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Why Argentina's Politics Are Surprisingly Stable – Americas Quarterly

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NEUQUÉN, Argentina — The debates and scandals around lockdowns and vaccines happening throughout Latin America have also plagued Argentina, where the pandemic has claimed the lives of over 110,000 people. Meanwhile, the economy is reeling from a 10% drop in GDP in 2020 and inflation and poverty rates over 40% — all as two polarizing ex-presidents vie for influence.

A reader might conclude that Argentina, which will hold midterms elections in November, is thus ripe for an explosion, especially considering how neighboring countries once lauded as stalwarts of stability, like Chile, Peru and Colombia, have fallen into political crises and social unrest. But as campaigns gear up, Argentina’s political system is surprisingly calm.

Once considered a basket case of instability, Argentina today has two stable political coalitions. On one side is the governing Frente de Todos (Everybody’s Front), a populist-leftist alliance representing the Peronist political movement. Its opposition is Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), a liberal-conservative alliance organized by the Republican Proposal (PRO) party and the older Radical Civil Union (UCR) party — the coalition that elected Mauricio Macri in 2015. These two alliances accounted for 88% of the votes in the last election and continue to look sturdy as mid-terms approach — a surprising scenario in a country prone to crises and breakdowns since transitioning to democracy in 1983.

Indeed, memories are still fresh of the riots and protests that forced two democratically elected presidents to resign, first in 1989 and then in 2001, when Fernando de la Rua’s exit sparked a succession of five presidents appointed by Congress in two weeks.

By 2003, when elections were finally held, the Argentine party system was in shreds. None of the six most-voted presidential candidates received more than 24% of the votes. Carlos Menem, who had finished first, shocked the country when he announced that he would not participate in the runoff election. The first-round runner-up, Néstor Kirchner, was sworn in by default — with only 22% of the vote.

The political shake-up continued as dozens of leading politicians created brand new parties, including former Menem allies protesting the rise of Néstor and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Ambitious political entrepreneurs crossed over from business to politics and funded their own tailor-made political structures, including Macri. Congress became a patchwork of small political forces. The whole party system seemed irredeemably fragmented, and multiple figures competed for leadership.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos and Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio now dominate the political arena, each showing an unexpected level of resilience. Many expected they would, by now, have fallen apart. In the case of Juntos por el Cambio, the coalition formed in 2015 against the misgivings of some in the UCR with the goal to defeat Peronism. This led Macri to become the first non-Peronist and non-Radical president in over a century. However, Macri’s government ended in disappointment, and after he lost his reelection bid, some believed the older and more institutionalized UCR would leave the coalition and seek to reclaim its role as the sole opposition. This has not happened.

Equally surprising is the fact that the Frente de Todos has stayed in one piece. The coalition was assembled three months before the 2019 elections uniting most of the Peronist fractions that had splintered years earlier. Leaders such as Sergio Massa, Roberto Lavagna and even now President Alberto Fernández himself, who had left mainstream Peronism in dissatisfaction with Fernández de Kirchner’s personalistic style of leadership, came back into the fold after failing to defeat her in the polls or grow their own parties. Analysts thought that the uneasy alliance would crumble under the weight of COVID and the economic downturn, or because of scandals like the recent birthday party for the first lady at the presidential residence that many saw as flouting social distancing. But for now, the Frente de Todos is united heading into November’s election.

Several factors have been key in keeping these coalitions intact. Two are institutional, the first being the fact that Argentina has never allowed independent candidates, and electoral laws and organization incentivize the creation of parties. The second one is a law passed in 2009 that mandates simultaneous primary elections for all parties seeking to compete in national elections and encourages competition within coalitions.

Two other reasons for the coalitions’ strength are less easily defined. The first one is political polarization. Any issue that arises in Argentine politics, from taxes to gender rights to COVID measures, gets subsumed into the Peronist government vs. anti-Peronist opposition dynamic. If one side is for something, the other side is against it, and vice versa. So far, polarization has helped uphold the dual-coalitional nature of Argentina’s political system. The second factor is the role played by Macri and Fernández de Kirchner and Macri in keeping their respective coalitions together.

Since 2007, the dispute between the two leaders has defined Argentine politics. Macri and Fernández de Kirchner’s personalities and ideologies could not be more different, but both ruled their own coalitions with an iron fist, building a strong, deep emotional connection with their core supporters. Each commands the support of a substantial block of voters — but are also rejected by a similar fraction of the voting population. This dynamic has forced them to welcome allies as well as would-be rivals into their coalitions.

For her part, Fernández de Kirchner chose not to run in 2019, and handpicked Alberto Fernández (no relation) to be her coalition’s candidate. While many expected her to challenge Alberto, she has remained on the sidelines so far. The order of candidates on lists for November’s election were quietly negotiated between the two and her one-time critic Massa and approved without much fuss.

Meanwhile, given Macri’s low poll numbers and his coalition partners’ eagerness to move forward to the 2023 presidential election, he appears increasingly willing to pass the baton to would-be successor Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta — after some hesitancy. This would go a long way in further transforming Juntos por el Cambio from a personal brand to an institutionalized coalition.

One should be careful to note, however, that the current state of stability is by no means assured to last. It might very well be that the next two years before the general election are just the calm before the storm. If the economic situation does not improve rapidly for most Argentines, if more scandals emerge, and if deaths from COVID spike dramatically due to the Delta strain, the situation could change, and even deteriorate, rapidly. As it is, both the government and the opposition are taking it one day at a time.

Casullo is a political scientist and professor at the National University of Río Negro. She is the author of Por Qué Funciona El Populismo? (Why Does Populism Work?).

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.

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Senate passes Democrats' sweeping health care and climate bill – CNN

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(CNN)The Senate on Sunday afternoon passed Democrats’ $750 billion health care, tax and climate bill, in a significant victory for President Joe Biden and his party.

The final, party-line vote was 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. The package is the product of painstaking negotiations, and its final passage would give Democrats a chance to achieve major policy objectives ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
The Democrat-controlled House, which is expected to take up the legislation on Friday, August 12, must approve the bill before Biden can sign it into law.
The sweeping bill — named the Inflation Reduction Act — would represent the largest climate investment in US history and make major changes to health policy by giving Medicare the power for the first time to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs and extending expiring health care subsidies for three years. The legislation would reduce the deficit, be paid for through new taxes — including a 15% minimum tax on large corporations and a 1% tax on stock buybacks — and boost the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to collect.
It would raise over $700 billion in government revenue over 10 years and spend over $430 billion to reduce carbon emissions and extend subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and use the rest of the new revenue to reduce the deficit.
Senate Democrats, with a narrow 50-seat majority, stayed unified to pass the legislation, using a special, filibuster-proof process to approve the measure without Republican votes. Final passage came after a marathon series of contentious amendment votes known as a “vote-a-rama” that stretched nearly 16 hours from late Saturday night until Sunday afternoon.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that the legislation he helped write is “a good balanced bill.”
“I think we’ll all benefit from it; the country will,” Manchin told CNN. “We have energy security, that’s what we were looking for. And we have the ability to invest in the energy of the future.”
Biden praised the Senate for passing the bill in a statement Sunday, thanking Democrats in the chamber and touting the legislation’s climate investments and health care provisions.
“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share,” Biden said.

How Senate Democrats passed the bill on a party-line vote

Senate Democrats have long hoped to pass a signature legislative package that would incorporate major agenda items for the party, but struggled for months to reach a deal that gained full support of their caucus.
Manchin played a key role in shaping the legislation — which only moved forward after the West Virginia Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a deal at the end of July, a major breakthrough for Democrats after earlier negotiations had stalled out.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Thursday night offered critical support after party leaders agreed to change new tax proposals, indicating she would “move forward” on the sweeping economic package.
But Sinema, Manchin and other senators worked through the weekend making crucial alterations on the bill.
To avoid a last-minute collapse of the bill on Sunday, Democrats created a plan to win over Sinema, who was concerned over the 15% corporate minimum tax’s impact on subsidiaries owned by private equity. Senate Democrats accepted a narrower tax proposal, but instead of paying for it through a change to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, as Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota suggested, they instead extended the limitation on the amount of losses that businesses can deduct for another two years.
The change was intended to prevent House Democrats primarily from coastal districts, who have campaigned on repealing limits on the SALT deduction, from breaking from the bill, when they vote on it later this week.
After the bill’s passage in the Senate, Sinema said in a statement it would “help Arizonans build better lives for themselves and their families by lowering prices, making health care more affordable and accessible, and securing Arizona’s water and energy future,” while also “boosting innovation and spurring job creation.”
In a good sign for the bill becoming law, key House Democrats signaled later Sunday that they’ll vote for it despite previous demands over SALT.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey had been part of the “No SALT, no deal” caucus. But he said the bill passes his test because it doesn’t raise individual income tax rates.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, another member of that caucus, echoed his sentiment: “I will also remain steadfast in my commitment to ensuring that any discussion of reforms to the 2017 tax law begins with addressing SALT. Because this legislation does not raise taxes on families in my district, but in fact significantly lowers their costs, I will be voting for it.”
Republicans used the weekend “vote-a-rama” to put Democrats on the spot and force politically tough votes. They were also successful in removing a key insulin provision to cap the price of insulin to $35 per month on the private insurance market, which the Senate parliamentarian ruled was not compliant with the Senate’s reconciliation rules. The $35 insulin cap for Medicare beneficiaries remains in place.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that the bill included “giant job-killing tax hikes” and amounted to “a war on American fossil fuel.” The Kentucky Republican said Democrats “do not care about middle-class families’ priorities.”
“And their response to the runaway inflation they’ve created is a bill that experts say will not meaningfully cut inflation at all,” said McConnell. “The American people are clear about their priorities. Environmental regulation is a 3% issue. Americans want solutions for inflation, crime, and the border.”

How the bill addresses the climate crisis

While economists disagree over whether the package would, in fact, live up to its name and reduce inflation, particularly in the short term, the bill would have a crucial impact on reducing carbon emissions.
The nearly $370 billion clean energy and climate package is the largest climate investment in US history, and the biggest victory for the environmental movement since the landmark Clean Air Act. It also comes at a critical time; this summer has seen punishing heat waves and deadly floods across the country, which scientists say are both linked to a warming planet.
Analysis from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office — as well as multiple independent analyses — suggests the measure would reduce US carbon emissions by up to 40% by 2030. Strong climate regulations from the Biden administration and action from states would be needed to get to President Joe Biden’s goal of cutting emissions 50% by 2030.
The bill also contains many tax incentives meant to bring down the cost of electricity with more renewables, and spur more American consumers to switch to electricity to power their homes and vehicles.
Lawmakers said the bill represents a monumental victory and is also just the start of what’s needed to combat the climate crisis.
“This isn’t about the laws of politics, this is about the laws of physics,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii told CNN. “We all knew coming into this effort that we had to do what the science tells us what we need to do.”

Key health care and tax policy in the bill

The bill would empower Medicare to negotiate prices of certain costly medications administered in doctors’ offices or purchased at the pharmacy. The Health and Human Services secretary would negotiate the prices of 10 drugs in 2026, and another 15 drugs in 2027 and again in 2028. The number would rise to 20 drugs a year for 2029 and beyond.
This controversial provision is far more limited than the one House Democratic leaders have backed in the past. But it would open the door to fulfilling a longstanding party goal of allowing Medicare to use its heft to lower drug costs.
Democrats are also planning to extend the enhanced federal premium subsidies for Obamacare coverage through 2025, a year later than lawmakers recently discussed. That way, they wouldn’t expire just after the 2024 presidential election.
To boost revenue, the bill would impose a 15% minimum tax on the income large corporations report to shareholders, known as book income, as opposed to the Internal Revenue Service. The measure, which would raise $258 billion over a decade, would apply to companies with profits over $1 billion.
Concerned about how this provision would affect certain businesses, particularly manufacturers, Sinema has suggested that she won changes to the Democrats’ plan to pare back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes. The details remain unclear.
However, Sinema nixed her party’s effort to tighten the carried interest loophole, which allows investment managers to treat much of their compensation as capital gains and pay a 20% long-term capital gains tax rate instead of income tax rates of up to 37%.
The provision would have lengthened the amount of time investment managers’ profit interest must be held from three years to five years to take advantage of the lower tax rate. Addressing this loophole, which would have raised $14 billion over a decade, had been a longtime goal of congressional Democrats.
In its place, a 1% excise tax on companies’ stock buybacks was added, raising another $74 billion, according to a Democratic aide.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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Opinion: What started in Kansas upends American politics – CNN

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Sign up to get this weekly column as a newsletter. We’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.

(CNN)In “The Wizard of Oz,” a tornado sends Dorothy and her Kansas home spinning into the “Merry Old Land of Oz.” Last week it was what Politico called a “political earthquake” in Kansas that sent the national debate over abortion into a new phase with many unknowns.

For decades, the anti-abortion movement worked to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a national right to abortion. But their long-sought goal, finally achieved in June, may turn out to be a case of “be careful what you wish for.” By a vote of 59% to 41%, the people of Kansas rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have eliminated the right to an abortion.
“It’s a huge victory for abortion rights,” wrote Jill Filipovic. “The result in Kansas confirms that Americans simply do not want an extreme anti-abortion movement regulating women’s bodies. Kansans have said what most Americans believe: abortion is an issue best left to women and their doctors.”
But she added that this was a vote which should never have happened. “Fundamental rights — and it doesn’t get more fundamental than sovereignty over one’s own body — should not be up for a vote, even if the righteous side is likely to win,” Filipovic argued.
Writing for Politico, John F. Harris suggested that the vote in Kansas, along with others that may follow, could scramble the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion overturning Roe. He may go down in history as the “the justice who facilitated a national consensus on behalf of abortion rights. Quite unintentionally, today’s hero of the ‘pro-life’ movement could end up being a giant of the ‘pro-choice’ movement.”
Tuesday’s vote in Kansas, which “mirrors polling showing solid majorities of people supported leaving Roe v. Wade intact, suggests that opponents of legal abortion do better when the prospect of an abortion ban is hypothetical, while abortion-rights supporters do better when the issue is tangibly real,” wrote Harris.
A moderate Republican, former Rep. Charlie Dent, noted that “the overturning of Roe v. Wade has energized a previously demoralized Democratic base and could galvanize college educated suburban women in particular … If the GOP can’t win an abortion fight in Kansas, imagine the difficulty it will face in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”
“Coupled with Trump’s stolen election obsession, mass shootings and a growing number of extreme GOP candidates in competitive races, the unpopularity of the Roe decision may mitigate Democratic losses in November, despite vulnerabilities on a number of other fronts (namely, the economy).”
Dent also faulted Democrats for running ads that backed extreme, election-denying candidates in the GOP primaries in the hope that Democratic candidates could more easily defeat them in the general election. In Michigan, “the courageous freshman Congressman Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump just days after being sworn into Congress, fell to an election-denying candidate, John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who was backed by the former President,” Dent wrote.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $300,000 on ads touting Gibbs’ “conservatism and fidelity to Trump,” wrote Dent. “I’m sure plenty of Democratic operatives are cackling over their success meddling in the GOP primary, but any smugness may turn into deep regret if Gibbs ends up prevailing in November. Those who play with fire often get burned.

For more:
Mary Ziegler and Elizabeth Sepper: The coming state-federal showdown over abortion

Nancy Pelosi drops in

China fired off missiles, flew jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and called off talks with the US on issues such as climate change and military relations. The reason: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.
While Pelosi’s visit sparked apocalyptic warnings and fevered headlines, Taiwanese-American journalist Clarissa Wei wrote that the people of Taiwan are mostly unfazed. “What’s most frustrating about the reaction to Pelosi’s visit is not the prophetic declaration of imminent doom, but the expectation of fear and the surprise that follows when people realize that we aren’t all panicking in Taiwan — as if the calm we exude in light of unprecedented threats is a symptom of our ignorance of the facts before us.”
Threats from China are nothing new. They have been a part of my life, my parents’ lives and their parents’ lives for as long as almost anyone in my family can remember. In fact, Taiwan has been under threat by the People’s Republic of China for nearly 70 years. The three Taiwan Strait crises are proof of that.”

Alex Jones

A Texas jury ordered incendiary radio host Alex Jones to pay a combined $49.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting 10 years ago. Jones’ legal troubles aren’t over by any means: he faces two more such trials.
One of the parents, Scarlett Lewis, even had to testify that her son “Jesse was real. I’m a real mom.”
“It’s an unthinkable statement for a grief-stricken parent to have to make,” wrote Nicole Hemmer, “testifying that her 6-year-old son, murdered while he sat in school, had actually lived, and that she was the woman who had given birth to him and raised him for the too-few years he was alive. But that was the testimony Scarlett Lewis gave this week at a hearing to determine damages against Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and media personality.”

“After 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Jones began to spin lurid conspiracies that the shootings never happened and that the shattered families were simply actors. The conspiracy triggered years of harassment as conspiracists targeted the mourning parents, who have had to hire security to protect themselves.”
But as Hemmer noted, Jones is not a lone fringe player in the media world. He is “part of the right-wing power structure, from his interviews with soon-to-be president Donald Trump to his alleged role as an organizer at the January 6 insurrection.”
“More than that, many in the Republican Party and conservative movement increasingly sound like Jones, with talk of false flags, crisis actors and pedophile rings now a mainstay of right-wing rhetoric. And while the Trump presidency opened the door for the mainstreaming of Jones, it’s important to understand how ripe the GOP was for Alex Jonesification.
In Dallas, the Conservative Political Action Conference gave a warm welcome to Hungary’s autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“The audience cheered him on during his blistering attacks on abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights and more,” Julian Zelizer observed.
“The illiberal and anti-democratic elements of Republican politics, which flared during the Trump presidency, are alive and well. As Orban’s popularity indicates, the profoundly anti-democratic strains that have been shaping the GOP keep getting stronger, not weaker…”
“The talk comes on the same week that several election deniers, as well as participants in the January 6 insurrection, won in the primaries. The assault on the 2020 election continues to be a unifying theme in Republican circles. Even if some Republican voters are tiring of Trump, his rallying cry animates much of the electorate.

Terrorist leader killed

Eleven years after then-President Barack Obama announced the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid, President Joe Biden described the tracking down and elimination of bin Laden’s former associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“The airstrike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend in Afghanistan is part of the long and justified campaign by the United States to bring all the heads of the terror group to justice,” wrote Peter Bergen.
Still, some of the claims about al-Zawahiri’s impact were overblown. “While Zawahiri was influential in the very early years of al Qaeda in turning bin Laden against the regimes in the Middle East, he wasn’t involved in bin Laden’s most important strategic decisions — that is, turning him against the US and planning 9/11. And Zawahiri proved to be an incompetent leader of al Qaeda when he took over the group more than a decade ago.”
Bergen added, “Zawahiri was not a charismatic leader of al Qaeda in the mold of Osama bin Laden. Instead, he had all the charisma of a boring uncle given to long, arcane monologues, someone that you would best avoid sitting next to at Thanksgiving dinner.”

Families in turmoil

Guy Reffitt was sentenced to more than seven years in prison, the longest penalty meted out so far to insurrectionists who took part in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. His son Jackson Reffitt had reported his father to the FBI on Christmas Eve 2020.
“The Reffitts’ story is tragic, but hardly unique,” observed SE Cupp. “Chances are, you probably do know someone who’s been sucked into the cult of Trumpism, as Guy was.
“Maybe it’s an aunt or uncle posting about rigged elections on Facebook, spreading Trump’s lie that the election was stolen…
“Maybe it’s a father, or a mother, or a brother, who’s gone down a QAnon rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, and is no longer attached to reality.”
“The carnage from Trump’s divisive rhetoric, lies, and conspiracy theories is incalculable. Trumpism is a powerful drug, one that can even cause a father to threaten his own child.
This was, incidentally, all by design. Trump stoked the fears and grievances of his base, turned Americans against each other, spread lies and conspiracy theories, undermined our faith in democratic institutions — all so that he could keep his supporters rabid, angry, willing to do whatever he asked. And sadly, many of them did.”
For more:

Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols

On and off the field, Bill Russell was a leader. On and off the screen, Nichelle Nichols was an inspirational role model. Both died last weekend.
Peniel Joseph recalled Russell’s contributions as an athlete and a crusader against racism. “Russell was a 6-foot-10 center whose defensive prowess, rebounding skills and all-around leadership propelled the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 years,” Joseph wrote. “As if appearing in a news reel of the most significant events of the civil rights era, he was present, time and again, at key moments for the movement, from the March on Washington in 1963 to his visit to Mississippi that same year following the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers…”
Over the years, he never lost his willingness to call out racism, or a perceived indifference to it. In recent years, he chided White Americans for their incredulity — in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the racial and political reckoning that followed — about the existence of systemic racism.”
When “Star Trek” premiered in 1966, one of the cast members “was the cool, sultry, supremely self-possessed Lt. Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, still a relative newcomer to television,” Gene Seymour recalled. In an era when the civil rights movement achieved its biggest successes, Nichols’ role had a symbolic significance. Yet “she was discouraged by her lines being cut from some of the episodes and was ready to move on to the Broadway stage. And she would have left if she hadn’t met a die-hard ‘Trek’ fan at an NAACP fundraiser in Hollywood: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”
King “told her that he and his family enjoyed watching ‘Trek’ and rooted for her playing a non-stereotypical Black character. She thanked him but said she was on her way out,” Seymour wrote.
“‘You cannot and must not!'” Nichols recalled King saying in her autobiography. “‘Don’t you realize how important your presence, your character is? Don’t you see? This is not a Black role, and this is not a female role… You have broken ground. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people — as we should be.'”
Nichols stayed with the show for its remaining two seasons and later would embrace “her importance as an inspiration and role model for young Black people whose dreams of space science and travel were emboldened by her character’s futuristic adventures.”

Don’t miss

AND…

Lizzo and Beyoncé heard her

It’s no easy task — getting the attention of two of the world’s biggest music superstars. And even more impressive, getting them to make changes in their work.
Yet Hannah Diviney, a disability activist in Australia, accomplished just that.
She called out Lizzo and Beyoncé on Twitter for including an offensive term referring to her disability in recent albums. Both artists soon responded and revised their songs’ lyrics.
“Words matter,” Diviney wrote. “They always have and they always will. Language is one of the few tools in the world most people can wield with ease and on social media even more so. That’s why it’s worth paying attention to how we use it. That’s why my mom always taught me the pen was mightier than the sword. If anything, this week has taught me that thanks to social media and the power of a well-crafted tweet, we have access to the mightiest pens of all. And that’s why I hope we can use this global attention to have bigger conversations about the inequalities disabled people face. From little things, big things grow.”

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Tory leadership hopefuls say it’s time for unity. Here’s what some say that means

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OTTAWA — When three Conservative leadership hopefuls met this past week for a debate, the same word kept getting repeated.

Unity. Or more precisely, the need for it.

In a contest largely seen as a battle for the party’s soul, which has put decades-old fissures on display between groups that make up its very coalition, what might it take to achieve unity after results are revealed Sept. 10?

As that question lingers, many in the party and beyond are preparing for a scenario in which Pierre Poilievre takes victory.

Much of that thinking is based on the longtime MP’s popularity with the existing grassroots, coupled with his ability to draw big crowds and sell what his campaign claims to have been more than 300,000 memberships.

But after winning comes the challenge of leading.

“Somebody has to give some thought to the morning after,” said Garry Keller, former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, who served as the party’s interim leader after it lost government in 2015.

Of the 118 other members in caucus, a whopping 62 endorsed Poilievre. That’s compared to the party’s 2020 leadership race when the caucus was more evenly split between Peter MacKay and the eventual winner, Erin O’Toole.

O’Toole’s inability to manage caucus after losing the 2021 election to the Liberals ultimately led to his downfall. He was forced out by a vote from his MPs under provisions in the Reform Act, measures which will remain in place for the next leader.

Poilievre has said his campaign message of “freedom” serves as a great unifier among Conservatives. However, Keller said if some in caucus are taking that to mean they will be able to say whatever they want on social media, they shouldn’t.

“I think people will be solely disabused of that notion.”

Poilievre and his supporters have throughout the race been accused of sowing disunity in the party by instigating personal attacks against rivals, namely ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest. 

Most recently, MPs endorsing Poilievre — along with Scott Aitchison, a rural Ontario representative and fellow leadership competitor — have called into question whether Charest, who has spent the past 20 years out of federal politics, plans to stick around the party after the race is over.

Longtime British Columbia MP Ed Fast, a co-chair on Charest’s campaign, tweeted “the purity tests must stop” and cautioned party members that when Conservatives are divided, Liberals win.

Fast himself resigned from his role as finance critic after criticizing Poilievre’s vow to fire the Bank of Canada governor, which ruffled some feathers inside caucus.

“It’s a sad situation that Jean Charest, a patriot and champion of Canadian unity, continues to have his loyalty questioned by party members looking to stoke division,” said Michelle Coates Mather, a spokeswoman for his campaign.

“What’s the endgame here exactly? Lose the next federal election by alienating Conservative members who support Charest? Seems a poor strategy for a party looking to expand their base and win a federal election.”

While Poilievre enjoys the majority support of the party’s caucus, most of the party’s 10 Quebec MPs are backing Charest, opening the question of what happens next if he is not successful.

Asked recently about that possibility, MP Alain Rayes, who is organizing on Charest’s campaign, expressed confidence in the former Quebec premier’s chances, saying the party doesn’t need “American-style divisive politics.”

“I’m deeply convinced that our members will make the right choice,” he said in a statement.

The group Centre Ice Conservatives, a centre-right advocacy group formed during the leadership race, contends the party has room to grow if it leaves the fringes and concentrates on issues that matter in the mainstream.

Director Michael Stuart says both Charest and Poilievre have policies that speak to the centrists, and what they’re hearing from supporters of their group is a desire for more focus on “dinner table issues,” such as economic growth and jobs.

“There’s a lot of distraction with noise around vaccines and the convoy and those sorts of things.”

Not only did Poilievre support the “Freedom Convoy,” he used his message of “freedom” to campaign on the anger and frustration people felt because of government-imposed COVID-19 rules, like vaccine and mask mandates.

How he will handle social conservatives also remains an open question.

Poilievre has pledged no government led by him would introduce or pass legislation restricting abortion access.

Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition, said many of those who strongly oppose vaccine mandates also share values with social conservatives.

“They are largely pro-freedom, pro-family, and yes, even pro-life and pro-faith,” he said.

Social conservatives have traditionally been a well-mobilized part of the party’s base during leadership contests and helped deliver wins for O’Toole and former leader Andrew Scheer, who is now helping Poilievre in the race.

While Fonseca and other anti-abortion groups are encouraging members to pick social conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis as their first choice, he said the “freedom conservatives” Poilievre recruited will expect results.

That includes giving Lewis a critic role, he said.

“He will be forced to face that reality and to deliver policy commitments to the freedom conservatives and social conservatives that are his base.”

“If it doesn’t, the peril is you become a flip-flopper like Erin O’Toole,” he said, referring to walk-backs the former leader made on promises after winning the leadership.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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