Tag Archives: Rex Murphy

Rex Murphy: Sarah Palin's Strong Bond

So up until a few weeks ago I read Rex Murphy sporadically at best. Then the other week he published this questionable piece on climate change (in short: regionalism should trump action) which was neither inspired or thoughtful.

Wondering if the previous week had been an outlier I read him again this weekend and was even more dumbstruck. Here was Rex Murphy deriding Obama and praising Palin ability to “connect” with her supporters.

A  few thoughts here.

First, I’m willing to grant Rex Murphy that Sarah Palin may create “a more forceful bond with her supporters than [Obama does] with his.” Perhaps, but what a silly metric when used in isolation. David Koresh had a still more forceful bond with his supporters, and I’m not sure that worked out well for anyone. Obama’s oratory strength isn’t that he creates a powerful bond with his supporters (although he has, from time to time, done this). It’s that he connects with those who don’t always agree with him – he is able to reach and engage a broader audience. Sarah Palin has never done this. How often do you see an African American – or “heck” (as she would say it) anyone not white – at a Palin event?

Indeed, still more farcical is how Mr. Murphy argues Palin’s inaugural speech as a vice-presidential candidate was rhetorically equivalent to Obama’s speech on race (And that both were delivered under equal levels of pressure). Really? Sarah Palin’s speech succeeded in generating a spark yes, but among the conservative base that already loved her. It was a speech that was populist, said little, and began a process of persuading most Americans she didn’t belong in the White House. In contrast, Obama’s speech arrested a decline in the polls and engaged both his supporters and doubters. All this while addressing possibly the most volatile and politically sensitive issue in the United States. 100 years from now, Obama’s speech will likely be seen as an important moment in the history of race relations. Sarah Palin, to say nothing of her speech, will probably not be remembered at all. Rhetorically equivalent?

Finally, and perhaps most appalling was Rex Murphy’s characterization of Obama as someone who “offers a kind of self-flattery to his worshipers. They feel exalted that they have the intelligence or sensibility to see how remarkable their man is. But he remains remote.” I remember first being floored by Obama during a speech in which he did the exact opposite of this. It was January 20th and Obama walked into the heart of the African American religious community – Martin Luther King’s church – on Martin Luther King Jr Day and talked about how African Americans need to work harder to live up to MLK’s legacy. Specifically, he was particularly unflattering to his audience and argued that if African Americans wanted justice, freedom and equality, then the homophobia, antisemitism, and anti-immigrant resentment that sometimes exists in their community had to be acknowledged and confronted. Oh, to be flattered by Obama.

I’m a big fan of contrarian thinking which, between Wente and Murphy, seems to be all the rage at the Globe these days. But being a contrarian is difficult business and the most important rule is don’t over reach. Take an argument too far and it ceases being an interesting and clever experiment and is instead reduced to just being silly. Is Sarah Palin a compelling orator. Yes! But within some fairly strict bounds. Fail to acknowledge those bounds and pretty soon you end up like Palin herself, saying something that’s either foolish, or just plain wrong.

Let's Turn up the heat on Rex Murphy's flawed logic

In his regular column the other week Rex Murphy published a piece entitled Don’t turn up the heat on the West, which also had the great sub title: By making Western provinces pay for adventures in global warming policy we will be playing with Confederation.

For a man that regularly rails against the lack of political imagination in this country it is odd to see him shut down debate and present us with a narrow (Bush-styled) choice he usually loathes: our planet or our country. As a red blooded Canadian the choice for Rex is easy. The costs of climate change can be ignored since they will be born by my children in some hard to quantify future. In contrast, the political costs of acting (which he will witness) are “real” and “reckless.”

What is sad is that we’ve been here before. One wonders what Rex would have said in the 30’s or 60’s about asbestos mining. Here is a mineral for which there was overwhelming evidence that there was a negative impact on miners especially, and citizens generally, that came into contact with it. Indeed as early as 1935 senior executives in two of the largest firms in the industry – Raybestos Manhattan and Johns-Manville – secretly agreed that “our interests are best served by having asbestosis receive the minimum of publicity.” But the growing scientific literature from the 30’s-60’s that suggested asbestos had serious negative side effects didn’t matter. For one there were asbestos deniers (those contrarian thinker-types Rex would love), such as J. Corbett McDonald, a McGill professor who received $500,000 in research funding from Quebec Asbestos Mining Association and determined that contaminants in the environment, not asbestos, cause lung tumours seen in Canadian workers. Phew!

Looking back, we can see now that Asbestos was massively damaging and deeply, deeply costly. Asbestos is so problematic and has created so much exposure to the insurance industry that much of it remains unresolved today. In many countries the government simply had to offer direct compensation packages since the liabilities were too great to be covered. This is to say nothing of site and building cleanups (like out parliament buildings which are currently spending 10s millions to have the asbestos removed from). In total, we are definitely talking about 100s of billions of dollars. Possibly over a trillion dollars in costs over the last two-three decades. And that’s just in Canada.

Of course, back in 1960s and 70s talking about shutting down the abestoes industry would have posed a threat to national unity too. Most of Canada’s asbestoes mines are located in Quebec and so confronting this future risk (that science strongly suggested was imminent) would have required political leadership and tackling regionalism.

Thank god we didn’t. Our inaction spared us having to address the political consequences. Instead we’ve only had to deal with billions of dollars in lawsuits, tens of thousands (likely many more) lives cut short by cancer and other illnesses, and locking parts of our economy into a dying industry which the world was less and less interested in.

What’s most sad? We haven’t stopped. Prime Minister Harper continues to try to block a UN environmental agreement (the Rotterdam Convention) that would list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substances. His political quote on the issue: The Liberals are being “duped and manipulated by extremist groups,” and that the other national parties are urban-focused and don’t understand regional issues like asbestos. Of course, by blocking the convention Canada can continue to sell asbestos without informing purchasers – especially those in developing countries (one of the few markets left) – that it is hazardous. Yeah us!

Rex flawed logic is summed up when, in his article, he says:

Should some global warming action plan attempt to put the oil sands and Western energy development at significant disadvantage, or draw taxes out of the economies of the Western provinces to pay for adventures in global warming policy, we will be playing with Confederation.

In short, it doesn’t matter how serious an issue is. If it the politics are too difficult – we shouldn’t act. Indeed, I can imagine him using the same logic back in the 70s writing about asbestos, saying something like:

Should some asbestos regulatory regime place Quebec asbestoes mining at significant disadvantage, or draw taxes out of the economy of Quebec to pay for adventures in health and safety policy, we will be playing with Confederation.

Yes, we would have. And it would have been the right call. That’s what political leadership is Rex. I’m sorry you’re not interested in it.

Newspapers, the auto industry and climate change

So here’s an interesting fact:

In 2004, according to the Canadian Newspaper Association, advertising revenue in Canadian newspapers was $2.6 billion. Of the top 30 advertisers in Canadian papers, 15 were car dealerships or auto manufacturers. Car ads represented fully 54 percent of those top-30 revenues, totalling $549 million.

So, when Rex Murphy or Margaret Wente go off about how we need to have a “reasonable” debate about climate change, or worse, reassure us that they know the entire scientific community is wrong… do you think the editors of the G&M are worried about what their readers might think?

Absolutely not.

Frankly, they’re probably relieved. If there is still a debate on climate change, then all those ads still may not be that bad. And besides… that’s a lot of advertising revenue to replace.

So now, every time you wonder why the media feels a need to present “both sides of the debate” on this issue… stop wondering.

Big hat tip on this to Mitchell Anderson. I strongly encourage you to check out his column over at DeSmogBlog on how NASA (read US Government) quietly killed the DSCOVR climate change monitoring satellite despite it being fully constructed and ready to lauch. Fascinating read and… shocker… an example of real investigative journalism from a blog.