I have thought, fairly often, as I write this blog, that my opinions are a reflection of my time and space: where and when I grew up and all the socio-economic and cultural influences that attended that.
My time was the 1940s and ’50s when the Second World War was done, peace and prosperity were in the making, despite Korea and despite an overarching threat of a nuclear war that could, quite literally, destroy the world as we knew it. Two generations, those that had fought the First and Second World War, wrestled with an ever greater threat: nuclear war between the sullen, baleful USSR and the US-led West. We, very literally, practised “duck and cover” drills in our schools; our parents and teachers and political leaders honestly and sincerely believed that a nuclear attack on Canada was entirely possible, even probable. Those commentators who say, for example, the Louis St Laurent had an easier time than, say, Borden or King or Chrétien, just because the economy was growing, are irredeemably stupid … St Laurent led Canada through an incredibly dangerous time, which included a nasty hot war, too, and unlike King and Chrétien, he played a true leading role on the world stage, too. It was difficult policy and tricky politics, too. That he gave Canada good, trouble-free government under such pressure makes him, not the “great Sir John A,” Canada’s best prime minister.
Which brings me to my space, my place: Canada was changing in the 1940s and ’50s. My Canada was rural and small-town Canada … there was, almost, an idyllic aspect to being a small boy on a farm in the 1940s and early ’50s. We had the best of all worlds … tightly-knit, self-sufficient families who knew and trusted and cooperated with their neighbours. Despite the very real, ever-present threats we felt safe and secure in our communities.
One thing I recall was a syndicated cartoon feature by two Americans, writer Harry Shorten and artist Al Fagaly, who created a cartoon series (daily? weekly? I can’t remember) called “There Oughta Be a Law.” It was always funny and topical, about the little hypocrisies and ironies of everyday life.
And you know what? We, generally, believed that “there oughta be a law.” We believed, broadly and generally, that government was both benign and “good.” Government, we said to ourselves, is, after all, just us: people that we select from our communities who come together and try to make Canada better for all of us.
We, again broadly and generally, trusted the people who led the parties that governed us …
… globally, nationally and provincially. The country, Quebec, perhaps, excepted, was broadly fiscally conservative, socially moderate, engaged internationally and, in a very English sort of way, liberal. That began to change in 1960. Television brought our leaders closer and closer to us, closer than they had been for decades, even centuries, and we began to shift from reading about their policies to seeing and hearing about their personalities. Trust and respect gave way to “mistrust” and “dislike,” leaders became commodities to be sold, and they also became celebrities. Television also allowed political parties to grossly oversimplify ~ “dumb down” ~ vital issues and make us respond is a visceral rather than a reasoned manner …
… we never went back, and, by the 1990s and 2000s most of us had lost all trust in respect for our leaders, and the vilest possible, hateful, deeply personal and nearly criminal attacks were commonplace …
… especially from the political left which, because it believes it has right and justice on its side, accepts no limits to “free speech.”
The rise of the left, in the 1960s, was, I think, a result of a ‘decision‘ by the generation that endured and survived the Great Depression and then fought World War II that their children should not have to do the same. They found expression for their wishes in two or even three generations of intellectuals and political leaders …
… I don’t think John Maynard Keynes was “left-wing,” but his ideas were easily misinterpreted by both left and right to paint him into that corner. Kennedy and Trudeau were not, themselves, from anything like a left-wing background, but both wrapped themselves in the flag of bigger and bigger, more costly and more intrusive government as the keys to the “societies’ that both wanted to create … but neither wanted to lead a building process, each wanted to legislate social change. Each believed that “There oughta be a law,” and then there were laws … volumes of new, often contradictory and even self-defeating laws; but society, stubbornly, remained much the same, just as Al Fagaly and Harry Shorten predicted in their cartoon series that ran from 1948 to the early 1980s.
I think that the 1960s, and ’70s and the ’90s and 2000s have shown that big government, whether by Democrats and Liberals like Barack Obama and Pierre or Justin Trudeau or by Conservatives and Republicans like George W Bush and Stephen Harper, doesn’t work.
I’m not trying to turn the clock back to the 1950s. The world has changed: it is far, Far, FAR less complex and dangerous; the welfare state and the nanny state are both too well entrenched to be reversed; economies are operating differently ~ the West has lost its edge, but the working class has grown at a historically unprecedented rate ~ hundreds of millions of people have escaped from often abject poverty to the lower middle class with hope and hard work; and communications technology, including the internet/web make understanding (and misunderstanding) easier. We don’t want to go back to the 1950s, but we also don’t want the 1960s or ’70s, either.
We want the hope of the 1960s and ’70s combined with the trust, hard work and realism of the 1940s and ’50s.
What we don’t want is the unbridled faith in government that began to appear in the 1940s and was full-blown in the 1960s and ’70s.
We want the Conservative party and Conservative governments to focus on the key issues, not promise to be all things to all people, and to offer and provide good, trouble-free, efficient and effective national government. That’s not going back to the 19850s, it’s looking forward to the 2020s.