home | about | archives | forum | submit

Why Monte Solberg's name should be added to Roget's Thesaurus

Stephen Gowans

m. Roget. I have a new entry for you to add to your thesaurus. Under sycophant, next to toady, lickspittle, bootlicker, ass-kisser, brown-noser, apple-polisher, fawner, suck-up and flatterer please add Monte Solberg. Examples of proper usage follow:

"He Solberged that guy. His head was so far up his ass, you wouldn't know his natural color is blond."

"If you want a raise, just do a Monte Solberg."

"Sad to say, it's the Monte Solberg's that get ahead in the world today."

In case you're wondering, M. Roget, allow me to explain who Mr. Solberg is. Monte, as he is sometimes known, is a politician. Which means he's oily, unctuous, duplicitous, double-dealing, Janus-faced, equivocal, slimy, untrustworthy, and backstabbing. I'm sure you could suggest other synonyms.

He's also, as I've said, a sycophant, toady, lickspittle, bootlicker, ass-kisser, brown-noser, apple-polisher, fawner, suck-up and flatterer. An altogether nasty collection of synonyms.

Mr. Solberg used to be a member of Canada's Alliance Party, a socially conservative collection of chronically dyspeptic people bearing grievances against those who enjoy few privileges, have a different cultural heritage, and haven't done as well by the good old traditional values as they have. Mr. Solberg's party billed itself as the party of anti-politicians. They swore they weren't oily, unctuous, duplicitous, double-dealing, Janus-faced, equivocal, slimy, untrustworthy, or back-stabbing, although it wasn't long before their oiliness, duplicity, double-dealing and back-stabbing became plain, or obvious, manifest, clear, limpid, or conspicuous, as you might say.

Mr. Solberg's party, my dear M. Roget, was once called the Reform Party. Reform, as you know, means to improve, better, ameliorate, correct, set right, or fix. Except the Reform Party's program was designed to injure, impair, mar, worsen, undermine and vitiate the lives of the majority ­- hardly reform at all. Still, the designation Reform wasn't a complete fallacy. What you had to ask was, Who exactly does the Reform Party propose to carry out reforms on behalf of? Reform politicians, in an oily, unctuous, duplicitous, double-dealing, Janus-faced, equivocal, slimy, untrustworthy, and back-stabbing sort of way let on that they were setting out to improve everyone's lives, when in fact, it was the lives of the wealthy they were really interested in reforming. The Reform program involved worsening the lives of everyone else, by dismantling public health care, giving schools less money, and privatizing pensions, to free up money for whopping tax cuts for the rich. Reform was really the "Reform The Rich, Injure Everyone Else Party", but reform sounds so much nicer than injure, so Reform it was.

The first leader of the party was a near-geek named Preston Manning. A man of dubious charms, Mr. Manning once mused that all the leaders of all the world's great religions should sit down and thrash out which is the one true religion. Being a devout Christian (that is a person Christ would immediately renounce as an insufferable, mean-spirited, grasping bigot who puts form above substance) Manning was certain Christ's team would carry the day. Notions of one truth are dear to Mr. Manning's political comrades.

Manning promised all kinds of anti-politician reforms. He would sit in the backbenches with ordinary members of the Reform caucus. He wouldn't move into Stornaway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition -­ a mansion. Reform Party MPs wouldn't participate in the MP's pension program. But before long, Manning was sitting on the frontbenches, had moved himself into Stornaway, and Reform MPs had opted into the pension plan. All of which established the rule: Any politician who claims not to be a politician is, ipso facto, a politician.

Reform Party MPs settled pretty well into Ottawa, except for one constant problem, a nettle that vexed them incessantly, like a stone in your shoe. They couldn't seem to win enough seats to form the government.

In a case of colossally dim-witted analysis, it was decided the reason Reformers couldn't win was because conservatives were splitting their votes between the Reform Party and the older Progressive Conservative Party. The real reason was that people from Ontario and Quebec, the most populous provinces, and key to any electoral victory, distrusted the Reform Party, seeing it as a gaggle of disgruntled anti-Eastern westerners intent on making central Canada eat humble pie. Still, the illusion of conservatives splitting their vote held sway, and the thinking went that if the two parties could merge, the boil of electoral defeat could be lanced. And so Dr. Manning, scalpel in hand, set out to lance the boil. The result was not what he intended.

Rather than uniting the right, as the project called for, what Manning ended up with was the same party, under a different name, and himself ousted as leader. He would have plenty of time to contemplate which was the one true religion, for a young, energetic, un-geek like successor, Stockwell Day, would take over. He probably wished he hadn't. From day one, the party's future was cloudy. It's original name, quickly and mercifully euthanized once party members realized the monster they had coaxed into the world, was the Canadian Reform Alliance Party -­ C.R.A.P. The name had the virtue of honesty, but as honesty is a liability in politics, it was quickly snuffed out. Alliance would stand as the party name, a brave, but pointless attempt to suggest that the new party was any more than an alliance of the same old Reform Party members.

Another election came and went, the Alliance Party failed once again, its ship foundering on the shoals of Ontario and Quebec in a reprise of the last election. All was ripe for mutiny, and a mutiny soon came. Displeased with their new helmsman, some Alliance MP's brought out the plank, and poking Stockwell Day with a cutlass, tried to force him off the ship. Among the mutineers, M. Roget, was Monte himself.

Today Monte sits as an MP in a new party -­ the Democratic Representative Caucus, former Alliance MPs who didn't poke Stockwell Day quite hard enough while he was on the plank, and, for their botched attempts at mutiny, were purged from the party.

Which brings us to the reason, M. Roget, that Monte deserves to become an eponymous equivalent of toady.

Just the other day, the dream of a united right still not dead, the Democratic Representative Caucus and the Progressive Conservative caucus met to see whether they could hammer out a common position on the NMD ­- the National Missile Defense. The question: Should Canada support Washington's planned missile shield, or not?

The NMD, M. Roget, in case you haven't heard, is a hare-brained, moronic, imbecilic, dim-witted, half-witted, absurd, ridiculous, risible but also dangerous, hazardous, perilous, treacherous, and unsafe plan to shoot incoming ballistic missiles out of the sky. As it would involve breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, it is also illegal, unlawful, criminal, illicit, nefarious and illegitimate. Although perilous and half-baked, for the colossal and overfed US defense industry it stands to be lucrative, fruitful, profitable, remunerative, profit fattening, and altogether financially attractive, which accounts for why such a dumb, unworkable, and potentially apocalyptic idea obstinately survives in a very robust form. You see, M. Roget, in the world's greatest democracy, profits, not people, count.

In short, the NMD is a system that doesn't work (every realistic test has failed and the only tests that haven't are completely unrealistic) to be used against an enemy that doesn't exist (who exactly is going to lob a missile at the US when to do so would guarantee immediate annihilation?) It's billed as a defensive shield, but whether it's defensive or not depends on the context. A suit of armor will protect you from a few blows from a sword, but if a sword-wielding opponent is encased in nothing more substantial than a cotton shirt and flimsy trousers, the entire complexion of the confrontation changes. The balance of power, as political scientists say, shifts.

A defensive shield then, the NMD is, but it's a defensive shield that lets you strike first, while having some measure of protection against retaliation. In case you think the U.S. would never launch a first strike, M. Roget, remember that Washington refuses to renounce the right to strike first. Or just remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The fly in the ointment is something called swarming. It's the equivalent of saying to the knight with the newly developed suit of armor, "Okay, maybe I don't have armor myself, but I'm building these catapults, and they can send boulders hurtling your way." In other words, the NMD raises the stakes, encouraging the Russians and Chinese and anyone else who feels threatened by the U.S. to build more and deadlier nuclear weapons to "swarm" the American missile shield. Anyone concerned about global security is justifiably worried.

So here we are with a proposal to sink billions into the defense industry with a lame-brained plan that will spark a new arms race and squander billions that might be put to use more humanely, like rescuing 80 million Americans from inadequate health care, when along comes Monte Solberg and says, "Doesn't it make sense to state publicly that we support NMD? If it's going that way in any event, maybe we should have jumped on the bandwagon sooner." And why should "we" have jumped on the bandwagon sooner? Because as every toady and bootlicker knows, the best way to be fed scraps from the master's table is to agree to everything the master proposes...especially if he's going to go ahead with his proposal anyway. That's just smart.

I invite you, M. Roget, to conduct a thought experiment. Imagine Monte Solberg as a politician in one of the countries overrun by the Nazis in W.W. II. As the former government meets to decide what to do about the Nazi's demand that the Jews of the country be given up to be transported to Auschwitz or some other grim charnel house, some argue the Nazi's ultimatum should be resisted on moral grounds. But not our Monte Solberg. Instead, Monte asks, "Doesn't it make sense to state publicly that we support the Nazi position on the Jewish question? If it's going that way in any event, maybe we should have jumped on the bandwagon sooner."

It might be thought that I mean to compare Monte Solberg to a Nazi, at the very least an anti-Semite. Not at all. I doubt, were Monty, the politician, around at the time, that he'd have had any thoughts on Nazism, good or bad, except that the Nazis were a force to be reckoned and if you didn't become part of their (final) solution you'd become part of their problem, so best to go along, and hang morality and what is just and what is right. Besides, there might be a cushy position in the occupation government for someone who plays their cards right.

What I mean to compare Monte to is a Nazi-collaborator. Collaborating with Washington's schemes to perilously throw the world into the pit of a nuclear holocaust, so that General Electric's shares can rise in value and the United States can become even more of a hegemon, strikes me as little different than collaborating with the Nazis, expect that Washington's holocaust stands to be a little bigger.

Some politicians, Monte Solberg included, argue that what sets them apart from run-of-the mill politicians is the matter of principles. They have them, and other politicians don't. In fact, that's one of the defining characteristics of traditional politicians­ - no principles. But principle, Monte's words to the contrary, is not what Monte Solberg is all about. Pity.

Remember Brian Mulroney's famous dressing down of then Prime Minister John Turner for making patronage appointments? Turner said he had no choice. "Ah, but you had a choice, Mr. Turner," reminded Mulroney, his finger wagging indignantly at an obviously flummoxed prime minister. "You could have said it was wrong for Canada." Mulroney was reminding Turner that principles should have a place in politics, that it's not good enough to say, "I had no choice."

Of course, Mulroney later showed this was all pure theatre. After trouncing Turner in the election that followed, the new prime minister made a fetish of licking the backside of America's then supremo, Ronald Reagan. Sucking up to the Americans is good for jobs, declared Mulroney, and any thought of refusing to do what was wrong for Canada thawed as quickly as the last thin layer of ice on a Manicouagan lake on a late spring day. Sucking up to Americans also turned out to be pretty good for an ambitious son of an electrician from Bai Comeau looking for lucrative corporate appointments and an in with America's political and corporate elite.

Still, while only theatre, Mulroney's "you could have said it was wrong for Canada," did stand as a reminder of what politics could be, were it practiced with an eye on principle, rather than on toadying to powerful forces, doing what was smart, expedient, judicious, and politic -- which more often than not means giving the powerful what they demand -- rather than what is right, just and moral ­- which usually means making life better and more secure for all of us, rather than just a few.

Monte would have the Canadian government go right along Solberging itself to powerful forces: the White House, General Electric, McDonnel-Douglas, Raytheon, the banks, the WTO, the IMF, giving up whatever the rich and powerful demand as their due, usually money, or agreement not to stand in the way of their profit-making schemes, no matter how immoral, perilous or destructive.

For Solberg principles are for saps, the doughy-headed people who live in an airy-fairy world of justice and morality, not the hard, unforgiving world of reality, where might makes right, and those who stand in the way of the powerful get crushed, while those who are "helpful" are rewarded. The only principle his world allows is the principle, as writer William Blum once put it, that the rest of us, "who must subsist on the table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by serving the rich bigger meals." If that, M. Roget, isn't toadying, what is?

So M. Roget, I ask that beside toady, sycophant, and bootlick, you add Monte Solberg. I think Monte's name deserves to be elevated to the status of an eponym. Don't you?

Steve Gowans calls himself a radical, but others just call him contrary and a pain-in-the-ass. He can be reached at

home / about / archives / forum / submit