LATROBE, Pa. — Barbara Griffin all but rolls her eyes when asked who she wants to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate.
Her dog Romeo tugs on his leash as Griffin considers her options: Pennsylvania’s hoodie-wearing Democratic lieutenant-governor, John Fetterman, or television celebrity and Donald Trump acolyte Dr. Mehmet Oz.
“It’s not much of a choice,” says the 77-year-old one-time mayor of Latrobe, a former mining and steel town best known as the birthplace of Mr. Rogers, Arnold Palmer, the banana split and Rolling Rock lager.
“They never want to talk about policy much at all,” Griffin finally says. “All they ever seem to do is talk about each other.”
In Pennsylvania, the battle for control of the Senate has been all about trolling for votes — quite literally. Fetterman’s campaign has gone all-in on using social media to depict his Republican rival as a political opportunist and snake oil salesman with deeper ties to New Jersey than the Keystone State.
On Sunday, the Fetterman campaign posted a video calling Oz a phoney fan of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Near the stadium where the Eagles defeated Dallas that night, a billboard delivered a stinging rebuke: “Dr. Oz is a Cowboys fan.”
“He has no core and no real beliefs,” Fetterman campaign manager Brendan McPhillips said in a statement.
“He’s a fair weather Pennsylvanian at best, and we can’t trust him to stick around and be on our side when it’s not in his own self-interest.”
In places like Latrobe, where the aging husk of a once-burgeoning steel industry still looms large on the edge of town, people have largely given up on the prospect of hearing a hopeful vision from campaigners, Griffin said.
She recalled her own experiences on city council more than a decade ago, when councillors shouted over each other to be heard, ignoring all calls for decorum — an experience that soured her on politics for good.
“I had Robert’s Rules of Order sitting on my desk,” Griffin said. “I’d say, ‘If you want to speak, ask me, and I’ll say yes.’ But it didn’t matter.”
Kristin Kanthak, a political-science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said she expects the Senate campaigns in Pennsylvania to become more substantive as the Nov. 8 elections draw closer.
But she acknowledged the risk of Fetterman — still recovering from a stroke he suffered in May — being branded as someone who’d rather make fun of his opponent than address the serious issues people in the state are facing.
“It’s hard to know when the sincerity is supposed to kick in,” Kanthak said.
“It’s really difficult to run an election campaign that’s based on really clever memes, and then turn around and say, ‘I really sincerely care about people like you.’ It’s just hard, because people are feeling cynical.”
That includes Elliott Pacini, a retired sociology professor who moved to Pittsburgh from San Diego earlier this summer with his wife, a practising obstetrician.
“When you think about how celebrity plays out and that cult of personality — it’s formulaic,” said Pacini, who has a Fetterman sign on his lawn.
“I like his policy ideas; that’s why I support him. But I do hate that it’s, like, lowball politics, mudslinging, instead of actually talking about what they would do in the job, which is what I would rather hear myself.”
Oz, for his part, spelled out his own strategy Monday during an event with campaign volunteers and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Talk about three things, Oz said: the economy, drugs and crime.
All three are aimed at exploiting deep-seated dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and the long-standing pattern of midterm voters opting to punish the party in the White House.
“Here’s the basic question: ‘Are you happy with the way America is headed?’ That’s the only question you have to give voters, friends, colleagues — whoever you’re going to call — to focus on,” Oz told supporters.
“The only thing Joe Biden ever built back better is the Republican party.”
Thanks in large measure to Biden, whose approval ratings were plumbing new depths earlier this year, Democrats were never supposed to be contenders in any of the key 2022 battlegrounds.
But they are back in the game, due to a motley slate of controversial Trump-backed candidates including Oz, as well as the Supreme Court’s explosive decision in June to reverse Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion decision.
Biden pulled out all the stops on the latter issue Tuesday, vowing to sign a law that would enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion if Democrats are able to retain control of Congress.
“That’s why these midterm elections are so critical, to elect more Democratic senators to the United States Senate and more Democrats to keep control of the House of Representatives,” he said.
“If we do that, here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: the first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade.”
It’s about the only play the Democrats have left, said Pacini, who described the current climate as “terrifying” for medical professionals who specialize in female reproductive health.
“I think the only trick left for the Democrats to use is to play this card, and it’s the only one they got,” said Pacini.
“I think they’re playing it well, but … when you’ve got one drum, it sounds like a good song.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2022.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Jason Kenney quits Alberta politics with critical letter on state of democracy
“Thank you to my constituents for the honour of representing them in Parliament and the Legislature over the past 25 years,” Kenney said in a tweet also containing a statement.
The resignation came two hours after the throne speech for the Fall session was read inside the legislature, which Kenney was not present for.
Kenney said he is proud of the work done while he was the leader but with a new government in place under Premier Danielle Smith — who replaced him as leader of the UCP in October — and a provincial election coming in May 2023, now is the best time for him to step aside as MLA.
“This decision brings to an end over 25 years of elected service to Albertans and Canadians,” he said.
“I would like to thank especially the people of south Calgary for their support over nine elections to Parliament and the legislature, beginning in 1997. Thank you as well to the countless volunteers, staff members and public servants who have supported me throughout the past two and a half decades of public service.”
Kenney said in the future he hopes to continue contributing to democratic life but chose to close his resignation letter with a scathing reflection of the state of politics.
“Whatever our flaws or imperfections, Canada and I believe Alberta are in many ways the envy of the world. This is not an accident of history.”
Kenney went on to provide the following statement:
“We are the inheritors of great institutions built around abiding principles which were generated by a particular historical context. Our Westminster parliamentary democracy, part of our constitutional monarchy, is the guardian of a unique tradition of ordered liberty and the rule of law, all of which is centred on a belief in the inviolable dignity of the human person and an obligation to promote the common good. How these principles are applied to any particular issue is a matter of prudent judgment.
“But I am concerned that our democratic life is veering away from ordinary prudential debate towards a polarization that undermines our bedrock institution and principles.
“From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.”
“As I close 25 years of public service, I do so with gratitude for those who built this magnificent land of opportunity through their wisdom and sacrifice. And I’m hopeful that we will move past this time of polarization to renew our common life together in this amazing land of limitless opportunity.”
Kenney announced his intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party on May after he received 51.4 percent support in his leadership review vote.
Earlier Tuesday, Smith was sworn in as the new member for Brooks-Medicine Hat after winning a byelection for the seat earlier this month.
It was her first time back on the floor of the legislature chamber since the spring of 2015.
At that time, Smith was with the Progressive Conservatives, having led a mass floor-crossing of her Wildrose Party months earlier. She failed to win a nomination for the PCs in 2015 and returned to journalism as a radio talk show host for six years.
Kenney remained a backbencher UCP legislature member until his resignation. It’s not yet known when a byelection will be held in Calgary-Lougheed.
Kenney joins a long list of Alberta conservative leaders sidelined following middling votes in leadership reviews.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 percent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 percent in their reviews but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Murray Mandryk: Today’s partisan politics abandons all common sense
Long abandoned is the principle in politics that politicians are there to represent everyone…even those that didn’t vote for you.
Today’s politics is tribalism and, sadly, this cuts across party lines…although that observation is, evidently, now considered offensive to members themselves.
We’re not like that — they are.
Let us review, beginning with the latest from the federal Liberals. By definition, liberals (small l) are supposedly respectful and accepting of behaviour and opinions different from their own, open to new ideas and, promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and free enterprise.
Consider the last-minute amendments to the latest federal gun-control bill that stands to criminalize millions of firearms now used by Canadian hunters.
The amendment would ban “a firearm that is a rifle or shotgun, that is capable of discharging centrefire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed.”
For those unfamiliar, that’s pretty much all hunting rifles and shotguns that aren’t pump, bolt or lever-action.
Essentially, this would ban all forms of semi-automatic firearms except for tube-style duck hunting shotguns — far in excess of the how Bill C-21 was pitched as a targeting of the sale of Canadian handguns (no mention of long guns was even in the initial draft bill).
The changes drew the expected angry response from Western Conservative politicians including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — which only seems to fortify the Liberal notion that somehow what they are doing is right.
But what happens when they are not?
The ongoing problem with illegal guns crossing the U.S. border, 3D printers capable of producing all manner of weaponry and light sentences for violent crimes would seem far bigger threats than a hunting rifle locked up for 364 days a year.
But in today’s tribal political world, it’s not about common-sense solutions. It’s about the virtues you are signalling to your base, which takes us to today’s conservatives defined by preserving traditions, institutions and following rules of law.
It was bad enough that we saw in January elected politicians like Moe writing letters of support to Freedom Convoy organizers — some of whom were subsequently criminally charged.
But the same Conservative politicians who cavorted and emboldened protester organizers are now eagerly engaging in political revisionism. To hell with what the people of Ottawa endured. Senator Denise Batters claims she “personally never felt safer.”
And those criminally charged with obstruction? The plethora of other actions meritorious of criminal charges and the very real threats at border crossings? A figment of Liberal and/or RCMP imaginations?
Of course, that has now been superseded by the battiness of convoy protest lawyer Brendan Miller being sued for accusing someone of being al Liberal provocateur who waved a Nazi flag just to make the protesters look bad.
But this, too, is easily justifiable when you can view everything through a lens of extreme partisanship rather than common sense that’s seemingly no longer required in politics.
Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
The U.S. and Iran beef is what politics has become at the World Cup
Over the weekend, U.S. Soccer sent out social-media posts containing an altered Iranian flag. Two lines of Islamic script and the country’s emblem had been stripped from it. A spokesperson for the American team said the change had been made to show support for Iranian women.
Iran has had a torrid first week in Qatar. Its Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, devotes huge chunks of his near-daily remarks to alternately lashing the team’s critics and begging them to back off.
Here was a main chance to change the story, courtesy of their old enemy. The fight is so silly, you’re tempted to think the two teams – who play each other on Tuesday – cooked it up together.
Iran saw the provocation from the U.S. and raised it. It demanded FIFA suspend the American team for 10 games – effectively eliminating it from the World Cup. FIFA ignored it.
On Sunday, in the midst of a U.S. news conference, an Iranian journalist scolded America’s media operation, telling it to “respect international media.”
“This is World Cup, not MLS Cup,” he said.
The presser was cut short.
By Monday, Iranian journalists were pressing American manager Gregg Berhalter to move the U.S. Fifth Fleet out of the Persian Gulf. Shockingly, Berhalter doesn’t have any juice with the Navy.
Berhalter explained that neither he nor his players knew anything about the flag flap, but still apologized for it. No one wanted to hear it. This is what happens when athletes become political advocates. Everyone ends up looking clueless.
FIFA has spent years trying to strip the World Cup of its political symbolism and replace it with a commodified, pop-culture, politics-lite. That would be the sort of politics that gooses viewership, but doesn’t upset anyone.
It hasn’t helped itself by placing the event in military autocracies (Argentina 1978), functional dictatorships (Russia 2018), and developing nations that can’t afford to host it (a few).
A high-water mark for political tensions created by soccer goings-on was the 1982 semi-final, France vs. Germany. The two nations didn’t like each other going in. They liked each other much less after watching their countrymen kick the tar out of each other for 120 minutes. At one point, the German goalkeeper delivered a flying knee to an onrushing French player, knocking out several teeth.
Afterward, the German – Harald Schumacher – was told about the missing teeth. “I’ll pay for the crowns,” Schumacher said, glibly.
That went over as well as you’d imagine. Tensions mounted to a postwar high. The Germans learned the French hadn’t really forgiven them, and the French figured out they were still piping hot over it.
The situation was only defused when the then German chancellor publicly apologized to his French counterpart. The incident – referred to as ‘The Tragedy of Seville,’ after the city in which the match was played – remains a potent touchstone in both countries.
That was back when politics in sports had guardrails. You only went so far, for fear that a shouting match might become a shooting match.
Those limits have come off in recent years. People feel perfectly entitled – compelled, even – to show up at events such as this and start delivering speeches and tossing around insults.
As usual, FIFA is mostly to blame. By inveigling teams to engage in soft advocacy, it has persuaded the human brands in its temporary employ to speak the sort of truth that makes sponsors comfortable. But once the complaints get anywhere near the money, FIFA becomes a stickler for rules as written.
So, ‘OneLove’ armbands? Out. ‘No Discrimination’ armbands? In.
What does ‘no discrimination’ mean? Who, exactly, are these people who are for discrimination? When’s that press conference, because I’d like to attend it.
‘No discrimination’ means less than nothing, because it pretends to be something. Proper protest is organic. It isn’t approved by the marketing department, then sent off to the printers to be colour-matched and sized for overnight delivery.
After FIFA nixed the armbands, Germany came up with its own stunt. During the prematch team photo ahead of its first game, German players put their hands over their mouths. Presumably, this means they can’t speak their minds. Who exactly this is a shot at – FIFA? The state of Qatar? The World Cup writ large? – wasn’t defined.
And yet, they can speak. They’ve got cameras on them every hour of the day. People are itching to tell their stories. The German players haven’t been prevented from speaking. They’ve opted not to speak because they fear sanction.
So what is it? You’re taking a principled stand, or you’re doing a photo op? You can’t have both.
Now you’ve got USA and Iran taking pops at each other for kicks, hoping a few callbacks to the bad old days will jazz up their current sports chances.
Is it now totally out there to say this stuff ought not be taken so lightly? You want to start an international slapping contest with a sovereign country? Maybe your foreign service should be the one doing that, rather than the guy who runs the Instagram account at U.S. Soccer.
If you’re the United States of America, maybe don’t do that at all. You’re in no moral position to lecture anyone else.
But stripped of actual menace, that’s what politics has become at the World Cup (as well as the Olympics). It’s gamesmanship. It’s theatre. It’s for funsies.
And it can be fun. Until one day, something silly that happens here leaks out into the real world, where everyone doesn’t slap hands and trade jerseys when the game ends.
You feel like protesting the injustice inherent in staging this World Cup in this place? Or how your opponents comport themselves? How about not coming?
Why not apply the same standards of total commitment to your protesting that you do to your play? Otherwise, make room for serious people willing to take actual risks.
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