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When Economies Suffer, So Do Presidents

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 16:28

Barack Obama is in trouble because he's lost the magic that got him elected, we are told. The "passion and myth" that Obama summoned so powerfully during his campaign "are sorely missing from his presidency," writes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

"Obama can connect with policy. He just can't connect with the objects of policy. Empathy seems more like an abstract concept than something to practice."

Countless pundits and spin doctors have made this argument. It's so conventional it's often mentioned with a shrug, as if it's too obvious to merit further discussion.

Which is a shame. Because it's wrong. Blatantly wrong. It tells us nothing about politics. But it is worth discussing -- because it says a great deal about how pundits and spin doctors think.

Anyone following the American media knows that Americans are in an uproar. Disgust with the federal government is worse than ever. Extremist political views are spreading rapidly. The Tea Party movement has become a massive populist revolt. President Barack Obama's approval rating has collapsed. Incumbents are terrified they will be swept away in the November mid-term elections. Washington insiders tremble.

It's nothing less than a revolution.

But what you probably don't know is that 418 sitting members of Congress sought their party's nomination to run in the November election. (In the U.S. system, these primary races are often the toughest fights.) Of those 418 incumbents, a grand total of seven lost. That's less than two per cent.

So almost every incumbent who sought a nomination got it -- and even that extraordinary fact doesn't tell the full story. "If one looks at the seven cases where an incumbent was defeated," says Michael J. Robinson, a political scientist retired from George Washington University, "it had nothing to do with the Tea Party movement, nothing to do with ideological shifts. It had to do with scandal, or people switching parties in the middle of their term in office."

On Tuesday, a judge in Ontario concluded that the three most important criminal laws forbidding activities related to prostitution prevent prostitutes from taking simple safety precautions that would reduce their risk of violence at the hands of clients. Hence, the laws make it much more likely that prostitutes will be assaulted, robbed, raped, and murdered. Thus, Madam Justice Susan Himel concluded that the laws violate Section 7 - "security of the person" - of the Charter of Rights. They would be struck down 30 days from the delivery of the judgment.

The next day, MPs gathered for Question Period. According to a tally made by journalist Aaron Wherry, 38 questions were asked. One dealt with the court's decision: The government announced it would appeal.

Now, stop and think about that for a moment. After a long trial and the careful examination of heaps of evidence, a judge concluded that the law is actually helping misogynistic thugs to terrorize some of the weakest people in society. And the next day, most MPs shrugged.

Oh, they talked lots. They talked about this. They talked about that. They talked about all the usual crap. They even found the time to pass a ridiculous motion condemning Maclean's magazine for publishing something they didn't like.

But members of Parliament did not talk about the very real possibility that laws passed by Parliament were aiding and abetting savage crimes against vulnerable women.

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