Saturday, October 17, 2015

Strategic Voting With Gerry Hannah: 2008 interview redux

Since, God help us, the article has become relevant once again, I am electing (with Gerry's blessing) to re-post it.

The last time I put this interview on my blog, back in 2008, a shitstorm ensued, with various hostile/ stalkerly/ defamatory comments following from people with a bone to pick with Mr. Hannah. It was pretty interesting, but also crossed various lines, and I ended up removing a whole bunch of stuff - this interview, and follow-ups - from sight.

A polite note to commenters: this time around, I won't publish anything defamatory or hostile that you might write - so save yourself  the typing, eh? I wasn't actively moderating comments back then. I am now. Feel free to address any of the political issues at hand, but venture into waters ad-hominem, and you will be filtered, you will be censored, you will be shown the door. No one will read them but me, and maybe Gerry and/or his legal representatives, if it should come to that!

You can read Gerry's current declamations against Stephen Harper (which focus on Harper's relationship with the state of Israel) here. You can still buy his most recent album, Coming Home, at Red Cat - they have a couple of copies on CD; you can hear the songs on his bandcamp page. Gerry and I talk about that, the end of the Subhumans, and other matters of note here.

And now, the old interview. I'll skip the previous preamble. Once again, this is from 2008, but there are some things that clearly haven't changed much...
Gerry Hannah at the WISE Hall, 2015, by bev davies

Allan: Do you normally vote strategically? I normally would vote for the Greens or the NDP, but “strategic voting” in my riding means voting for Hedy Fry and the Liberals, which I probably wouldn’t be doing. It’s not what I think of as my politics.

Gerry: Of course, but let’s assume that the NDP jibed quite nicely with your politics three years ago. Does that mean that the NDP will always jibe quite nicely with your politics, or is it possible that the party that you choose as being closest to your politics may vary, with your politics, to some extent, as time goes on? For me that’s a valid question, that I always consider, you know.

Allan: You don’t want to be too loyal to any one party.

Gerry: Yeah, I’m not loyal to any one party. I’m still a card-carrying member of the NDP, and there are lots of people in the NDP that I really admire and respect, and if you asked me who I was voting for eight years ago or ten years ago it would have been the NDP... although I did always reserve the right to vote strategically if it really mattered. Here, where I live, we’re fucked anyways - I mean, the Conservatives are going to get in, no question about it, but the next party that comes closest to being able to mount a challenge to them is the NDP, so I probably will be voting for the NDP candidate in my riding this time. However, in this particular election, if the person that was closest to being able to provide a real challenge to them was a Liberal, I would vote Liberal. If it were a Green Party person, I’d vote for them, though normally I wouldn’t vote for the Green Party, because I like the “green” aspect of their policies, but that’s the only aspect of their policies I really like; I don’t think they really have an understanding of worker’s rights and things like that. I don’t think they have a, a kind of a -

Allan: A fully-developed platform.

Gerry: A fully-developed platform, or a real historical analysis of class struggle. And I think that it’s really important to have that, when you’re talking large-scale politics. But anyways - this election I feel that it’s so potentially dangerous, there’s so much at risk here - moreso than there has been in Federal Canadian politics for a long, long time... I mean, we have the most right-wing political party potentially about to form a majority government that we’ve had in my lifetime, probably, y’know? I mean, one could argue that Mulroney’s government was quite right-wing, but they were right wing in a different way. Their economic policies were definitely what’s called neo-liberal - they had that whole kind of “free hand of the market, free trade, let the chips fall-where they may” thing going on -

Allan: “Small government.”

Gerry: Small government, yeah. Small government is such a bunch of bullshit! When they’re talking “small government,” they’re not talking about “small military” or “small police force,” they’re talking about small regulatory agencies that actually try to deal with corruptness in our society, to make sure that robber barons don’t spring up all over the place and bilk everybody. When they’re talking “small government,” that’s what they mean.

Allan: “Let’s just get out of the way of business and let them do what they want.”

Gerry: That’s exactly what they’re saying. Until such a time as business really horribly screws up, in their infinite greed, and then let’s bail them out with your money.

Allan (laughs): A very timely observation.
Gerry Hannah with the Subhumans at the Lamplighter, by Allan MacInnis

Gerry: So one could argue that Mulroney’s government had neoliberal economic policies - no doubt about that; in fact, they introduced them, probably, in a forceful way, for the first time on the Canadian stage - the most forceful way, probably. Now, of course, the current Conservative Party under Harper have the same policies - probably even more extreme, I would think. But they also have an axe to grind, unlike the Tories under Mulroney. I think the Tories were basically businesspeople, who wanted to help businesspeople, and they were rich, and they wanted to help rich people - their class, their friends, the people they went to college with. With the Conservatives under Harper, and with people like Stockwell Day and stuff, it’s a different animal altogether. They have an axe to grind with the 1960’s and everything that came out of the 1960’s. They want to roll back everything that happened as a result of the 1960’s. When the rest of us were sitting around in the rec room listening to Jimi Hendrix or Deep Purple and smoking dope, the people that are in that party were sitting their with their hands folded with their bowties on listening to a speech by Preston Manning and worshipping the ground he walked on. They’re a different animal altogether. They have this incredibly strong ideological desire to turn around all of the progressive gains in the ‘60’s and since the ‘60’s in our society.

Allan: Yes.

Gerry: And even before that. If you look back at Stephen Harper’s old comments that he was making in the late 90’s, he was attacking the health care system in Canada. He obviously has a real hate-on for Tommy Douglas, and the CCF and even the Liberals, where they were prepared to implement some of what Harper and Preston Manning and so forth consider to be “socialist” policies. Which is interesting in my mind, because the Conservatives always talk about how they’re staunchly pro-Canadian and they want to maintain a distinction between Canada and the United States, but the truth is, all the things they want to get rid of, basically, are the things that distinguish us.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Like universal health care and our tolerant attitude towards new ideas - not these kind of rigid puritanical notions of sexuality and so forth. So I think this is a very dangerous time. I don't want to appear to be alarmist, but I feel we really could be in for a very nasty surprise should the Conservatives form a majority government. People have been criticizing them in the media lately for not outlining their poltical platform to the extent other parties have done, right, but I think there's probably a reason for that: were they completely and honestly outline their platform, I think a large majority of Canadians would throw their hands up in horror and say, "We're not voting for these fascists!" that's why you don't hear much on the policy front, I think - you know?

Allan: Part of the problem may be that I travel in a fairly small social circle of people that are like-minded, but it seems to me that everything you saying about Stephen Harper just screams out from him. These are all very obvious and true observations, and it really confuses me that he has support. What the fuck are people thinking?

Gerry: Well that is an interesting question. And the problem is, it's really hard to find that out in a factual way, like, to do some kind of scientific survey, and find out why he has even any support. But certainly there are a few contributing factors that we can look at, that are pretty obvious. One of the main contributing factors is that the Liberals and to some extent the NDP have shot themselves in the foot so badly. The Liberals shot themselves in the foot horribly when they decided to get Stephane Dion to be their leader. Nothing against the man - you know what, I think he's probably a really nice guy -

Allan: (giggles).

Gerry: I'm quite serious! I'm not fooling around, I think he's probably a really nice guy - and I think he's very politically aware; he probably knows his history quite well, and he probably believes (and I think this isn't a bad thing to believe) that he can, or that the party can, under his leadership, give the greatest number of Canadians the kind of government that they want. But the problem is - unfortunately; this is a horrible thing; this is what the world has become - he's not very saleable to the Canadian public. And that unfortunately damaged the Liberals in a big way, and the media of course has had a field day with this. They've done everything in their power to make him look like an absolute nerdy git, who is kind of bumbling, can't speak English very well, is kind of clueless and fumbling around... I haven't looked into it very carefully, because I'm not a very big Liberal supporter, but I suspect that the guy is probably not at all like that. He probably knows his way around the issues as well as Jack Layton does, and obviously far better than Stephen Harper could ever imagine knowing his way around the issues. Because Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day and that whole little gang of cronies, besides their little ideology that they know a great deal about and have got together so tightly and well-rehearsed, they know nothing about anything else. They've just closed their eyes to anything that's outside their tiny little narrow sphere of interest. But I think somebody like Stephane Dion, I get the sense that he knows a lot about the world and what's going on around him; he knows a little bit about the Middle East, and the history of American foreign policy and the history of democracy in Canada and things like that. But I just don't think he's saleable. And there's a couple of reasons he's not saleable besides the fact that he doesn't speak English fabulously - to me, that hardly matters, but it's something that the opposition and media to play on. But I don't think it was the right time to ask Canadians - particularly Canadians in the west - to accept another Francophone leader. I don't think it was well-timed. It would have been better to put a little bit more distance behind Jean Chretien before eastern Canada asked western Canada to swallow that pill again. Again, to me, it doesn't matter - I don't give a damn whether the leader of the country speaks great English or whether their first language is French or not. But I can see that it matters a lot to a lot of western Canadians. They're mistrustful of the fact that every second Prime Minister, practically, in Canada, ends up being Francophone. They see that as Quebec getting more than its fair share as a province of political favours...

Allan: So we get Harper as "the voice of western alienation."

Gerry: That's right, even though he's from Ontario, oddly enough... So I think the Liberals chose the wrong leader, and that really fucked them up.

Allan: How are you doing with Jack Layton these days?

Gerry: Well, we'll get into that later, that's a big issue. There's going to be something going up on my blogspot in the next few weeks about that. You know where I'm going with that one... but just to finish off with the Liberals: I don't know if Lloyd Axworthy was interested in the position or not - probably not, but I don't know - but if they had selected a leader like Lloyd Axworthy or maybe even Bob Rae, I think they would have gotten way further. I don't think there would even have been a question of whether the Conservatives were going to get a majority or not - I think the best the Conservatives could have hoped for was a minority. And its quite likely it would have been a Liberal minority government...

Allan: Right.

Gerry: But the majority of Canadians... When you add the Liberals and the NDP and the Greens together, the majority of Canadians prefer something at least slightly left of centre. And here we are about to get an incredibly right-of-centre government. What it means is that if the Conservatives do end up getting a majority government, they'll govern as if they have an incredibly strong mandate. I mean, Stephen Harper even said in the press the other day that if they got two minority goverments, that's a pretty strong mandate. I say bullshit - it's not a strong mandate at all. The first time they got elected as a minority government, it was basically because the Liberals were doing so horribly because of their scandals from the Paul Martin/ Jean Chretien days; they were doing poorly in the polls, and that's precisely the moment where the NDP and the Bloc Québécois decided to conspire with the Conservatives to bring the Liberals down. And that's how the Conservatives got their squeaky-thin margin of a minority government. There's no mandate there at all. And if they get voted in this time around, again, it'll be a pathetic mandate. This is a scientific experiment, this is laboratory stuff - this isn't just Gerry Hannah voicing his bizarre airy-fairy opinion; just look at this as if it's a scientific experiment in a laboratory. The three parties - the NDP, the Liberals, and the Greens together make up a much larger percentage of the Canadian vote than the Conservatives do, right, and they're all slightly left of center. Or you could say the Liberals are centre and the NDP and the Greens are left of centre. So we're talking centre or left of centre - that's what the majority of Canadians want.

Allan: Except it's split three ways.

Gerry: Yeah. I mean, basically, the left of centre parties are facing the same problem that the Reform Party and the Conservative Party faced, whatever it was, six years ago... Now they're in the same boat. But basically my point is that even if the Conservatives get a majority government - a squeaky-thin majority government - still, the majority of Canadians don't favour a far right government. That's clear - all you have to do is look at the percentages that favour which parties. It's clear from looking at that. Only a person who has some serious mental deficiencies could look at it any other way.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Or a liar. Somebody might look at it and lie straight-faced about it... So if Harper gets a majority government, he's going to pretend that he's got an incredibly strong mandate, just like George Bush did back when he got elected in 2000. He immediately governed as if he'd had the strongest mandate that a president had ever had, and he had no mandate.

Allan: He had basically stolen the vote.

Gerry: He stole the vote, or even if you don't want to say he stole the vote, he barely got elected. The popular vote was definitely not in his favour. So these people that just barely get into office and then promptly proclaim, "Now we have an incredibly strong mandate from the Canadian people to make abortion illegal, to make same-sex marriage absolutely illegal across Canada, to slash-and-burn arts funding, to put a gun in every house in Canada and to fund the military beyond our wildest dreams" and so on and so forth - it's a bunch of bullshit. They don't have a mandate to do any of that stuff. All one has to do is look at the percentages. They would be wise to be humble about their position and realize that the only reason they're in there is because the other parties don't have their shit together.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: And that brings me on to the NDP, and why it wouldn't bother me so much if I had to vote Liberal right now to keep the Conservatives out. It wouldn't bother me so much, I wouldn't be going, "Oh my God, the NDP is my chosen party and here I am having to vote for a Liberal because I'm so desperate to keep the Conservatives out." I feel strongly that the NDP under Jack Layton's guidance have really shot themselves in the foot and, not only that, have let down the Canadian public, in a big way. And that was when they conspired with Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois to bring down the Paul Martin Liberal government, with the Conservatives. To me - there are a lot of ways to go about becoming the official opposition for the first time in history, but to bring in the most right wing government is not one of them. That's going way too far. That's no longer - in my mind, that goes beyond the dynamics of trying to build a party and it goes into the "raw ambition" mode.

Allan: It's speaks of opportunistic careerism and "Canada can pay the bill for my political career."

Gerry: Very well put! You should be doing an interview with yourself - I could not have said it better, probably no one could say it better! That's exactly what it is - it's a very self-serving move. He's not serving Canada by doing that - he's serving Jack Layton. And maybe the NDP. And I am really disappointed about that. I think it was just a terrible, terrible thing to do. People that have supported NDP for years and years - I mean, my family has supported the NDP since before I was born; my Mom's father was a CCF'er from way back when. My Dad could basically be considered a small-left socialist way back when. They were total NDP supporters, through thick and thin. And not only did the NDP let down Canadians in general, but they let down NDP supporters who would never have dreamed that an NDP leader could conspire with a basically fascist-lite leader ot bring in a fascist government! I mean, that is just bullshit - it's totally unacceptible. I'm not trashing the NDP here and saying they could never be a viable party again, but I'm saying, "Give your head a shake!" This is a betrayal.

Allan: By the way, as you're saying all that, I would love to hear the Subhumans perform "Behind the Smile" someday and dedicate it to Jack Layton.

Gerry (laughs).

Allan (laughing): Sorry.

Gerry: I don't want to get too personal about Jack Layton... Although unfortunately, he's getting pretty personal (in his campaign), that's what I see. I mean, I don't approve of Gilles Duceppe's strategy either, which is basically "busting the country up." Although if you overlook Bloc Quebecois being basically a separatist party and look at their take on class analysis and things like that, they're actually fairly brilliant. I agree with a lot of their policies. I can see why Margaret Atwood said if she was in Quebec she'd vote Bloc Quebecois. I don't think, as the right-wing pundits are trying to make her out to be, that she's trying to break up Canada at all - that's not what she's saying at all. She's saying that they're very progressive on many levels.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Oh, I just wanted to say something more about Jack Layton. Somebody said - one of the Liberals; it might even have been Stephane Dion - referred to the current state we find ourselves in - the current state of the Conservative party and the fact that they're the government in Canada right now - as "the House that Jack built."

Allan (laughing): Great!

Gerry: It hits the nail right on the head. Jack Layton would argue that this he's trying to build a party that one day can form the government of Canada. But what do you have to do to justify the process? The ends do not justify the means, in my opinion.

Allan: Well, you know what... if he ends up the Prime Minister and starts providing a whole lot of progressive policies, maybe the ends DO justify the means, but I just don't think that's how this story is going to end.

Gerry: That's never how these things work out. They never work out like that. By the time you do a bunch of things that aren't really morally acceptible - by the time you sacrifice other people's freedoms and rights and well-being, so that you can make this wonderous thing come about - in the process of doing that you taint yourself forever. And so by the time you become the Great Leader, you're no longer the person you were, twenty years ago, when you really did have some really progressive sharp ideas and moral integrity - you no longer carry that with you, because you've tainted yourself, you've sullied yourself by making these basically ambitious moves. That will be the end of the story. I think that's what has to happen... As long as America is pursuing the kind of foreign policy that it's pursued in the last 60 years, there isn't a hope in hell of the NDP forming a government in Canada. Not one that would last more than a year, and then there'd be another no confidence motion. The Republicans, for instance, could just not tolerate the NDP being their nextdoor neighbours. There's no way. But let's imagine in some kind of bizarre fantasy that the American empire falls apart and has no power to meddle in Canadian politics - and the NDP somehow did form a government: the only way that could happen would be if people - Canadians! - actually became more politically aware, and they actually knew who was serving their best interest, and who wasn't. Who was just talking trash, and who was willing to go out on the line for them. And then they might go, "Oh, the obvious choice is the NDP." And that's the only way the NDP is going to become the government in this country - and it would probably require a string of flukes - fluky, unforseen catastrophies. Maybe Stephen Harper would be caught servicing the current American president in the Oval Office, like Monica Lewinsky, or something like that. And that might turn some heads in the more staunch bastions of Conservative support in this country... I'm being silly, but I mean, there would have to be a series of unforseen things happen -

Allan: Acts of God.

Gerry: Yes. That would actually open people's eyes, and they'd go, "oh, this party doesn't speak for me. Okay, I agree with some of things they say, and on a couple of levels they're willing to talk about things that other parties just won't even talk about, because they're not afraid of being politically incorrect - and maybe that's a good thing, on some levels - but their agenda behind all this is horrrendous, and I don't want this for my country, right? Whereas this party, I think would be answerable to me, if they were in government." And if that were the NDP, I could see that would be the time the NDP maybe got that position. I don't see the NDP as weaselling their way into this position now. In order for the NDP to be the next government of Canada, if they have to become as wishy-washy as the Liberals or as downright brutal as the Conservatives, then why would a person like me, or you, or whoever else - progressive people - want to vote for them anymore?

Allan: Out of belief that they might actually be more progressive once they're in power.

Gerry: That's a huge gamble.

Allan: I agree. But I really don't want to vote for the Liberals...

Gerry: Everybody's gotta do what they've gotta do. It's too bad Libby Davies wasn't in your riding, it'd be a simple vote. You're saying you're in Hedy Fry's riding?

Allan: Yeah. The NDP candidate is Michael Byers, who is a new guy.

Gerry: He doesn't have that much support in the riding?

Allan: I don't think so. I don't really know.

Gerry: But it's a contest between the Liberals and Conservatives?

Allan: I believe so.

Gerry: Then I'd vote Liberal without batting an eye. I only say that, Allan - I'll reiterate it - because I feel that this is a crucial time.

Allan: Would rather see Stephane Dion in than Jack Layton?

Gerry: No, I wouldn't say that. I'd way rather see him in than Stephen Harper. I'd rather see the Rhino Party in than Stephen Harper, or the Marijuana Party! Anybody but them, practically - anybody but them!

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