Friday, September 12, 2008

Politics: Elizabeth May and Sarah Palin

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA - Last night on CBC Television's "The National", commentator Rex Murphy stated that to the relief of the other Federal leadership candidates, "Elizabeth May is no Sarah Palin." Palin, of course, is the Republican nominee for vice-president in the United States.

My first thought upon hearing this statement was that it was a very good thing that the leader of the Green Party of Canada was not a half-term governor of a deeply corrupt state dominated by oil revenue who doesn't believe in climate change, evolution, birth control, or a woman's right to choose who at best misleads (if not outright lies) about her history on earmarks and the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere", has barely ever traveled outside the United States, admitted that she didn't understand the very job which she had been nominated to when first nominated, and is apparently such an intellectual light-weight that the campaign has allowed only a single one-on-one interview with the press and says there won't be any more except with journalists who are "properly deferential." I daresay even most Conservatives in Canada are indeed relieved about all that.

Of course, that isn't what Rex Murphy meant. He meant that Elizabeth May had not had the dramatic impact on the campaign that Sarah Palin has had. Say whatever you want about her, but Palin has transformed the US presidential race. The conservative base of the Republican party, previously lukewarm at best about presidential nominee John McCain, has been energized probably even more than they had been energized by George W. Bush. Because of Palin's carrying to term of a Down syndrome baby, the so-called "culture wars" issues, previously not a part of the campaign, have returned. The dynamic of the race, in which Barack Obama had been considered by some to be a light on experience "rock star" has been radically changed by the inclusion of a person of similar lower experience and charismatic properties in Palin. It almost seems like it's now a race between Obama and Palin, with McCain and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden just along for the ride, nearly irrelevant.

Yet, I'm not so certain that Rex Murphy is correct. Elizabeth May may not have transformed the Canadian election in the same way that Sarah Palin has changed the US election, but her impact may indeed prove profound. Her exclusion from the leadership debates caused outrage across the country, and people that previously may have completely ignored the Canadian contest suddenly paid at least enough attention to find out what all the fuss was about. Thus, like Sarah Palin, she may have energized voters who previously had not been engaged.

Furthermore, she may be having an impact on the dynamic of the Canadian race as well. Whereas before last weekend, the Conservatives may have intended to mostly criticize Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion, there is now a significant distraction. Conservative talk radio in Canada is finding Elizabeth May a much more intersting target than Dion. This morning I heard Bill Carroll on Toronto's CFRB going off about May's apparent gaffe yesterday when she appeared to agree with a statement that the Canadian people are "stupid," mis-forming her sentence such that her "and I agree with that assessment" sure appeared to refer to the stupid part. All this negative attention aimed at May likely would otherwise have been aimed at St├ęphane Dion. Of course, her inclusion in the debates may similarly change the dynamic of those events.

Indeed, Elizabeth May has little in common politically or personally with Sarah Palin. But, the the coming weeks will show whether she might actually have an impact on the race in Canada nearly as profound as Palin's effect in the United States.

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