If Thomas Mulcair doesn't become boss of the NDP this weekend the nation's pundits sure will have wasted a lot of time. For the last couple of days, Canada's editorial pages have basically been an all-Mulcair-all-the-time extravaganza, as writers and reporters furiously scramble to prove they hold brilliant insights into this mysterious whiskered gentleman who might possibly be within striking distance of becoming prime minister someday (maybe).
As I've mentioned before, the fact that the NDP is using an almost impenetrably obtuse electoral system to choose its new leader -- a multi-tiered abomination that makes polls and predictions virtually impossible -- has done very little to dissuade journalists from assuming they still know who's gonna win, even if there's not a ton of hard evidence to support their hunches.
Thus, good old Mulcair has been fortunate enough to enjoy a fairly brazen media bias in his favour, with storiesoften granting him wonderfully circular-logic titles like "presumed front-runner" that make reference to his "perceived lead" -- which I imagine is going over very well with the six perceived losers.
In typical media-world fashion, Mr. Mulcair's warm perception seems to largely spring from his edgy and colorful personality, which is fun to talk and write about (this week's Toronto Star podcast features a side-debate as to whether he's best described as "cheerful" or "chirpy"), and the fact that his political career fits nicely into the press' existing narrative about the NDP's post-2011 existential dilemma (soon poised to celebrate it's one-year anniversary!)
That grand existential dilemma, we may recall, is actually composed of two smaller sub-dilemmas, and darn it if Muclair doesn't embody them both! Writing for the National Post, Kelly McParland frets about sub-dilemma number one: This idea that the post-2011 NDP is way too dependent upon Quebec, and Mulcair, being a Quebecer and all, is pretty much the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time. I mean, just imagine if there was to be another separation referendum, says Kelly. Whose side would he be on!?
Sub-dilemma number two is the larger crisis of just how left-wing the NDP should be, with Mulcair presumed to be the candidate for folks who favour the answer "not very." Unfortunately, the press tends to have a very difficult time measuring these sorts of things, so instead of a substantial policy analysis of how Muclair differs from his rivals, we're usually just given windy metaphors about how brave Mulcair "wants to broaden the NDP tent," while unrepentant Marxists like Brian Topp cling to "traditional NDP values." Or how about the time Mulcair said NDP speeches used too much "boilerplate?" That was code for "I want to privatize sunshine," at least according to Ed Broadbent.
Other times, you just have to take the media's word. The good lefties on the Toronto Star editorial board, for instance, simply declare that "there is nothing in what Mulcair has said or proposed as policy" that supports these monstrous smears of centrism, while Michael Den Tandt, also citing nothing, calls him "the New Democrat best placed to pull a 'Tony Blair,' and shift the party further to the centre." Though to be fair, he did admit to "reading between the lines" a bit.
In perhaps the most useful editorial of this whole race, Neil Reynolds at the Globe and Mail argues that all this vagueness is inevitable when you consider that "socialism," as it was historically defined, doesn't really exist anymore, so it's very difficult to develop any sort of metre stick for measuring who's the best at it. Much of modern political life is already a fairly left-wing game of taxing, regulating, and social engineering, he says, so "eight decades later, the NDP can find little left to champion other than the relentless pursuit of incremental increases in government spending." Which is also something the Conservatives seem to be fond of. Whoops!
Amid all this analysis, the one aspect of Mr. Mulcair no one seems to have much of an an opinion on is his charming facial hair. This, of course, runs contrary to all sorts of historical trends -- Canadians have not willingly elected a bearded prime minister since 1874 -- and violates one of the most sacred rules of modern political image-making. Just a few months ago, in fact, a major study co-produced by scholars at our own University of Lethbridge found beard-wearers to be profoundly unattractive to the ladies -- a demographic the NDP can't really afford to jettison.
Should Thomas Mulcair lose the big race on Saturday, Monday's editorial pages will doubtlessly be filled with all manner of convoluted post-mortems as the punditocracy struggles to find the reason their golden boy's party turned against him. Considering what's been written so far, blaming the beard seems as good an explanation as any.
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