14 October 2014

The Manning – Coleman Correlation #nlpoli

Some people who read The Independent last week thought that there was a debate going on between Hans Rollmann and Drew Brown over Judy Manning’s appointment as attorney general and minister of justice, public safety, and whatever-the-department-name-will-be-tomorrow.

There wasn’t.

The pair agreed on everything, except one minor issue.


They agree, for example, that CBC was very naughty for talking about Manning the way they did.  The Ceeb’s bad behaviour got an early mention in both columns.

Rollmann wrote:
“Even CBC crossed the line (according to the minister, and I would agree with her) in suggesting Manning’s male relatives were the reason for her appointment.”
Brown wrote:
“And I think the headline and framing of the first CBC interview with Manning was a touch sensationalist — not even public broadcasting can escape the curse of clickbait.”
What both Rollmann and Brown seemed to have missed in the CBC story, however, is that CBC actually didn’t do anything beyond mentioning, as a matter of fact, that Manning was related to Senator Fabian Manning and had a personal relationship with powerful Conservative insider Leo Power.

What Rollmann and Brown found distasteful was not what CBC’s Chris O’Neill-Yates did or said.  Rather, they fell for Judy Manning’s planned reply to a question she anticipated in advance.  The framing, as Brown described it, was from Manning, not the CBC. They simply reported on Manning’s reaction and her own words. There was no sensationalism,  as Brown alleges. Manning’s reaction displayed her sensitivity to the subject, especially mention of Power.  Rollmann couldn’t understand the CBC description that Manning bristled.  Clearly, Rollmann didn’t watch the interview. 

Making stuff up and ignoring the obvious

Rollmann went a step farther in his attack on the CBC.  He invented someone to defend.  Manning is supposedly a “successful lawyer.”  Rollmann doesn’t tell us what “successful” means, beyond the idea that she was “capable of running her own practice.”  A great many lawyers run their own practice.  It’s no more a measure of success than working as a staff lawyer or junior partner in a firm. 

Both Rollmann and Brown also relied on false comparisons in order to build their case against CBC and, by extension, the people who have been wondering about Manning’s sudden rise to political power. Rollmann noted that when “Dale Kirby and Chris Mitchelmore faced criticism over their decision to cross the floor, what was their reaction? According to CBC, they responded by ‘deflecting criticism’. Kirby ‘is confident’. They ‘rejected suggestions’ of ulterior motives.”
Yet Manning “bristles”. Curious choice of words there, Ceeb. And then the next section of the story opens with two paragraphs discussing the careers of the men in her life.
Brown acknowledged the supposed difference in treatment but argues that it is irrelevant.  Brown went on for a while on another tangent and then brushed aside the question of Manning’s connections with a rather odd display of naiveté:
Both Manning and Premier Paul Davis were asked if family or personal connections had anything to do with her appointment, and both said no. Case closed. Let’s take her at her word.
Why should we just accept their denials at face value?  Brown offered no clue.

We then come to the one area of modest disagreement between the two. Rollmann did not think it mattered that Manning did not plan to get a seat in the House any time soon.  Brown thought it did matter.

What both thought was more important, though, was that Manning is a woman. For Rollmann,  “the appointment of a young female lawyer to an important position in this province’s government is a breath of fresh air.”  For Brown, women are “grossly underrepresented” and therefore “going outside of the legislature and appointing unelected citizens to cabinet” would be good.  The only thing Brown would do differently from Rollmann is see the appointees go to the polls to get some sort of popular blessing.

The New Sexism

Judy Manning’s appointment is as good an example as we’ve had in quite a while of the connection among money, influence, and power in politics.  The reason everyone is talking about Manning is that she catapulted from obscurity to a cabinet appointment without having ever done anything in public at all.  

The most obvious explanation for her explosion on the political scene is Manning’s relationships.  It’s really obvious. It’s so incredibly obvious that Manning herself didn’t deny her connections.  To the contrary,  Manning was so concerned about the connection between power and influence and her appointment that she deliberately used what is a sexist argument to distract people.

Notice what Manning said:   She claimed shock at being asked about whom she slept with.  The phrasing is an unmistakeable effort to imply that the question was really saying that she’d slept her way to the top.  Go back and listen to the CBC interview though, and you will hear absolutely nothing of the sort.  The imputation was entirely Manning’s.

We’ve seen this style of argument before. The Conservatives orchestrated a political attack on Jim Bennett, transforming a simple political threat into one of  gendered violence simply because the minister that Bennett was dealing with was a woman. In another example, the Premier’s Office deployed the status of women president – Kathy Dunderdale’s patronage appointee – to attack one of her political opponents based on a  trumped-up argument.

Ironically, one of the victims of Dunderdale’s attacks attacked Dunderdale over an appointment not because it was naked patronage but because Dunderdale didn’t appoint a woman to the job.  We’ve also seen the same type of sexism recently in political discussion in Canada.

The Sexist Bias

What’s truly remarkable about Rollmann and Brown’s commentaries is that they so enthusiastically embraced the new political sexism as deployed by Manning.  Theirs is essentially the same position taken by MUN political scientist Amanda Bittner in an interview with the Telegram that appeared on Saturday.  Bittner argued that people shouldn’t talk about Manning and relationships – power and influence – because that’s how politics works.

Brown was at least willing to ask a question, even if he was prepared to accept a transparently false answer as true.  Bittner would not even ask the question in the first place.  The reason she offered, though, essentially negated any inquiry at all about anything.  There is no reason to investigate anything since that’s the way things are.  We do not need to understand anything.  We need only accept it. 

Not content with that ludicrous proposition, Bittner took the Rollmann example and drew false connections between two unrelated subjects.  She likened Manning’s relationships to some obscure comments someone supposedly made somewhere about Kathy Dunderdale to confirm that we talk about women in politics one way and men in politics another way. 

The Coleman Connection

There was no connection between Dunderdale and Manning, but Bittner is right when she says that we  to talk about women in politics differently from the way we talk about men in politics. The difference is not the one Bittner suggested, though.  *[edited sentences for clarity]

All you have to do is look at Frank Coleman.  That case demolishes the argument offered up by Bittner,  Rollmann, and Brown.

Like Manning,  Coleman vaulted from public obscurity to a highly influential position with the current Conservative administration. 

Like Manning, Coleman was able to rise to such a position based on his personal connections to influential members of the Conservative Party.  He also had record of strong financial support for the party – again, like Manning - confirming that power, influence, and money go together. 

Like Manning, Coleman didn’t have to seek a seat in the House of Assembly in order to get his job.  Coleman carefully avoided giving any indication when he had planned to seek a seat in the House.  Manning has given the vague timing of “at the next general election.”  

Like Manning, Coleman had trouble with media interviews.

Like Manning, Coleman didn’t like people talking about him, his connections,  or his beliefs.  There were people who tried to shut down any discussion of Coleman’s personal political views as being somehow irrelevant to the discussion of politics.  That’s essentially the same  - and as ridiculous - as Bittner’s claim that we shouldn’t talk about Manning’s connections.

But unlike Manning,  people talked about Coleman’s personal and political relationships.  Some people did claim it was inappropriate to talk about Coleman’s political views but no one paid them much heed. 
Unlike Manning, no one suggested that it was inappropriate to speak about Coleman’s relationships because “that’s how it works.”

And no one suggested we shouldn’t talk about Coleman’s relationships because he was a man.
If you want another example of the difference between men and women in local politics, consider the case of Terry Styles.  The beer distributor landed the plum appointment as the chair of Nalcor’s board. He did so entirely on the basis of his personal relationship then-cabinet minister Joan “gendered violence” Shea and his record of political contributions to the party.  He had no relevant qualifications.  But except for a couple of questions in the House of Assembly, the local media ignored this rather blatant example of patronage. 


The Manning-Coleman correlation is so blatant that it is hard to see how anyone could have missed it.  Power, money and influence are the common features. 

In Manning’s case,  there are plenty of young, female lawyers (Rollmann) with a “legal background” (Paul Davis) and an “impressive work ethic” (Davis) who come from rural Newfoundland and Labrador (Davis).  Some of them might describe themselves, as Manning did,  as “an unmarried lady.”  None of them got so much as a look-in at the attorney general’s job. 

What set Manning apart from them  - as well as a great many others - is that she was able to parlay the access given to her by her relationships into a cabinet seat.  Far from being commonplace, as Bittner would have it, Manning’s relationships are rare.  To be sure, they are also an essential part of explaining how she got her current position.

That’s why it would be ridiculous – to take Bittner’s word - to ignore Manning’s influence.

And for the record,  Manning, Bittner, Rollmann, and Brown didn’t miss Manning’s influence or the importance it played in explaining how she became an unelected cabinet minister. Manning had her own self-serving reasons for not wanting to talk about it. The other three had purely ideological reasons for turning a blind eye to the nakedly obvious.