Smug, vain and stupid


There is a brand of journalist who can be relied upon always to kick the man who is down, and justify doing it because…the man is a dolt for being down – for the crime of not being Liberal,  Democratic, or in power. Today’s exemplar of the species is Kelly McParland, who spent the period before the US election reviling Trump and extolling Hillary. He can be relied upon to opine that all attempts by the Canadian Conservative party to defeat the Liberals are likewise futile. His idea seems to be that all parties and persons seeking power and who are not liberals are morally mistaken and deserve derision and defeat, and that it is his job as journalist to supply the first so as to ensure the second.

Today’s installment of McParland’s power worship illustrates well my thesis.

“How do the Liberals get away with this?”, he asks.

Stephen Harper introduces a take it or leave it funding formula for health care, which is widely derided by the provinces and is treated as another example of Harper’s arrogance by the press. The Liberals do the same, and this time, says McParland, “the premiers are feigning enthusiasm at having been soundly outsmarted.” Actions that had been held to be brutish when taken by the Conservatives amounted to outsmarting, when done by Liberals. Identical approach, wholly different judgments. Why?

The explanation why people accept this blather from the Liberals, he says, is that “people like to be stroked,” and he continues:

Provincial leaders enjoy having Ottawa put on a show of respect, even while working feverishly to outflank them. It’s probably far too late in the game for Tories to start presenting themselves as boy scouts ever on the lookout for kittens to rescue. They’d probably never be able to maintain the sincere visage needed to put across the ruse in any case. The Liberals got there long before them, and are so skilled in the performance that most of them probably believe they really mean it. That’s the sort of deception that’s really hard to beat.

There is of course a perfectly obvious explanation, and one that rings truer to the facts than McParland’s weak attempt at secretly admiring what he professes to chastise.

It is not that the Liberals are boy scouts looking for kittens to rescue. It is that the media portray them as such, every day. The Liberals debauch the economy (viz. capital gains tax, overspending) and that’s okay. They muscle local Liberal candidates out of contention and replace them with their appointees, while they prattle on about diversity and inclusiveness. That’s just the Liberals being their true selves, and is that not wonderful, asks the media? Liberals are doing what they cannot help themselves but do, because they believe themselves to be the governing class and the media are, by and large, their lackeys.

It has not occurred to McParland that he is describing accurately the effects of pro-Liberal media bias.  That would require some self awareness.


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jan scheit

Indeed. I was thinking along the same lines myself when I read the article. It is, afterall, the media who craft (filter) the narrative.

Gabby in QC

I beg to differ. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (Freud)

I interpreted McParland’s article as true criticism, not only of the media but also of the Canadian public in general, which allows itself to be hoodwinked by buzzwords & touchy-feely sentimental stroking of Canadians’ supposedly better nature. Many Canadians are forever looking for confirmation that they’re ‘nicer’ than other people. Remember the hurt feelings when George W Bush did not mention Canada in his speech before both houses of Congress? And the current giddyness at Justin Trudeau’s reception in international circles — even if by Trump? The constant reminders about the nationality of anyone who makes it on the international scene are a source of pride for most Canadians – well, maybe with the exception of Celine Dion – gushing Sally Fields-like “You like us, you really like us!”. Even now, as I write this, someone on the radio interviewing Australian singer Keith Urban said that Australians are like Canadians, “naturally nice”.

No, I believe McParland is sincere in his criticism of the Canadian public. For me, his article is also a reminder for conservatives to get a better narrative, i.e. better communications strategy, if they want to take power once in a while. That may even mean not being overtly disdainful of the media.


Thank you, Gabby, for your well considered comments. I regret that I can not fully agree with your analysis, however plausible it is. We have a choice here in what to believe to be true. Your thesis is that the Canadian public allows itself to be deceived, and to a great extent this is true. The Canadian public seems to be happy to think well of itself, and the Liberals cater to that impulse. So far I agree with you, but the argument about McParland goes further and is unfortunately more personal in nature.
An extended reading of McParland reveals something about him that is most unsavoury: power-worship and contempt for those not in power. The late Alan Fotheringham suffered from the same affliction in his time. They rejoice in and condemn the Liberals with the same breath: rejoice in because they are so clever at deception, and condemn because they are so clever at deception. It gets worse than that. The instinct to praise and blame the Liberals in the same breath is combined with a contempt for the weaker party, which for the time being is the Conservative one. Nothing satisfies them about the Opposition, as long as it is a Conservative opposition. It is too principled, too stupid, too sincere, outside the mainstream, too Christian: not us. People like McParland are like status-conscious teenagers embarrassed by the presence of uncool people, of fellow teenagers with zits, of people who have to get around with crutches. They disguise their embarrassment behind ridicule, and instinctively wish to be seen as in with the in crowd.

McParland may be sincere in his criticism of the Canadian public, but his writing feeds the tendency he condemns. As to his treatment of the Conservative opposition, it is best explained by the idea that weakness embarrasses his power-worship. As to Trump, Mcparland is just another member of the baying pack of village dogs who bark at the large bear. Trump, for all his many faults, is a far better leader than McParland can tolerate. So I continue to think that “smug, vain and stupid” describes the man and his attitudes.
Thank you again for contributing to the blog, Gabby. Nice to read your well-considered point of view.

Gabby in QC

Thank you for your reply.

I do not consider myself an expert on McParland nor on the Canadian psyche, for that matter, regardless of my reading of McParland’s column. Mine was a face-value interpretation of that single column, not to a body of work. That is the way I usually approach opinion columns, unless I have read enough of the author’s work to expect a certain slant. But even then, I’m surprised on occasion.

As for my observation re: Canadians’ quest for “validation” (Please forgive the Oprah-esque term. Maybe someone can come up with the Canadian equivalent) I confess that I also bristled whenever Mr. Harper, who really resonated with me on many levels, used to end his speeches with “Canada, the best country in the world”. Maybe I’m not Canadian enough, eh? After all, I wasn’t born here.

The upshot? Maybe I’m too gullible, take things too literally (like Trump’s opponents?!) but nevertheless welcome op-eds critical of a party I dislike. Even if the recognition of the Conservatives’ way of doing things is muted & indirect, IMO McParland has skillfully pointed out the Liberals’ hypocrisy in denouncing the Conservatives only to adopt the very same position once in power (GST? FTA? Pipelines? Maybe next, the F-35?) and in the process chastening Canadians for choosing style over substance.

Fred from BC

“Yours is a perfectly reasonable point of view.”

It is, and I myself might have interpreted the article the same way Gabby did if I had not previously read more of McParland’s work. The guy can be clever, I’ll give him that.

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