The art of the politic -

The art of the politic


I’ve posted this before somewhere, but for various reasons it feels appropriate to post it again. it’s from Vaclav Havel’s Summer Meditations, about his experiences as president of Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic.

Journalists, and in particular foreign correspondents, often ask me how the idea of “living in truth”, the idea of “anti-political politics”, or the idea of politics subordinated to conscience can, in practice, be carried out. They are curious to know whether, finding myself in high office, I have not had to revise much of what I once wrote as an independent critic of politics and politicians. Have I not been compelled to lower my former “dissident” expectations of politics, by which they mean the standards I derived from the “dissident experience,” which are therefore scarcely applicable outside that sphere?

There may be some who won’t believe me, but in my second term as president in a land full of problems that presidents in stable countries never dream of, I can safely say that I have not been compelled to recant anything of what I wrote earlier, or to change my mind about anything. It may seem incredible, but it is so: not only have I not had to change my mind, but my opinions have been confirmed.

Despite the political distress I face every day, I am still deeply convinced that politics is not essentially a disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so. I would concede that it can, more than other spheres of human activity, tempt one to disreputable practices, and that it therefore places higher demands on people. But it is simply not true that a politician must lie or intrigue. That is utter nonsense, spread about by people who – for whatever reasons – wish to discourage others from taking an interest in public affairs.

Of course, in politics, as elsewhere in life, it is impossible and pointless to say everything, all at once, to just anyone. But that does not mean having to lie. All you need is tact, the proper instincts, and good taste. One surprising experience from “high politics” is this: I have discovered that good taste is more useful here than a post-graduate degree in political science. It is largely a matter of form: knowing how long to speak, when to begin and when to finish; how to say something politely that your opposite number may not want to hear; how to say, always, what is most significant at a given moment, and not to speak of what is not important or relevant; how to insist on your own position without offending; how to create the kind of friendly atmosphere that makes complex negotiations easier; how to keep a conversation going without prying or being aloof; how to balance serious political themes with lighter, more relaxing topics; how to plan your official journeys judiciously and to know when it is more appropriate not to go somewhere, when to be open and when reticent and to what degree.

But more than that, it means having a certain instinct for the time, the atmosphere of the time, the mood of people, the nature of their worries, their frame of mind — that too can perhaps be more useful than sociological surveys. An education in political science, law, economics, history, and culture is an invaluable asset to any politician, but I have been persuaded, again and again, that it is not the most essential asset. Qualities like fellow-feeling, that ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly not only problems but also human character, the ability to make contact, a sense of moderation: all these are immensely more important in politics. I am not saying, heaven forbid, that I myself am endowed with these qualities; not at all! These are merely my observations.

To sum up: if your heart is in the right place and you have good taste, not only will you pass muster in politics, you are destined for it. If you are modest and do not lust after power, not only are you suited to politics, you absolutely belong there. The “sine qua non” of a politician is not the ability to lie; he need only be sensitive and know when, what, to whom, and how to say what he has to say. It is not true that a person of principle does not belong in politics; it is enough for his principles to be leavened with patience, deliberation, a sense of proportion, and an understanding of others. It is not true that only the unfeeling cynic, the vain, the brash, and the vulgar can succeed in politics; such people, it is true, are drawn to politics, but, in the end, decorum and good taste will always count for more.

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The art of the politic

  1. "Of course, in politics, as elsewhere in life, it is impossible and pointless to say everything, all at once, to just anyone. But that does not mean having to lie."

    " It is not true that only the unfeeling cynic, the vain, the brash, and the vulgar can succeed in politics; such people, it is true, are drawn to politics, but, in the end, decorum and good taste will always count for more. "

    Vs reality?

    It is a sad thought.

  2. I really don't think the media foster decorum much.

  3. Thoughtful and well said. You have piqued my interest Mr. Coyne so I will read Summer Meditations.


  4. But more than that, it means having a certain instinct for the time, the atmosphere of the time, the mood of people, the nature of their worries, their frame of mind — that too can perhaps be more useful than sociological surveys

    A cunning politician could also sense an atmosphere of apathy, a mood of indifference and lever both for political gain.

    As more and more seek to feather their nests – and leave the cynic to guard the door – I hope the spirit Mr Havel speaks of survives to guide my grandchildren.

  5. And an eloquent, principled, decent man like Vaclav Havel would likely have been TOAST without the prior political asset of being the former hero-dissident overcoming the communist bastards.

    Which is sad to say.

    • Or, looking at it in a more positive light, Havel is such a moral hero that anybody who tried the normal political tricks against him would simply cover themselves in ridicule, and quite rightly so.

      • Also, there was much that could be promised to the people at the time which could be delivered not easily, but with hard work and vision. In Canada, we are actually kinda blessed with a (relatively) stable body politic and two main parties with little apparent difference between them, fighting mainly over the detials of banal centre right policy. As bad as the current prorogation is, it is nowhere as bad as what some other states have suffered. The fact that there are no obvious important changes which are necessary for the state to thrive is great for the country, but not so good for cutting a dashing figure on the national scene.

      • That is a positive light. But my point was that Havel overlooks in this essay the fact that it was not just honesty, decency, principle and common-sense people skills that equate political success. Heck, if it were, I should be PM already (rim shot!).

        Havel had so much more political capital than that. I bet he'd have been nowhere without it.

  6. Nobody slamming you for a cut and paste post? :-)

  7. If even one of our political class had a small fraction of the courage and moral authority that Václav Havel possesses in the tip of his little finger, we wouldn't be having any discussions about the merits or otherwise of 'attack ads'.

    Thank you for posting this. Václav Havel is one of the great moral and political heroes of our generation along with Mandela and regrettably few others. I think Havel's writings should be mandatory for all civics classes in Canada.

  8. Very nice piece. Thanks, Coyne.

  9. Very much enjoyed reading this. Thanks…

    What this made me wonder about is what the educational/occupational backgrounds are of our MP's.
    Has anyone ever tabulated this? I wonder how many have an arts background…

  10. oops, only wanted to bold like this:

    Originally written in the summer of 1991, this translation includes some revisions and remarks as of February 1992. While Havel downplays his role in the transforming events of 1989 ("I became an instrument of the time. . . . History forged ahead and through me, guiding my activities " ), he sets forth a clear political agenda for Czechoslovakia and stresses the need to cultivate a "higher responsibility " of public service. He proposes reforms in the electoral process and a new federal constitution to help alleviate tensions between the Czechs and Slovaks.

  11. Yet it is rotten Klaus & Klaus' rotten vision that won, not just electorally, but ideologically. Up till now, at least.

  12. Vaclav Havel is one of my favourite political writers and theorists, and I thank you for once again drawing attention to his positive and well thought out approach to politics. Mind you, he did have some "free" time to think about this while imprisoned.

    I think that the reason he didn't have to re-evaluate his opinions once he gained office is that he had really carefully thought them through. Would that some of our more opportunistic political leaders had done the same!

    While "Summer Meditations" is a great read, I would also encourage people to read "Letters to Olga", wherein he presents and expands his ideas quite thoroughly.

  13. I'm trying to reconcile this post – which seems to be a defense of civility and principled politicking – with the way Mr. Coyne (and plenty of his pundit colleagues to be sure) treated Stéphane Dion during his tenure as Liberal leader..

    Ah well, guess it's the thought that counts.

    • I don't even know where to begin with this one. Did you read anything — anything at all — that I wrote about Stephane Dion's leadership?

      • Yes I did. I probably read every word actually. A particular highlight was your coverage of the coalition.

        In fairness though I may be conflating some of your work with that of Paul Wells and some other pundits. Memory is unreliable and mine is no exception.

        • Alright I went back and read all your election coverage. With the exception of your take on the despicable Steve Murphy/Mike Duffy interview with Dion I'd say you were pretty fair. I withdraw my previous comment and apologize for mischaracterizing your work.

          • Time for a dumb question… Is there an easy way to read through Andrew's election coverage? Did you simply go through his blog around the time of the election, or does this website have some handy search functions or metatags for easier research? Thanks.

          • No easy way. I just clicked on his name and backtracked his blogs one page at a time. It would be nice if there was an easier way to search and retrieve them.

          • As a general observation, memories are unreliable, and memories tainted by partisan beliefs are particularly unreliable.

          • Fortunately, Crit Reasoning, there are elevated human beings, such as yourself, who have evolved beyond partisanship, bias and faulty memories – who can serenely observe things as they really and truly are, free from all value judgments.

            And sometimes you are generous enough to share your lofty, non-partisan thoughts with lower life forms such as myself. I consider myself, deeply, deeply grateful that you choose to do so O Enlightened One.

          • I said "as a general observation" because I wasn't trying to single out you or anyone else. Nor was I trying to exclude myself – I'm guilty as well.

        • That's what everyone always said about me. "Paul Wells is so mean to Stéphane Dion." That was absolutely what people said about me for the 13 years I covered him. "Hey Wells, could you maybe stop being mean to Dion?" Man, if I had a dime for every time I heard that, I'd have… no dimes.

          • Also, why are you always so mean to Oscar Peterson? Just thought I'd get that in there in case, thirteen years from now, somebody reads something you've written about Oscar Peterson…

      • AC, I have been watching you reply to some of your critics on this and other blogs who have been mischaracterising some of your work. It made me think of a recent Aaron Wherry reply on an open question blog to about similar reader claims about him having a bias for one party or another- if he takes the criticism personally? He replied something like he generally doesn't let it bother him, but his wife may not be as thick skinned (I am paraphrasing).

        I thought your recent reply on The Hour was interesting when G.S. asked you specifically about the nature of the comments on your blogs and/or columns – you claimed you either get called a liberal shill (from the Conservative partisans), or claims that you are simply waiting for a senate appointment (from the Liberal partisans) depending upon the position you take on an issue.

        Good foreshadowing.

        The comment is at about the 6:30 mark of this clip (The Hour Jan 4th if the link doesn't work) for those that missed the broadcast:

        Rebuttals with facts are always effective. Impressive.

      • It's not just what you say but what you omit that communicates to the voting public your take on reality. It's shameful what was done to Mr Dion in the press and I doubt if it will be forgotten when the dust finally clears and Canada regains political sanity post Harper and his half baked crew.

        • I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and timidly suggest that Dion was actually responsible for some of his problems. He proved to be politically inadept, either got bad political advice or didn't follow good political advice on certain key occasions and, I'm sorry, but a Prime Minister of Canada — a predominantly anglophone country — needs to have a certain fluency in English, and Dion didn't.

  14. Andrew, I honestly want and even think I do take this as signalling your intention to run for prime minister or to gain prominence as part of national politics. Edmund Burke was an MP after all and even though conventional wisdom is that columnists have said too much to run I think you would turn that on its head as possibly the columnist in Canada with the most defined political principles and yet somehow also with the most crossover appeal.

    I know I'd vote for you, even though I won't forgive you if you get proportional representation in.

    • I'd vote for that, too. Although minus the proportional representation.

  15. In the same vein: Ben Franklin is thought to have generally discoverved the concept of the viruous circle.

    Disturbed by the opposition and animosity of a fellow legislator Franklin set out to win him over. Not by paying servile respect, by doing him a favour. But by inducing the other man to do him a favour – loaning him a rare book.

    "He sent it immediately and i returned it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the house, he spoke to me[ which he had never done before], and with a great civillity; and he after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim i had learned, which says, " He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.]"

  16. Although i'm generally supportive of where AC is going with this, i have to agree with MYL and Mulletaur. Havel came in with a lot of moral authority and political capital in the bank…it tends to make folks like him and Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, pretty much unouchable.
    I'm conflicted on this. Somedays i think it'll take a real SOB to bring Harper down, or under control…i'd like to believe otherwise i really would. Better yet if parliament does it itself.

    • But, what is the real lesson to be learned from Havel's approach to politics? The country he wrote of no longer existed less than two years after he penned this passage.

      From a book review of Irreconcilable Differences?: Explaining Czechoslovakia's Dissolution by Michael Kraus (Editor), Allison Stanger (Editor), Vaclav Havel (Foreword by)

      Amidst an avalanche of books on the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, this is the first comprehensive study of the peaceful divorce of Czechoslovakia. It provides a rare combination of perspectives from both sides of the divide and puts them in a broader comparative framework. Neither a lament on how Czechoslovakia could have been "saved" nor, making virtue out of necessity, the discovery of a "model" for future candidates for "separation with a human face" in Canada or Belgium, this work provides a clear, informed, and thoughtful assessment of the dissolution of a European state.
      —(Jacques Rupnik, Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques)

      Perhaps the PoliSci/historians can weigh in (not just the romantics). I was under the impression that the breakup of Czechoslovakia was done in haste, and not fully thought out. Obviously, Havel's political capital was limited with the Slovaks.

      • Anecdotal — a Slovak friend described his view of relations between Czechs and Slovaks. He felt Slovaks were relegated to inferior status historically (I'm being polite). That the two separated peaceably is remarkable to me, and indeed is a "model" for future candidates for "separation with a human face" in Canada . . .

        • A good answer really. Everybody fails eventually…that doesn't necessarily make them losers. Look at Gandhi. He couldn't prevent the partion of India. No one regards his efforts as a failure or without merit.

    • Perhaps a more dangerous opponent for Harper would be somebody with high moral standing who takes the approach that Havel suggests. It would be nice to think that this motivated the decision by Liberals to pick Dion to go up against Harper, but I have my doubts. In any case, the man had so many other deficiencies that could never be overcome, the party had no choice but to eject him at the first possible opportunity. Machiavelli would agree with you, though, kcm : "The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous."

      • Absent any lib with high moral standing, i'm thinking that Mckenna was right – these guys are thugs – time to take the gloves off.

        • Yes, but it should not be the Leader who dirties his hands, he must appear to be above this. The Liberals need a Cesare Borgia. Perhaps more than one.

          • I nominate Glen Pearson. No one'll ever see it coming.

          • lol … a rabbit punch to the kidneys, followed up by a headbutt from Dion…that oughta do it. Ken can handle Baird…i suspect he's a girly man anyway…er just joking conbots.

  17. From Amazon:

    Originally written in the summer of 1991, this translation includes some revisions and remarks as of February 1992. While Havel downplays his role in the transforming events of 1989 ("I became an instrument of the time. . . . History forged ahead and through me, guiding my activities " ), he sets forth a clear political agenda for Czechoslovakia and stresses the need to cultivate a "higher responsibility " of public service. He proposes reforms in the electoral process and a new federal constitution to help alleviate tensions between the Czechs and Slovaks.

    From wiki:

    After the free elections of 1990 he retained the presidency. Despite increasing tensions, Havel supported the retention of the federation of the Czechs and the Slovaks during the breakup of Czechoslovakia. On 3 July 1992 the federal parliament did not elect Havel — the only candidate — due to a lack of support from Slovak MPs. After the Slovaks issued their Declaration of Independence, he resigned as president on 20 July. When the Czech Republic was created, he stood for election as president on 26 January 1993, and won.

    <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  18. This seems very timely given that our politicians are, for the most part, showing what they are capable of in the context of the Haiti crisis. Cynics and all those who insist on overthinking things aside, it's a positive message of hope that should be required reading for anyone entering political life.

  19. "it is enough for his principles to be leavened with patience, deliberation, a sense of proportion, and an understanding of others."

    What is often lost in the hurly-burly of 24 hours a day politics and its associated punditry is the sense of proportion. Politicians and pundits do themselves and their craft no service if they inflate the trivial (prorogation) with the existential crisis (threat to democracy, dictatorship, etc).

    Vaclav Havel, like Anatoli Sharansky and the students of Tiananmen Square, stood firm for their principles and struggled against Communist tyranny and suffered the consequences for adhering to his principles and beliefs. To state that prorogation equates with threats to democracy is absurd and demeaning to those who have truly and with great courage opposed tyranny and dictatorship and true threats to democracy.

    Everyone could use a sense of proportion.

    • Prorogation for no good reason other than the PM is feeling heat from the opposition it is most definitely not trivial and Canadians are quite right to be alarmed and angry about it. The response has been refreshingly proportional actually.

      • Whether Parliament sits again (and feels "heat from the opposition") on March 3 instead of January 25 is trivial. People can disagree with the politics of the PM's decision, but to get angry or alarmed is indicative of a lack of a sense of proportion.

        • Angry and alarmed…like the guy who used to sit across from Chretien. I much preferred that guy [ some of the time anyway] to this guy…he had principles back then. It seems he's too busy to have them now.

        • Part of what has made those of us who are angry or alarmed is not that it's "March 3 instead of January 25th." It's that the act of proroguing was done precisely to avoid accountability. Anger in this case is quite justified.

          • I don't understand this argument. If it is the "afghan detainee" issue that is at root of the prorogation decision (debatable) what is stopping the opposition from continuing their investigations into the events of 2006 when Parliament resumes? If anything accountability is merely being postponed, not avoided.

          • Consider where the poll numbers were at the time he prorogued. Consider the speculation he might be calling an election when Parliament returned.

            I think Harper was planning on an election, and winning a majority, and that this issue would go away when he stacked the committee with his people.

            Even if that was not the plan, recent history shows Harper has a good chance of taking an issue off the table by proroguing. I assume he was counting a Canadian public who has no appetite for more questions about what the government knew.

            The truth is had people not been angered by the prorogation, this issue may have fallen off the radar for most Canadians. The prorogation to avoid accountability is of far more concern to Canadians than the detainee question ever was.

          • "If anything accountability is merely being postponed, not avoided"

            And if this gambit had worked; if the polling numbers had favoured Harper's prorogation, what then? When could we have expected accountability…after the spring election? Plan B Mr H…there's no plan B? How bout governing…i believe the Canadian public have spoken, yet again. Oh, and there is the small matter of that order of parliament…best listen, even you can get tossed on your ear.

        • It's not the amount of time that it's prorogued that's the issue, it's the reason – or more precisely lack of any good reason – that was invoked for the prorogation, and the terrible precedent it establishes.

          The PM already exceeded what should be the bounds of his power when he used it to save himself from a vote of non-confidence last winter. To do it again now with even less justification was beyond contempt.

    • I was trying to think of others who I could name as those of our generation who merit admiration along the lines of Havel and Mandela, and Natan Sharansky was the one who first came to mind. The students of Tiananmen Square also. Thanks for that, orval. We disagree on virtually everything, but there are two things we certainly can agree on.

      • i know a lot of people would disagree, but Gorbachov is a least worthy of mention. There's no way the cold war could have ended as painlessly as it did without him…give all the credit you want to Reagan and Thatcher, but if the Russkies had had their own Thatcher we might well not be here today to talk about it. Glasnost and perestroika were his great legacy.

        • The reason I hesitate about Gorbachev is that he was trying to save the Communist system, not destroy it. The Soviet Union went though a number of these periods of reform to save the system from collapse including the New Economic Policy of Lenin and the period of liberalization and reform under Khrushchev. The person who drove a stake through the heart of the Communist beast to kill it once and for all was Boris Yeltsin. He is given almost no credit for challenging and overthrowing Gorbachev and laying the foundation for a confident and relatively stable Russian state. I think this is both wrong and unfair. In any case, I rate neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin anywhere near the same level as Havel or Mandela. Reagan and Thatcher both had their merits, I would say the latter more than the former, but the moral aspect is lacking as it is with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Interested to hear others' views on this.

  20. I really enjoy Inspirational articles and, yes, there is something attractive about the idea of honor and good taste in politics (and society in general). The trend in modern politics and culture is not in this direction. Hope, Change, Accountability, and all the other focus-group approved phrases are just PR campaigns, not sincere intentions. Neither is honor and good taste a historical norm in politics. There are far more instances of pettiness and outright viciousness. Only a very few extraordinary people have risen above the ambition and greed inherent in politics. Any attempt to establish a code of conduct like political chivalry will meet with only failure and disappointment. Human nature always defeats lofty goals.

    A good topic for a Sunday sermon but unrealistic expectations for day-to-day living.

  21. I am still deeply convinced that journalism is not essentially a disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so.

    • It's not the journos, it's their owners.

  22. Nos esse quasi nanos gigantium humeris insidentes.

  23. Andrew Coyne praising Vaclav Havel. Now I've seen it all. What exactly does Coyne object to about Havel's imprisonment? As is well known, he was imprisoned because he insisted that the Czechoslovak government obey its own laws. But Coyne is not in favour of the government obeying its own laws when it comes to state security. Everybody got that? Andrew Coyne, the national affairs editor for our national magazine, does not require that the government obey its own laws when it comes to national security. Let's quote a little gem.

    There were people who thought [Clinton] should be impeached and thought he should be prosecuted for lying in a court of law. There were others who said, "Look, I don't think the guy's a great guy" — I mean, there were also people who said, "Oh, look, he just lied about sex and everybody lies about sex," I've got no use for them — but there were people who said, "What he did was wrong but the best interests of the Republic do not lie in prosecuting him." It's not to say that President's got a get-out-of-jail-free card either, but all this has to take into context, and ultimately there may be reasons of state that may supercede prosecution even if we think he broke the law, which he certainly did. I think that would be the argument here, would be not that people should have a get-out-of-jail-free because they were Republicans, but would the best interests of the Republic be served by spending the next several years having an escalating partisan war or blood-fest over this, over what are I think not necessarily cut-and-dried subjects, including the question of the advisability and morality of torture.

    This was precisely the argument used by the oppressive regime of Gustáv Husák.

    • That doesn't follow.

      • Your main problem, Dot, is that you can't distinguish between serious issues and BS about Elizabeth May. Spare me the cheap shots for the latter.

        • No, my main problem is that I know the history here. Quite a long path to get to your last italicized word. Flog away.

          • Not a long path at all. But then you were never much for argumentation.

          • Someday we'll get to the subject of what you don't know.

            Oh, I can assure you there's more of what I don't know than "the subject", whatever that may be. But, unlike others, I do know my unknown knowns.

          • But, unlike others, I do know my unknown knowns.

            That explains a lot. I think.

          • I think.

            News to me. :)

    • I'm sure that Coyne feels that Havel is praiseworthy, but Coyne isn't praising him here – he's merely posting a relevant excerpt from a book that Havel wrote. I assume that Coyne posted this because he feels that Havel's words provide an eloquent expression of the way politics can and ought to be practiced.

      Since Coyne clearly intended this as a broad, general reflection about politics, it seems unfair to use Havel as the starting point for a tenuous attempt to establish a contradiction between:

      1. Coyne's inferred admiration of Havel, and

      2. A sentence Coyne once wrote about how national interest (reasons of state) may supercede the prosecution of a sitting president for his illegal and perjurious testimony about an adulterous affair.

      Sorry, Jack, but I just don't see it.

      • Havel won all the political capital we admire him for — and which allowed him, as a man of principle and good taste, to govern without misrepresenting / lying — by insisting that the Czechoslovak government's unrelenting invocation of "national security" as an excuse for lawlessness was ethically unacceptable. Coyne, by contrast, defends lawlessness, both in the US government's violation of its own anti-torture statues and in its failure to prosecute those who broke said statues. In the Husak / Havel debate, therefore, Coyne is on Husak's side. It is true that the stability of our government is not threatened to anything like the same degree that Husak's government's security was threatened (and rightly threatened), so it's an unfair comparison: given that it only took a few murderous maniacs to push Coyne and his type into laughing at the idea of law, what (one may well ask) would they be doing if we were really under threat?

        • I agree.

        • I don't want to ge into the Havel thing since i know so little about the man. [he's a poet and dissident who became a president – that's pretty much it] But on the larger issues i tend to be an absolutist. Clinton being prosecuted for lying- ok i might be tempted to think it's not worth the political bloodletting and damage to the body politic. But if you told me the price for that was Cheney et al., walking away from complcity in torture charges, i'd say no way…
          The intial error for me has always been to let Nixon off. It looked wise at the time. But that was a the first step down a slippery slope that the US has yet to recover from as far as presidential prorogative goes. The law of unitended consequences is always in play…particularly in the arena of politics and moral imperitives.

    • So… brunch is off, then?

      • I don't bother bearing intellectual grudges against morons like Steyn, but I cannot brunch with a very intelligent person who understands the stakes and nevertheless refuses to retract a position that would, if we ever came to it, put a man like Havel in prison. I maintain hope that you will retract it and am privately 90% sure you didn't mean it (or the subsequent column). But I'm unwilling, for what little it's worth, to go along with the comfy Canadian default, i.e. we're all chums and ideas are just adult Lego, and it's a tiny village so you'd better flatter the miller.

        Look, it's likely moot what any Canadian, even a senior journalist, thinks about totalitarianism or the rule of law, because it's almost certainly never going to come down to standing in front of tanks. It'll just be taxation schemes and commercial development plans and subsidies to this and that 'til the end of time. So we live with our vicarious villains (e.g. Cheney) and vicarious heroes (e.g. Havel); but unless we want to cancel our political engagement entirely, those vicarious battles are what we've got, and for us they matter as much vicariously as anything does in reality.

          • Very nice, Dot. Come on, cut and paste something from a 2003 Globe article now. Or hint at your insider status in the nuclear power industry. Something more than a Youtube video. Something that makes us think, "Who is this mysterious Dot, so arch, so asexual, so paranoid, so deliciously punningly low on the value-added?"

          • Oh, I thought you'd get the inference. Aparently I don't know formal logic so I need to imply things. Yet, in case you have been mistaken, here's another clue:

            Mind you, a good souce for cellulosic ethanol, I understand.

          • "inference" > "reference"

  24. "The Liberals need a Cesare Borgia. Perhaps more than one"

    Are you suggesting bringing Chretien out of retirement…purely to be MI's minder of course? He's still the best man they got…and he must be 75 or so now?

    • LOL, I certainly wouldn't be opposed.

      • BTW Mulletaur, just to correct the historical record: the main reason the Liberals selected Dion was that he was neither Rae nor Iggy, remember? It was basically the same dynamic that vaulted Joe Clark into the Tory leadership back in 1976 — Clark at the time had the virtue of being neither Claude Wagner nor Brian Mulroney. "Anybody but _____" campaigns tend to have those sorts of unfortunate results. Witness Ed Stelmach.

        • Yes, Frijol, that's why I qualified it so heavily :

          "It would be nice to think that this motivated the decision by Liberals to pick Dion to go up against Harper, but I have my doubts."

          Aside from being neither Rae nor Iggy, he was the one candidate who combined a Liberal pedigree with some credibility on the national unity issue, making him a more natural heritor of the Trudeauvian mantle than his competitors. Oh, and being a francophone probably helped too in the natural historical order of things.

          There are counterfactuals as well. Dalton McGuinty finished fourth on the first ballot and ended up winning over frontrunner Gerard Kennedy on the fifth ballot. He's come a long way since winning the leadership of the Ontario Liberals and has turned out to be a very good Premier. Oh, and he was used as a "punching bag" in his own words by the Harrisites in their attack ad campaign. I guess there was hope that Dion would turn out the same way, but the man was too stubborn to learn anything, unlike McGuinty.

  25. Oh great, now Dot's going to cut and paste definitions again.

  26. I had to retype because my original comment had tiggy's name properly spelled and it vanished. For a moment I thought AC or PW had shown their better taste and banned us both.

    Nice to see I was impatiently missed.

  27. word

    • And puerility. Havel, Husak, torture, Cheney, and you fool around like a six-year-old. Typical of the moral seriousness of the pro-torture camp, to which you so glibly belong.

      • As much as I enjoy watching you beat the stuffing out of Dot, I have to interject here and say that it's quite unfair to place Dot in the "anti-torture" camp.

        I've had annoying experiences with Dot too, so I'm not particularly inclined to leap his defense, but a lack of moral seriousness and childish behavior are hardly sufficient to place someone in the "pro-torture" camp.

        • That's a fair point, and I retract the implication that either Dot or AC is pro-torture.

        • There's a lot of that going on in blogville these days, I find. E.g., I was essentially labelled "pro-torture" by somebody on here merely for pointing out that OTHER people were not likely to change their voting choice based on the Afghan torture issue. Apparently, in some people's view, unless all of your posts are positively condeming torture, you're pro-torture. Or, to invoke the political poetry of GW Bush, "you're either with us, or you're with the torturers."

          • That's not a fair comparison. Bush & his group were using "with us or with the terrorists" to validate their whole programme — in effect, "you're in favour of invading Iraq, the Patriot Act, and mass hysteria generally, or you're in favour of Al Qaeda." By contrast, anti-torture people have no agenda besides stopping torture and the nihilism that causes it and is fed by it.

          • I'm sensitive to the difference, but it is still a fair comparison, because both groups — Bush & Co. and the anti-torture people who happen to be buttheads (a subset of an otherwise honourable bunch) are guilty of creating a false dichotomy. It's still a logical fallacy, regardless of how honourable or dishonourable your intentions may be.

          • Where's the illogic? It comes down to saying that either one opposes torture or one countenances torture, to whatever degree. It's certainly a leap, as CR pointed out, from "countenancing" to "supporting" torture, but how big a leap it seems depends entirely on how serious an issue one thinks it is. For example, I don't see a problem with saying that somebody who is not fully against anti-Semitism is far, far too close to anti-Semitism for comfort; and there are a lot of us out there who think both torture and anti-Semitism are way beyond the pale of civilised life.

          • But it depends on the factual example you use. I agree with your analysis based on the specific factual example you gave. But consider the factual example I gave. We're discussing the Colvin affair. I make a perfectly objective, neutral, non-partisan observation (which was backed up by polling data) that a significant number of Canadians were not likely to change their voting behaviour based on that issue. Somebody responds by calling me a "Conservative sociopath" (even though I'm not conservative) and "pro-torture". That's the kind of false dichotomy I'm talking about. Or do you consider my statement to be "pro-torture"?

  28. Dot: proudly trolling since 2008.

  29. That would be rash.

    • If only I was an undergrad in the Social Sciences. I'd have my whole thesis in front of me: Game Theory as it applies to Intense Debate membership.

      At what point do cliques form? 1,500 comments? 2,500 ? Are there barriers to entry to other commenters before they get jumped on by the "regulars/elite"? Is there mutual backscratching? Where are their thumbs when they are together? At what stage do they become bored, and feel the need to take down larger prey? Such untapped resources, national treasures, if you will.

      • I can only give anecdotal evidence, which I leave to you to cross-index, but when somebody chooses to reply to my attack on a blog author with a priggish reprise of some non-malicious remark I'd made some weeks earlier, then infers refers suggests that said attack is a childish flogging of a dead horse, all without the least argumentation, and then replies to my thoughtful response to said blog author with a Youtube video of "If I Only Had A Brain," he she it that somebody tends to look really foolish really quickly.

        • Well, Jack. You probably recall my response to your transcription (the main post where you cut and pasted the quote on your original blog posting) of 38 weeks ago:

          Jack, do try to put things into perspective. Sometimes, in spite of your brilliance, you appear to lose it.

          This, in my opinion, is one of those times.

          One hour was an inadequate break. Sleep on it in the future.

          You appear here to be refighting old battles. Now, since my earlier plea was ineffective, I thought this time I would take a different approach. CR adequately expanded on my "priggish reply". If you are going to engage in an "attack on a blog author" that others find exceptionally unfair, expect the worst.

          btw – The art of ridicule is effective, IMO, when your opponent resorts to taking issue with spelling mistakes and grammar errors. Then you know you've gained the upperhand.

          • Oh, you find it exceptionally unfair, do you, Dot? How kind of you to mention it. Perhaps now you might expand, as you did not further up and certainly did not way back when I first attacked Coyne, on why you think it exceptionally unfair. Why, Dot? You know, the part where you have to say what you think instead of just drive-by registering your special little opinion? The part where you have to drop the mask of omniscience? I may be fighting old battles, but you never have the balls to fight any in the first place — you didn't then, you don't now, you won't in the future.

          • Is this part of the inquisition where we get to the subject of what I don't know? To what end? This is, afterall, just a blog that neither you nor I are hosting. I think I had this discussion with Ti-Guy ages ago. I don't come here to be informed, or change someone's opinion. Mainly to be entertained.

            If you want to enter into these types of debates/discussions I'm sure there are more suitable sites, and opponents than me, where the issue is explicitly stated and encouraged.

            I don't engage in a lot of the discussion on this blogsite, frankly, because a great deal of it is pointless, predictable, and partisan. And some people appear to be trying to establish a virtual pecking order, but I'll leave that to the Game Theory thesis…

          • An hour later, nothing from Dot. Or should I say 38 weeks later. So it Dot has nothing, just gibes and huffy little hobbit opinions. Lesson learned on this end: don't debate the intellectually bankrupt.

          • Is this part of the inquisition where we get to the subject of what I don't know? To what end? This is, afterall, just a blog that neither you nor I are hosting. I think I had this discussion with TiGgy ages ago. I don't come here to be informed, or change someone's opinion. Mainly to be entertained.

            I don't participate in a lot of the debate on this site because, frankly, its predictable, partisan, and pointless.

            If you want to engage in indepth discussions as you appear to do on these types of topics, surely there are more appropriate sites and opponents than moi. Besides, there appears to be some sort of virtual pecking order dynamic underway here, but perhaps I'll leave that to the Game Theory thesis.

          • That's perfectly fine, but avoid the drive-by smears on grown-up issues, if you can. It's contemptible. Avoidance thereof is one thing that determines the "pecking order," about which you're so obsessed.

          • I believe on the issue of this blog, which is the only thing worthy of discussion, I pointed out that Havel lost the country two years after the quoted passage – so I take issue with you characterising my commentary as in "agreement with Coyne."

            All for me.

          • What contemptible sophistry.

      • I'd have my whole thesis in front of me: Game Theory as it applies to Intense Debate membership. At what point do cliques form? 1,500 comments? 2,500?

        First, Jack and I hardly constitute a "clique". Second, Jack and I were friends well before either of us had even heard of "IntenseDebate". In fact, we both had serious misgivings about it when it first appeared.

        There. I just destroyed your idiotic thesis. Try again.

        • Sorry, but this will be a double blind study. Your interest is appreciated.

  30. i would rather my kids be sex workers and drug dealers than be politicians. far more honor in those other occupations.

  31. So the world would have been much better off if Vaclav Havel's father had vigorously persuaded his son to be a crack dealer instead? Same goes for Mandela, Abe Lincoln, FDR?