“All the laws were good laws. For cats.”—Tommy Douglas
The other day I called Telus to cancel my campaign phones and internet service. Groan. After listening to canned music for 17 minutes I was transferred to a customer service rep. He took my information, argued with me when I wouldn’t give him my email address, and finally transferred me to the cancellation department…where I was put on hold. Groan. After listening to canned music for 6 minutes the cancellation rep came on the line.
She was a lovely woman who follows politics closely. We had a lively discussion about the recent by-elections and the astounding fact that the PCs were elected in all four ridings.
“Why do Albertans continue to vote the PCs into office?” I wondered.
“Ah,” she said, “you should check out Tommy Douglas’ Mouseland speech”. So I did.
Mouseland is a very short (and humorous) speech that is as relevant today as it was when Tommy Douglas first gave it in 1944.
Here’s the link. This is the animated version that’s introduced by Tommy Douglas’ grandson, Kiefer Sutherland. I’ll wait here while you check it out.
Did you check it out?
OK here’s the Cole’s Notes version.
Mouseland is a place where all the little mice lived. They had a Parliament and voted every 4 years. On election day all the little mice would go to the polls and elect a government—a government of made up of big, fat, black cats.
The cats passed good laws. Laws that were good for cats; but oh so hard on mice. They made mouseholes big enough for a cat’s paw to fit in and set speed limits on mice so they’d be easier to catch.
Life was hard for the mice and they finally decided to do something about it. They voted the black cats out and replaced them with …. white cats (who said things would be different). But things just got harder.
So the mice voted the white cats out and put the black cats back in, then they tried half white and half black cats (a coalition). But the trouble wasn’t the colour of the cats, it was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they looked after cats, not mice.
Finally a little mouse had an idea…instead of electing a government made up of cats, why don’t we elect a government made up of mice?
If you clicked the link you’ll know the joke comes here. Go ahead, check, I’ll wait.
Albertans, unlike the little mice, don’t bother voting in different coloured cats. They continue to vote for the same cats wearing different coloured collars. Redford had a red collar. Prentice has a reddish-blue collar. But anyone who has ever owned a cat knows that unless the collar is so tight it almost strangles the cat, he won’t be wearing it for long.
Okay, enough about cats and mice.
What’s the matter with Kansas?
Why do people continue to support conservative governments bent on deregulation, privatization and subsidization of corporations (and the wealthy) at the expense of public education, public healthcare, the frail, the elderly and the poor?
This question has bedeviled political scientists for decades.
Here are two competing theories:
The duping hypothesis: Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, argues that the Right dupes voters into voting against their self-interest by “hooking” them with hot-button social issues like abortion, gun control, and gay marriage and then fanning the flames of a “class divide” (Rob Ford vs latte-drinking effetes).
He attributes the remarkable sea change in Kansas politics—the once progressive state voted 80% in favour of George Bush in 2000—to an anti-abortion demonstration held in Wichita in 1990.
The Republicans, ever mindful of opportunity, saw hundreds of anti-abortionists chain themselves to cars and lie down in the road and said: while we admire your courage and conviction, we’ve got something a lot smarter for you to do than lying on the highway. And it worked. People who weren’t the least bit “political” jumped at the chance to work with and vote for the Republicans and it snowballed from there.
It’s about moral vision, stupid: Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind,* says the duping hypothesis is delusional because it lets the Left to absolve itself from blame while avoiding the hard work necessary to develop a successful strategy for the 21st century.
Haidt says what’s really going on is this: the Right aligns itself with lofty moral values like patriotism, social order, strong families, free enterprise and rugged individualism (no nanny state for me!) instead of pedestrian government programs. So a vote for the Right is not a vote against one’s self-interest, but rather a vote in favour of one’s moral ideals.
Do either of these theories ring true in the Alberta context? Or is Mouseland actually Dreamland—a place where we believe that if we leave well enough alone it will all work out in the end?
Over to you Alberta…