It’s a mutually-reinforcing conceit, former Bill Clinton advisor Dick Morris once observed. Politicians and their staff pride themselves on their ability to manipulate the media and – through them – the public. And the media revels in the fact that their journalism is “worthy of the skills of great manipulators.”
You can see this dynamic at work on the Parti Quebecois’ racist “Charter,” whose much-publicized propaganda poster would have read better in its original Bavarian dialect.
Many media are now shaking their heads in admiration at the separatists’ clever manipulations. If people outside Quebec object to the Charter – which bans religious symbols like crosses and kippahs in the public sector – well, then, it’ll whip up pro-secession sentiment, and the clever Parti Québécois will benefit. And if they don’t object? Well, it shows that Canada is a paper tiger, and the clever PQ will benefit.
Except this: politicians and their advisors misjudge all the time. Despite their clever manipulations, things can go dramatically wrong for them. Here’s ten:
1. Private sector votes with its feet: Already, this seems likely. Many Quebecois remember what happened the last time the separatists sought to divide civil society – they propelled businesses, people and capital down the 401 to Toronto. If PQ storm troopers start arresting or fining people for wearing turbans, an exodus is unavoidable.
2. Americans object: Quebec, like Canada, is unduly preoccupied with U.S. opinion. When President Bill Clinton expressed disapproval about a sovereign Quebec during the 1995 referendum, it helped turn the tide against the separatists. Now, the New York Times has taken note, in a story headlined “Quebec Calls for Ban on Wearing Symbols of Faith.” Other Americans will too.
3. International community objects: The United Nations – with which Quebeckers have greater affinity than others – will be petitioned to intervene. The “Charter” inarguably violates section 18 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights: that section promotes religious freedom, and “manifesting” one’s religion “in public or private.”
4. Famous people object: Actors and rock stars – as Fort McMurray learned this week – command headlines. They get more coverage than politicians do. If Stephen Spielberg refuses to film his next blockbuster in Quebec because public policy is possibly being lifted from der Sturmer, it’ll hurt the PQ – big time.
5. Religious figures object: PQ ministers are presently indifferent to what garden-variety clergy have to say – but what if every priest, minister, rabbi, imam and Sikh pathie condemns the scheme from the pulpit? What if revered figures, like Bishop Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis, do likewise?
6. Friendly fire: To the surprise of many, one (former) Bloc Québécois MP expressed serious reservations – and was expelled for saying the law will do “grave” damage to the separatist cause. And big-name PQ advisors, like Josee Legault, called it “incoherent and absurd.” Given the half-baked nature of the Charter’s rollout, more friendly fire is likely.
7. Leaks: Where there are governments and controversy, there are leaks. It’s inevitable that memoranda will seep out of Quebec City, showing officials – elected and otherwise – objecting to the xenophobic plot.
8. Litigation lags: The PQ is counting on the Supreme Court finding their intended law unconstitutional, to provoke a Quebec-versus-Canada confrontation. But the PQ posses only a minority – and they may be defeated before the desired constitutional challenges ever take place.
9. Extremist flare-ups: Inevitably, there will be demonstrations and counter-demonstrations – and a pro-PQ activist will say something that is wildly racist, impolitic, or both, on-camera. It’s happened before, as when a PQ minister made her condescending “Yvettes” comment during the 1980 referendum. It’ll happen again.
10. Public opinion changes: More and more, pollsters are getting it wrong – in Quebec, too. Public opinion is wildly in flux, all the time. What is popular now can be less so in weeks.
Will any of these come to pass? You can count on it.
And the Parti Quebecois’ clever manipulators won’t look so clever then, will they?