There’s a scene in the legendary movie, “On the Waterfront,” a scene described by many critics as one of the more famous in cinematic history, that reminds me, with a touch of admitted exaggeration, of the unfortunate timing of the NDP’s technical knock-out (TKO in boxing parlance) last fall that drove the party to the mat in its never-ending fight for credibility and substantial success in the Newfoundland political ring.
Terry, the former boxer, played brilliantly by Marlon Brando, is sitting in the back seat of a cab with his brother Charlie, played by Rod Steiger, and is sadly reflecting on the fact that when he was primed for a run at the championship years previous, he was ordered to take a dive.
“Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’ You remember that? ‘This ain’t your night.’ My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. … I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
Now I’m not suggesting the NDP in Newfoundland has disappeared into political Palooka-ville, or that its supporters have bum status.
But there’s little doubt that the NDPers had the opportunity, the timing was there, they could have taken a run at the championship, they were “contenders,” just like Terry, until the two Charlies, Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore, those two opportunists in the political fight game, brought them down unceremoniously; created a dive scenario.
And it will be some time, if ever, before the NDP earns that kind of opening again.
The title shot would have been there for a legitimate crack if Kirby and Mitchelmore hadn’t sucker-punched Lorraine Michael. And it’s never been more evident than it is now that the fallout may have cost the NDP a legitimate trip to the winner’s podium.
The Tories are in plunge mode: Kathy Dunderdale went down for the count, the subsequent leadership contest was a farce and Frank Coleman has tripped all over himself just getting into the ring.
And Dwight Ball of the Liberals hasn’t reminded anyone of “Rocky,” if I can be allowed still another boxing metaphor.
The two leaders of the traditional parties are not exactly serving up memories of past successful predecessors in their positions.
But the NDP is still struggling, barely able to stay on its feet.
The NDP fan club members do not need to be reminded that it wasn’t all that long ago that they were No. 1 in the polls, Michael was the most popular leader; it was a lofty time for the NDP, a time of unprecedented, upper-echelon status. Just maybe, they had to be thinking, the province might give them a chance to govern.
So, now, with the Tories in trouble and the Liberals hardly lighting the political landscape afire, the NDP has to be wondering: what if?
The NDP rank and file (well, actually, 125 of them) tried hard last weekend in their revival meeting to convince themselves and the province that the hangover from the infamous caucus bender was wearing off, that they had swallowed a few straighteners, that the fog was lifting, that the future remained bright for the party.
And you can’t blame them. What political party wouldn’t attempt the same cheerleading routine?
But perhaps it was time for a real shocking revival, a start from scratch: the dramatic appointment of a new leader. Not because Michael has been a flop. Far from it. She’s smart. She had much of the electorate behind her at one point. The polls showed that. But the dark cloud from the attempted coup still hangs in the air above her seat; it’s not going away any time soon. And sometimes it takes a jaw-dropping decision to turn a political party’s fortunes around. A brand new leader might have been the sort of restart the party needed.
The NDPers, though, took the gracious route and gave Michael a continuing shot.
You may admire the loyalty. But it could amount to loyalty to a fault.
Sometimes ice water in the veins, a philosophical coldness, can constitute the most beneficial approach in decision-making.
There’s another exchange in “On the Waterfront” in which Edie, played by the tremendous and lovely actress, Eva Marie Saint, is doing her own appraisal of Terry.
“I’ve never met anyone like you. There’s not a spark of sentiment or romance or human kindness in your whole body. “
Terry responds: “What good does it do you but get you in trouble?”
And he continues at another point: “Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.”
That kind of coolness, a detachment of practicality, might have helped the party last weekend.
NDPers: they coulda been contenders.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.