Principled outrage or just cheap partisanship?

"You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dawg.” Before I became familiar with the oeuvre of the late Elvis Aaron Presley I vaguely assumed this song insulted a woman’s appearance. Later I realized that Mr. Presley would not do such a thing and the song really is about a dog, which he despises because it won’t hunt. I bring this up not only because I prefer culture to politics. It pertains to a recent sour note in Canadian politics. I don’t care for political celebrity gossip, but silly episodes can illustrate serious points. With North Korea testing nukes, Iraq sliding into chaos, government budgets out of control and parliamentary accountability in a shambles, how can our political class go into conniptions over a cheap heckle and come out of it looking so uniformly pathetic?

It’s no big deal that Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay apparently responded to a strangely unintelligent taunt during question period with a low, unflattering comment about the lover who left him for a cabinet post. But his decision to deny everything was unwise given the existence of this here new-fangled recording technology.

His conduct wasn’t high class. That was just a lie. And, while I don’t entertain unreasonable hopes for political discourse, I like to believe that if I couldn’t devise a less conspicuously dim-witted retort I would have kept my mouth shut. And that if I had said it I would have owned up, either to stand behind or repudiate it. But my prospects for elective office remain poor. I am but a commentator.

In that capacity, such as it is, I wonder if I might direct an observation to the opposition parties now baying for ministerial blood: You’re just cryin’ all the time. You ain’t gonna catch this rabbit and you ain’t no friends of mine. Leaving aside more important issues that might engage your intellects, such as they are, politics is a rough sport. Back in the dark ages some semi-evolved hominids even said women ought not to take part in it because it was rough. Ha ha. What fools. Women are just as tough as men. They don’t need protection. Until a man insults one, and then it’s waaa, waaa, waaa.

Ms. Stronach’s decision to mix her personal and political lives may not have been wellcalculated to enhance women’s reputations in politics. But she is past the age of majority and legally competent to manage her affairs. She had every right to run for the Conservative leadership, sleep with the former Tory leader, then kick him in the pants as she sprang from his bed to Paul Martin’s cabinet (talk about three pieces of silver). But it is hardly the behaviour of an ingenue. It’s pretty bare-knuckle stuff. Oh, oh, you brute, a hockey enforcer metaphor.

To do all she did, then swoon into the arms of the nearest gallant when someone slings a rude but not even obscene word her way, is preposterous. And look at all the gender progressives among the Liberals and NDP denouncing Mr. MacKay as a cad for thus insulting a woman, as if their instinct now were to challenge him to a duel. Instead they nag him. But over what?

Back before the left lost its sense of humour, Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary, wrote: “The woman most eager to jump out of her petticoat to assert her rights is first to jump back into it when threatened with a switching for misusing them.” Spare me the gasps at this apparent reference to patriarchal violence. What he meant is exactly what we just saw: Anything you can do, I can do better … Oh, oh, oh, won’t some big strong man protect me?

The Liberals and NDP happily oblige because it’s one thing they know how to do. The world hasn’t been kind to them lately. On national security they’re floundering, and while the intellectual triumph of free-market economics in recent decades has affected their policies it clearly gives them a stomach ache. But feminism? Denouncing male belligerence? Hey, they’re playing our tune.

The difficulty is that if one man had called another a dog in a question period heckle, or a woman had said it of a man, no one would care. They certainly wouldn’t whisk out the smelling salts for the offended maiden, then threaten to tongue-whip the offender on the wheelchair-accessible ramp of his non-smoking non-private all genders and orientations welcome club.

I think Mr. MacKay comes out looking bad. His insult was juvenile, his denial seedy. But his feminist critics also look profoundly hypocritical. I think most normal Canadians feel that if Ms. Stronach gets insulted for the way she has behaved she ought to, given her behaviour, what’s that phrase, take it like a man. The calls for Mr. Mackay to resign, and possibly undergo re-education, sound more like mean-spirited, boilerplate partisan politics than genuine principled outrage.

Talk about a dog that won’t hunt.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson