FIGHT THE RIGHT:
A MANUAL FOR SURVIVING THE COMING CONSERVATIVE APOCALYPSE
Random House Canada, 288 pp.
In his sixth book, Fight the Right: A Manual for Surviving the Coming Conservative Apocalypse, Warren Kinsella — the Calgary-raised, Toronto-based lawyer and Liberal party advisor — calls on the political left to appeal to values instead of logic. It is a strategy he says the conservative right has deliberately used to its advantage in recent years, and the reason why Harper’s Conservatives are in power.
In the boo, Kinsella says conservatives around the world win because they use emotional politics. Unlike the traditionally dispassionate liberal, they are adept at speaking “of hopes and dreams and aspirations.”
“And they’re also quite good at fears and resentments,” adds Kinsella as he meets with Fast Forward Weekly during a tour promoting the book.
The right’s “whole lexicon is suffused with emotion, replete with emotion,” he explains. “And so what I attempt to do with the book is look at why do we [the left] have a reticence to do that? It seems kind of down-market. It’s contrary to the traditions of progressive politics. And that may well be, but [not using it] hasn’t exactly helped us.”
Perhaps. Although Fight the Right goes too far in replacing logic with passion. Kinsella doesn’t define what conservatives and liberal progressives are, but vilifies the former to the point of monstrosity. He describes conservatives as miserable, amoral, white, solipsistic, whiny, paranoid, intolerant, humourless — removing all legitimacy from their political perspectives. The right may be interested in small government and low taxes, but as far as Kinsella is concerned in Fight the Right, what really makes someone a conservative is their cold-hearted self-interest.
Kinsella demonizes the right so thoroughly it’s ridiculous. It took me 60 pages to be sure it wasn’t satire when he explained conservatives “believe the only way babies can become moral beings is for them to be punished when they are bad,” while on the other hand, “Liberal families nurture... and nurturing requires empathy.”
“When Conservatives are in power, I am filled with dread and revulsion,” he writes in all seriousness.
It’s too bad he indulges in this kind of prejudice, because at the heart of it Kinsella has an interesting concept. Does the lexicon of the right appeal to the public’s values, fears and hopes more than that of the left? Kinsella is not the only one to think it does. Nor is he alone in thinking the left must do the same to win power.
Kinsella believes Canadians are naturally liberally minded. They only vote Conservative because “people are so starved for somebody to talk about values, they’re actually prepared to set aside their recognition” of ideology. If progressive candidates spoke with as much passion as their conservative counterparts they would win hands-down, he says.
Kinsella never claims to be objective in this fight. He has worked as an advisor for numerous federal and provincial Liberal campaigns, and served as chief of staff in federal ministries while Jean Chrétien was prime minister. He continues to write left-leaning editorials for papers like the Toronto Sun and he’s the self-declared “house communist” for Sun TV.
In addition to his over-the-top appraisal of the right, too often in the book (and in speaking with him), Kinsella makes the even graver mistake of presuming the Liberal party is entitled to rule.
“Federal Liberals had held power for 69 years in the last century, making the party the most successful political entity in the developed world. It was, truly, the natural governing party,” he writes. He argues people vote for conservative politicians, not because they disliked the policies or behaviour of the “natural governing party,” but because they were seduced by the emotional rhetoric used by the right, which was much more appealing than the left’s dispassionate academic logic.
Whether or not his argument will appear valid despite the strange vilification in Fight the Right remains to be seen.
As he says, “I’m not a nice person sometimes, and I get pissed off, and I believe anger can be power.”