I was so busy over the past few weeks stuffing my gob with turkey and dressing — the heartburn from the latter was well worth it — that I almost missed word of the first public gathering in St. John’s of a new combatant in the political wars of Newfoundland, an outfit calling itself NL Alliance.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only Christmas celebrant either oblivious to the activities of this fledgling crowd of politicians, or else knew of its existence but did not give a hoot about its inaugural get-together for tea and crumpets at a local hotel. It seems a grand total of two dozen supporters showed up for this poor man’s version of a pep rally, barely enough for a darts tournament.
The head of NL Alliance, Graydon Pelley, is the former president of the province’s Progressive Conservative Party. (Political executives in Newfoundland are never household names, and usually have powder-puff influence on government policies). He must have felt like Rodney Dangerfield as he stood in front of his tiny audience, including the nomadic MHA, Paul Lane.
Dangerfield, many of the 50-and-over set might recall, was a tremendously funny stand-up comedian — yes, I know, humour is a very subjective matter — in a politically incorrect era (a delightful era, at that) whose schtick consisted of an enormous degree self-deprecation, with the mantra: “I don’t get no respect.”
Examples of his twisted psyche:
• “I told my psychiatrist everyone disliked me. He said: ‘Don’t be ridiculous, everyone hasn’t met you yet.’”
• “I could tell my parents hated me. My bathtub toys were a toaster and a radio.”
• “My wife and I were happy for 20 years. And then we met.”
What we need, and have needed for decades, is a nasty, tough opposition, a media overflowing with skepticism , and a public that refuses to be hypnotized by grandiose verbiage and slick sales jobs.
Now, I guess it would be unkind and unfair — and even premature — to start poking fun at what I’m sure Pelley would consider to be the most sincere and laudable of mandates. Unfortunately, in a racket where platitudes reign supreme, he has taken hackneyed phraseology to a new, unappealing level, and it’s difficult not to start the mockery ball rolling.
NL Alliance’s statement of purpose reads like something you might expect from the Man of La Mancha, Premier Don Quixote himself: “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe.”
In fact, I defy you to read the Gospel According to Graydon without striking up a joint and putting on an old CD of Bob Dylan singing a few verses of his iconic ode of the ’60s: “The Times They Are a-Changin’”
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown.
Hey, Dylan himself — the Minnesota hero to a generation — would probably conclude there’s nothing shabby or understated about the goals and aspirations of the NL Alliance, merely to:
• commit to holding true to the meaning of honesty, transparency, accountability and open government.
• defend peace, freedom, democracy, equality and diversity. (Did Newfoundland quietly join the United Nations?)
• regard the physical, mental, emotional and economic well-being of every Newfoundlander to be our greatest responsibility.
The only thing missing is a psalm, as in: “Blessed are the naive and gullible for they shall attract not a vote.”
Look, there’s no doubt Newfoundland has been struggling under one form of political mismanagement or another for centuries, and that we appear to be a crowd of masochists, a half million strong (or weak), seemingly attracted to one saviour after another.
But does Pelley and the NL Alliance really believe they can turn over this old rock of ours and discover a political Shangri-La, that a fancy turn of phrase here and there can cause a revolution in this desperate land of ours?
Or that a party caucus and/or cabinet can reach the pinnacle of success with love-ins; that they can stroke themselves to success?
Afraid not, Pelley. Good try, though. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame — your Brad Cabana moment in the fog.
What we need, and have needed for decades, is a nasty, tough opposition, a media overflowing with skepticism, and a public that refuses to be hypnotized by grandiose verbiage and slick sales jobs.
Civility be damned.
Platitudes be damned.
To conclude with another Rodney Dangerfield quote: “The way my luck is running, if I was a politician, I’d be honest.”
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