatives that place our province’s economy on a solid, sustainable footing for the decades to come.

That is one, big, sentence.  That is one long sentence from someone who wanted to cover the absence of a central thought with more and more words.

Then on the end of that sentence pretending to be a paragraph, someone stuck on two short sentences that actually belong to the next section: “Let no one pretend we have arrived. Let no one pretend the need for fiscal prudence has passed.”

The comes a little bit about paths:

Truly, Newfoundland and Labrador is at a crossroads. Two paths loom before us: the path we are on, and the path that inevitably leads back to where we were a decade ago.

Rather than continue on the metaphor of paths,  the speech segues to attack an idea coming from the public sector unions that actually comes off the misplaced bit about fiscal prudence. The speech is apparently not about what the government intends to do but about what the other guys are saying. The other guys now have proof that the government crowd are so worried about what they are saying that the government crowd gifted them with a spot in the speech that is supposed to outline the government’s approach. 

And then the speech goes back on the road.

This is a speech that talks about picking a path but seems to have problems figuring out which way to go.  After a litany of falsehood about the past, and after a visit to tautology – “Spending within our means is fiscally sustainable” - the speech concludes with talk of honesty in a speech that is ultimately dishonest. If the people who wrote the speech were indeed honest, then they would know that the path they have been on is the one brought us to the financial crisis. 

The path we have been on is not the path forward, if we want to deliver our children a bright future.  As the throne speech makes clear, though, this is the path we will stay on for a while longer.  The new approach remains what it has always been:  the same old approach.