What would Jack do? Layton’s hopeful mien should guide our response to Christie Blatchford’s column

Some of the throng that gathered at the Alberta Legislature Wednesday evening to honour the memory and mourn the death of NDP Leader Jack Layton. Postmedia News columnist Christie Blatchford, in a mugshot snatched from the Internet.

The last person I expected to find myself defending is Postmedia News columnist Christie Blatchford.

Ms. Blatchford writes a lousy column, in my opinion, full of the worst sort of mealy-mouthed, right wing tripe. She often composes emotional slop that belongs in the pages of the wretched Sun Media tabloids, where she worked for many years.

I’ve usually got better things to do than read her column — for example, polishing the rusting hubcaps of my battered union-made Chevrolet with an old toothbrush.

Still, the brouhaha over Ms. Blatchford’s column on the life and career of NDP Leader Jack Layton, published by all Postmedia daily newspapers on the day of his death, is troubling both for its intemperate tone, which echoes the screeching hysteria of Tory online trolls, and because a key point made by many of her critics is simply wrong.

Indeed, the offending column is far from the worst piece Ms. Blatchford has written, and it makes a good point that many of us who loved and respected Mr. Layton can surely agree with, or at least concede contains some truth. Its other arguments would better be dismissed with a shrug than with obscenity and imprecation.

I bothered to read this piece only because I came across some of the angry reaction on social media sites. I turned to it with a sick feeling, because I expected from the lead-up to read something truly disgusting, like the odious efforts of Calgary Sun city editor Dave Naylor. I finished it and concluded we should all take a deep breath.

The chief knock against Ms. Blatchford’s effort seems to be that she called Mr. Layton a thoroughly political creature, and assailed his moving deathbed letter to Canadians with such uncharacteristically big words as “sophistry” and “vainglorious.”

Well, OK, the latter part of this opinion is graceless, even cheesy — exactly as we have come to expect of almost any Postmedia columnist. But really, so what? It does not seem appropriate to me to respond to this kind of drivel by calling its author a “heartless cow,” or worse, or wishing on her the same horrible fate that befell Mr. Layton.

Moreover, I think most of us can agree that Ms. Blatchford’s silly allegation of sophistry and vainglory is merely a typical response, and possibly a heartfelt one, by a Tory sympathizer who must have fretted deeply about the implications of Mr. Layton’s successful appeal to the better angels of our Canadian nature. Even our dour prime minister seems to have been improved by Mr. Layton’s sunny vision, which in some circles might be seen as evidence of miraculous powers!

Sympathetic pity, it seems to me, is a more appropriate response to this part of Ms. Blatchford’s argument than the fury it prompted in some quarters.

More troubling was the anger at Ms. Blatchford’s mere suggestion Mr. Layton was a thoroughly political breed of cat. Well, of course he was! He wouldn’t have gotten to where he did, let alone engineer a federalist and social democratic breakthrough in Quebec or raise our NDP to the Official Opposition of the land, without being such a person!

If you think this is an insult, check the label on your water bottle! You may have been drinking Tory bathwater without even knowing it.

Being a politician, especially a successful social democratic politician, is evidence of virtue, not its opposite. Pure politics in the defence of virtue is no vice, as Mr. Layton proved. He heard a higher calling, and took up his vocation. For this, we should rejoice!

The enraged reaction to Ms. Blatchford’s words by some of my fellow New Democrats suggests to me that the ongoing Conservative effort to tarnish elected public service and engender popular cynicism about politics is succeeding, even amongst those of us who ought to know better.

Consider in this light the tone of many online comments, which sank very low. Indeed, the tenor of the response to Ms. Blatchford’s column illustrates a victory for Conservative efforts to debase political discourse in Canada through the routine use of threats, abuse and hysteria.

Their ultimate goal is to tarnish the whole field of public life and thereby achieve the dual objectives of making assaults on public services easier and suppressing the vote, especially among idealistic young people who wish for change but are turned off by the cynicism and manipulation of modern electoral politics.

Surely we are not being true to Mr. Layton’s hopeful vision of Canada’s future by sinking to the same offensive tactics!

Even a cynical old hack like Ms. Blatchford had to concede Mr. Layton’s strength, courage and dignity as the end approached. “Again and again, waving the cane that became in his clever hands an asset, he campaigned tirelessly,” she concluded.

If Mr. Layton, as Ms. Blatchford opined, was “a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow,” this is no bad thing, and none of us should allow ourselves to be led into thinking it was.

Thank God for Jack’s canny, relentless and ambitious nature, I say. Canada may yet be a better place as a result!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments on "What would Jack do? Layton’s hopeful mien should guide our response to Christie Blatchford’s column"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Blatch doesnt like your "stuff" so much either..only she doesnt slag you

  2. janfromthebruce says:

    Good for you David and a very thoughtful interpretation. People responded so negatively based on the "speed of posting that Jack slam".

    That said, we or we should all know that Jack was truly a feminist – where we internalized the "personal is political" and the "political is personal".

    Jack was Jack – up front and personal and political – and a super guy!

  3. David J. Climenhaga says:

    If Ms. Blatchford doesn't like my "stuff," as "Anonymous" observes, she can go ahead and slag away. I have always been of the view that if one is going to dish it out, one had better be prepared to take it. This is a capability that is in astonishingly short supply among Canada's professional journalists. In addition, of course, as Oscar Wilde so famously observed, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

  4. samvg says:

    David said:
    "Their ultimate goal is to tarnish the whole field of public life and thereby achieve the dual objectives of making assaults on public services easier and suppressing the vote, especially among idealistic young people who wish for change but are turned off by the cynicism and manipulation of modern electoral politics.

    Surely we are not being true to Mr. Layton’s hopeful vision of Canada’s future by sinking to the same offensive tactics! "

    Thanks for saying this.

    I think you're also on the mark with this: "a Tory sympathizer who must have fretted deeply about the implications of Mr. Layton’s successful appeal to the better angels of our Canadian nature,"

    I found some similar perspectives to your treatment of the column re journalism issues at The Canadian Journalism Project discussion here:
    http://j-source.ca/article/commenting-dead-all-timing

    Sam Gunsch

  5. samvg says:

    David said:
    "Their ultimate goal is to tarnish the whole field of public life and thereby achieve the dual objectives of making assaults on public services easier and suppressing the vote, especially among idealistic young people who wish for change but are turned off by the cynicism and manipulation of modern electoral politics.

    Surely we are not being true to Mr. Layton’s hopeful vision of Canada’s future by sinking to the same offensive tactics! "

    Thanks for saying this.

    I think you're also on the mark with this: "a Tory sympathizer who must have fretted deeply about the implications of Mr. Layton’s successful appeal to the better angels of our Canadian nature,"

    I found some similar perspectives to your treatment of the column re journalism issues at The Canadian Journalism Project discussion here:
    http://j-source.ca/article/commenting-dead-all-timing

    Sam Gunsch

  6. Tyler says:

    My problem with the article was not so much the attack on Jack, but the attack on the mourners such as myself. As if, I don't have a right to mourn. I do.

  7. Filostrato says:

    One blogger mentioned that the original piece written by Christie Blatchford had been edited. Somebody, somewhere must have a copy of the original article. I must admit that the picture and half of the first sentence was enough to put me off pursuing he nasty little piece any further. You're a braver person than I am.

    Ms. Blatchford has created her own little hell of bitterness and disappointment. She's free to stew in it.

    My mother used to say, in situations like this, "If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all."

    I've always liked the idea of the "better angels" of our nature. Jack Layton certainly appealed to those in most of us.

  8. Chris Wiseley says:

    I was directed to this blog by a mutual friend of ours, Olav Rokne, who recommended it on Facebook. I have read the blog post and comments but have not been as impressed as he was.

    My reaction is: the death of a major politician is the best time for dispassionate analysis, though we can argue whether Blatchford has done this. When we analyze our politics despite our emotions it is not from weakness, or lack, of compassion, but from the motivation we draw from our innermost political convictions, and the sustained campaigns we make to transform those convictions into policies. I would expect a federal opposition NDP to guard its convictions, in grief or not.

    Therefore the comments I read attacking Blatchford for denying anyone the right to mourn Jack Layton are totally groundless. She does not deny the right. So are your own comments naming Blatchford a "cynical old hack" why writes in "uncharacteristically big words." (This doesn't sound like the sympathetic pity you write about in your tenth paragraph – condescendingly.) It's not cynical to write a forthcoming and blunt opinion about the departed Layton any more than the living man. True, Blatchford criticised Layton's letter, but did she not also write that he had accomplishments? I don't speak for you but I think that admitting that Layton "campaigned tirelessly" is a high compliment from an alleged hack who writes a lousy column.

    I further disagree that the NDP should be hopeful in the wake of Layton's death. This makes for a good public relations show, but the opposition party has a major strategic choice to make in choosing Layton's successor. Hope should take second place to reflection and serious argument on who would make the ideal post-Layton leader – large and eminent shoes to fill. This takes graft, introspection and a little politicking. Such is the nature of life on Parliament Hill. Hope alone won't get you another leader as canny or competent as Jack Layton.

    I am a former NDP supporter turned Conservative. As such, Olav and I have semi-frequent debates, but also as such, I will watch with keen interest who follows Layton. The choice of opposition leader will yield the Conservatives vital information about the NDP's strategy for its first term as Parliament's second party; and will be instructive for right-wingers, among whom I count myself, who want the Harper cabinet to have an effective counter-strategy that will preserve its majority in future elections. So you see, the hope belongs to me. I hope the NDP chooses wrongly.

    cdwiseley@gmail.com

  9. Dr.Dawg says:

    You missed a rather obvious point. Of course Jack was political, in the broader and better sense of the word. He remained so literally up to his dying breath.

    What was evil about Blatchford's comment in this regard was her implication that there was something louche about this. Had it been one of her men in uniform, would she have criticized him for going down fighting?

    Her column was a disgrace, given the timing but also given the content. Publishing it when the body wasn't even cold was disgusting and unCanadian.

    I appreciate that you want to take the high road, but sometimes you can go a little too high, if you get my meaning. She richly deserved the whomping she got over this.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Whoa, whoa, wait… someone actually reads the National Post? That paper is still in business? No way!

Comment