Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In keeping with the lighter vein I've been on lately, let's look at the political ramifications of nepotistic hackery - but via a scene from The Venture Bros., a superlative parody of the Jonny Quest style of heroic adventure animation popular in the 1970s, and itself a further spin on the tropes popularized by the character of Doc Savage and his pulp imitators in the 30s and 40s. A finer series, so pitch-perfect in both its satiric and earnestly thematic elements, is probably not to be found in Cartoon Network's lineup. In this episode, the incompetent Dr. Venture has been sought out by reclusive, disabled and not at all similar to Walt Disney, oh my, no theme park magnate Roy Brisby, with an offer to buy the entire research work of his Doc Savage-like super-scientist father on cloning: Dr. Venture: Well, I don't know if I've kept any of Dad's old notes. Mr. Brisby: Don't play coy with me; of course you kept them! You've been riding his corpse's coattails your entire adult life! Dr. Venture: Hey! Where do you get off? You don't know me! Mr. Brisby: Oh, I know you, Dr. Venture. My researchers are very thorough. For instance, you're not actually a doctor of anything. You never finished school. I also know that since you took over Venture Industries, profits have gone... Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. (On the fictional side of things, as long as I'm making topical viewing suggestions, see also: Development, Arrested.) Dynasties - especially the political or corporate varieties - are tricky things, aren't they? Name recognition may get you in the door, but you'd better be able to perform once sitting in the big chair. George Bush used to get a lot of flack for being "Junior," imagined by opponents to be a lesser clone of his father - at least, considerably more than now, on that particular angle of attack. Likewise the current Mayor Daley of Chicago, who lost his first bid for Daley Senior's old job, only to later start a similar streak; tying dear old Dad's 21-year record will take only until 2010, at this point. On the other hand, you can also have scions that screw up the whole family gig with pervasive mediocrity, like Ohio Governor Bob Taft, who's probably retroactively damaged the reputation of his great-grandfather. Or, in the Canadian context, Paul Martin. Some pundits - Warren Kinsella immediately comes to mind, but there are others - seem to take perverse glee in naming the PM as "Paul Martin Junior" when they really want to twist the knife vis-à-vis the scandal of the day. I can't; not only is it untrue - his father's middle names differ - but calling attention to his father's career and reputation is a needlessly petty way to casually belittle the man. At least, it is when he does such a good job of riding that corpse's coattails all by himself: "What if decades ago, Tommy Douglas and my father and Lester Pearson had considered the idea of medicare and then said, 'Forget it, let's just give people 25 bucks a week?"' Martin asked. Well, I daresay we'd have a less neurotic country today, sans the myth of increasingly-inefficient socialized medicine justifying an undeserved self-image of Canada the Good, but that's neither here nor there. No, my issue with random accusation of Stephen Harper will destroy Canada! #253 is the name-dropping of his father's reputation: Why? Why does he do this? The senior Martin, whatever the popular legend of his being his generation's Saviour of the Liberal Party, never actually managed that feat, and his son's done a pretty thoroughly mediocre job of pulling it off himself. As Kinsella, for one, is delighted to remind anyone and everyone at any opportunity, Paul Martin's major accomplishment as leader has been the palace coup that put him in power and forced the Chretienite wing of the Liberals into exile. It's not as if he's even run a particularly competent campaign so far; as Bob Tarantino notes today, he's now seeming so politically tone-deaf (invoking the name of Mike Harris, which, while it might fire up the die-hard Liberal base with loyal baying for right-wing blood, has a reasonable chance of backfiring with the undecided Ontario middle who re-elected Harris in 1999 for law-and-order reasons in a climate not far off from today's) it's astounding. One has to wonder, at this point, about where the fabled Martin reputation for political brilliance was even born; the Hidden Agenda trope that won last time was the rhetorical equivalent of a baseball bat. Without benefit of Harper or loudmouth Tory backbenchers shooting the CPC in the foot, and subsequently being forced to improve his game, it now seems that wildly swinging such blunt instruments might actually be the limit of the PM's tactical finesse. Between the seemingly improving-and-stabilizing poll numbers, and poor Liberal performance so far, I think I'm prepared to say that this election is now Stephen Harper's to lose - and while there's still probably a better-than-even chance of that, if so, it certainly won't be because of Martin's vaunted political acumen or crack campaign team. A dynasty is a terrible thing to waste, no?

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