Friday, August 26, 2011

To Blatchford

Christie Blatchford has always had somewhat of a mean streak in her. When she wrote for the Globe and Mail, she focused her energy on the high-profile crimes, the war overseas, and got a reputation somewhere in the last 20 years for being a "hard hitting reporter" on her good days and "a total shrewish bitch" on her bad days.

She may have reached a new low when, earlier this week, she wrote a scathing article about Jack Layton mere hours after he died. She pummeled him for his politician's nature, for the outpouring of grief that came on the news of his death, for the so-called "Dianaization" of his death when Canadians, moved to action in their loss, memorialed him the man in Nathan Phillips Square. She scoffed at the news coverage and at his thoughtful deathbed letter.

Blatchford has often seemed to pride herself on her contrarian nature, but the commentary on her article has proved that perhaps the people whom she prides herself on speaking for aren't going to back her on this one. There are lots of people who have reacted with a "You tell 'em, Christie!" but many, many more who decried her as being thoughtless, for focusing on superficial elements rather than the larger issues - she scoffs at Layton's "energy retrofitted house," as though somehow living out one's political values is ridiculous - and fails to mention that Jack Layton, in recent months, had become something of a folk hero to Canadians. He had taken on the nation-imperiling Bloc and won, he had swept aside personal and political scandals as non-starters, he had led his party to unprecedented heights and genuinely had the support of Canadians behind him.

When he died, he released a letter that Blatchford dismissed as vainglorious pap; it was a letter that made me cry. Layton was a politician, and the letter was a political move. But it was also a thoughtful expression of his love for his life's work. He loved being a politician: leading people, changing their minds, engaging them in the political process. He was very good at it. Her dismissal of Layton's urging Canadians to work together and have faith in their country was callous and cold.

If you find yourself on Blatchford's side of things in this narrative, imagine for a moment that her article wasn't about Layton. Imagine that she was memorializing, in this dismissive, repulsive way, a favourite pastor of yours. A brother-in-law. A admired employer. Or even someone you met once and liked, because he was affable and likeable, even though part of you knew he was working on you - a politician, in other words. Now her reaction to his death looks even more appalling.

In the tradition of Dan Savage, who took Rick Santorum's name and make it into a filthy noun (Google "santorum" if you're scatologically bent), my friend Liz proposed that we take Blatchford's name and similarly defile it. Refashion her moniker into a work that means something vile, because on a sad day, she was vile. I would guess that, over time, "she's a real blatchford" might come to mean some heinous blend of callousness, "too-soon?" collar-tugging, self-aggrandizement, and plain old meanness. "To blatch" might mean to misread the tone of an event so supremely as to become a lightning rod for rage. I'm not calling for her head or her job, but I do think she should be embarrassed, and that The National Post might want to reconsider her high-profile writing, as it seems to piss off a majority of their readers.

I doubt she would, but I hope C.Blatch feels a pang of shame when she realized that Layton wasn't the smarmy a-hole she had painted him as; the tributes to him from regular, non-Post-affiliated folks attests to that. What kind of memorial will you inspire, Christie?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Man, The Mustache: Jack Layton, 1950-2011

When I called my sister this morning to tell her of Jack Layton's death, I unexpectedly started to cry. I always thought the only public figure whose death would inspire tears would be Paul Simon (what? You listen to Graceland on every childhood roadtrip and see if it doesn't do something to you), but apparently, Mr. Layton was also on that list.

Even if the NDP isn't your cup of tea, Layton was an interesting figure on the Canadian political landscape. He was deeply committed to his lefty roots, but managed to translate that into a populist platform that converted suspicious Quebecois voters into people who could support a national party. He had a bad-ass mustache. He was confident. He spoke well. He led.

Charmingly, Layton never really struck me as desperate. The current crop of Canadian "leaders" always seem to have election day on their mind - it's a very American way to lead, because the focus isn't on what's right or what's needed, but what is going to keep a person or a party in power when the polls open. Layton, maybe because, until recently, his party maintained a third-place standing, was free to focus on what he considered big issues. Personal finances, health care, climate change, and multi-party solidarity: all considerations he weighed in trying to do right by Canadians. On his website, he tells us that he "won't stop until the job's done," a sentiment that now brings tears to my eyes.

I met Jack Layton once, when a guy I was seeing took me to his Christmas party. I was a little star-struck, but when he started singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in an off-key voice, I had to laugh. The guy had very little vanity, which is appealing in a politician. He was also charming and was able to able to switch seamlessly from talking shop with his work buddies - city hall gossip was rampant at this shindig - to horsing around with his daughter's friends. He looked comfortable in his own skin, the way Obama did when he was campaigning, the way Trudeau looked when he dared the nation to "just watch me."

Whatever your politics, I hope we can agree that Layton's grace and energy in the face of cancer was enormously inspiring. It's a damned shame that someone so young, with so many recent victories, couldn't be around to celebrate them as fully as he lived the rest of his life.