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Mark Twain once said “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” And yes, I grant that it’s easy to be cynical about politicians. Especially when they go out of their way to seem foolish, and they are Canadian “conservatives”. But I repeat myself.

There are plenty of examples of their self-defeating PR/policy plans, from deficits to climate change to defence spending to Quebec and on and on. But today’s topic is gender politics and the culture wars, because both Pierre Poilievre, leader of the federal “Conservative Party” and Alberta premier Danielle Smith, leader of the provincial “United Conservative Party”, were recently photographed at the Calgary Stampede with a guy wearing a “Straight Pride” shirt and both, when heckled by the media, played dumb and fled.

Except, to borrow a line from Dennis Bloodnok in The Goon Show, they weren’t playing. It’s genuine idiocy to find oneself in such a predicament because it’s so easy to avoid being in the photograph at all. Just have an aide scan anyone approaching phone-in-hand, for, say, swastikas. And they do have aides.

Indeed, when challenged Polievre delegated one of his handy lackeys to say the boss “does not agree with the message displayed on the T-shirt”. Which was, in its entirety, “THANK A STRAIGHT PERSON TODAY FOR YOUR EXISTENCE” above a picture of a stylised man and woman holding hands, below which it said “STRAIGHT PRIDE”.

OK then. Which part did he not agree with? That almost everyone alive today, regardless of orientation, owes their existence to heterosexual intercourse and most of the rest to straight-donor IVF? That we should be grateful for the gift of life? Or that, if it’s OK to be “proud” of being gay you can also be “proud” of being straight (even if it’s not something you did and pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins)?

Apparently nobody asked. And if they did it wouldn’t have done any good because they don’t go there. There being frank discussions of principle and its relationship to policy and messaging. Instead Smith also delegated a Mouth of Politician to say she didn’t read the shirt “and obviously doesn’t agree with its message.” Why “obviously”? What was its message? Why didn’t she read it? Any thoughts? On any subject?

No. Of course not. Ideas are for losers. Politics is all about the positioning, which must always be safe.

Thus Poilievre won’t commit himself to spending 2% of GDP on defence, lest someone ask what he’d cut, or in mediaspeak “slash”, to free up the money. Nor to not spending it, lest someone call him soft on security. Instead he substitutes partisan fire for philosophical firmness. From a safe distance.

On straight pride, he sent an aide to spew talking points so there was no chance of him being asked personally to try to make principled sense on a sensitive subject. For bad measure the spin control included that Poilievre posed with “hundreds of people” and like the Premier did so this time “without reading what was written on his shirt.” Which is the usual cunningly dopey ploy.

What if it had said “DEFUND THE POLICE”? Or “DEATH TO JEWS”? Are we to believe he would he not have glanced? Or that he might have looked but claimed he hadn’t recognize the symbolism of, say, “KKK”? He’s been an MP since 2004 when he was just 25, and has won seven elections. Politics is all he knows. But he doesn’t look at the shirt? Then he’s an idiot. And if he looked, then buckled when challenged, he’s an idiot for not anticipating the challenge, and a poltroon for buckling when it came, and a double idiot for not having a better cover story than “Shirt? What shirt?”

The National Post says Poilievre’s aide also billowed forth a thick cloud of fog about how “Conservatives are working to build a country where everyone is free to be themselves, ‘regardless of their sexual orientation.’” And I won’t get sidetracked into what kind of “Conservative” thinks it Caesar’s job to shape public morality. But I would like to ask why, in that case, he wouldn’t stand up for people who are “proud” to be straight. Isn’t that a sexual orientation? Aren’t they free to be themselves, and be “loud”, and all that guff?

Alas, to expect consistency from these people is as naïve as to expect wit or courage. So Poilievre also claims to oppose identity politics. But again, only when it’s safe.

They call this slippery doublespeak pragmatism. But it’s just more idiocy because this famously practical approach doesn’t even work. The federal conservatives win a majority once a generation when Canadian voters get heartily sick of certain chronic Liberal failings like arrogance and profligacy. But then they govern timidly from the left and get booted after a single term or, once in the last century, two (under Mulroney), because they lack the courage of their lack of convictions. And the issues don’t go away, including gender, and ducking them impresses no one. Is Poilievre better placed now on family, or drag shows in schools, even from a purely tactical point of view? Hoo hah.

Even in Alberta, where conservatives dominate politically, they govern like liberals just in case, boasting of lavish spending on social programs, mouthing woke shibboleths and ducking controversies even when a majority would agree with the right-wing position. They sacrifice principle for political disadvantage and think themselves wiser than serpents. Whereas with Justin Trudeau, for all his failings, you don’t wonder where he stands, even if you often do wonder why. And he keeps winning elections and they shouldn’t wonder why.

Suppose you’d gone up to Poilievre or Smith at the Stampede before this incident and said “Hey, persons, here’s a great way to look weak and stupid” then proposed this photo-and-flee. Surely they’d have realized it was a bad idea… unless they were idiots. And Canadian Conservatives. But history repeats itself.

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