George Bush is a moron (if not clinically, then at least in the common usage of that word). Dick Cheney is a greedhead. The American government is run by a bunch of rich assholes, for the benefit of a bunch of other rich assholes. Missile defence is an idiotic idea.

None of the above is particularly newsworthy, as far as I can tell, and despite my blunt phrasing, I’m unlikely to be challenged very vigorously on any of the above assertions because for a substantial chunk of Canadian society, these ideas are simple, uncontroversial and accepted.

So why does Carolyn Parrish get raked over the coals by the prime minister and the media for giving an everyday voice to what many of us believe to be true?

In case you’ve been deprived of newspapers and television for the past two weeks, here’s a capsule of the events I’m talking about: on Aug. 25, Parrish addressed a rally on the subject of the American plan to build a missile-defence shield in space: “We are not joining the coalition of the idiots,” she said.

You’d have thought she’d wished for a loss by Canada’s World Cup hockey team from the response: front-page headlines discussed her indelicacy, The Globe and Mail editorial board and several of their columnists chastised her “stupidity” (John Ibbitson’s word — speaking of indelicacy) and Prime Minister Paul Martin demanded she apologize to the Americans for her comments. To her credit, she refused to back away from her choice of language.

Of course, plain-talking Parrish has been in this kind of trouble before. As the Globe puts it, “She created an international incident last year by saying: ‘Damn Americans. I hate those bastards,’ in reference to the war in Iraq.” Then, as now, she refused to perform penance, instead making an appearance on Mike Bullard’s show to gloat about her potty mouth. Good on her.

Parrish is a constituency MP, not our ambassador to the US, not the foreign affairs or defence minister. It’s fitting that in speaking her mind on behalf of her constituents, she stays away from the convoluted doublespeak that passes for political rhetoric these days and, instead, calls ’em like she sees ’em.

It’s strange, considering how much ink we spill justifiably whining about how politicians never tell the truth, at least not that anyone can determine from their circumloquacious hemming and hawing — remember all the headlines about “Fiberals” and the current US controversy over the extent of John Kerry’s war injuries — that whenever one does tell the truth about how they feel, and puts it in language their constituents can relate to, we get so self-righteously outraged.

Something similar happened in the US recently to Theresa Heinz-Kerry at the US Democratic convention when she told a reporter to shove it, and became the story of the convention. Likewise, and being fair to a certain moron, there was an outcry when George W. Bush was overheard by a live microphone calling a reporter from The New York Times an asshole a few years ago.

And then there’s former Chrétien advisor Françoise Ducros, who was forced to resign in 2002 after a private conversation in which she called Bush a moron was leaked to the press. Ducros in that case did apologize, profusely, but apparently the international fallout from her statement was too big to wait out (despite the fact that the low wattage of Dubya’s bulb has long been accepted and commented on by the press — it’s just when an official puts it in everday language, in this case privately, that it’s a no-no).

In fact, the more you look, the more it seems that for all our complaining, we really don’t like it when politicians just tell us the truth in language we understand. Which seems to jibe with what political analysts tell us about why politicians talk around and around a question instead of ever giving a straight answer: when you give a straight answer, shit rains down on you in floods from the heavens. When you cloud everything over in qualifiers and euphemism, no one calls you on it. How would you talk if you were a politician?

Very few column inches have been devoted in the last year and a half to dissecting America’s Newspeak phrase “coalition of the willing,” and all the big-money arm-twisting and Potemkin legitimacy that phrase was constructed to obscure. But when Parrish plays on the phrase to make a straightforward point — well, you see the results.

If Parrish had instead come up with something delicately constructed and sensitive to international geopolitical feelings, if she had said, for example, that “It’s not necessarily my opinion that missile defence will provide an effective deterrent to the threats global society currently faces, and while we’ll certainly be watching technological and diplomatic developments as they unfold, I’m not confident in saying I can wholeheartedly support such an initiative at this time,” there’d have been no controversy. But of course, none of the rest of us would have any damn clue what she was going on about. At a rally, such a familiar construction doesn’t exactly invite chanting and applause.

All of which simply contributes to the much-talked-about cynicism of the electorate.

That’s why, instead of crucifying politicians when they tell us bluntly what their position is, we should celebrate them. Instead of a page-one headline that reads “Parrish defies Martin in US ‘idiots’ uproar,” we should be running headlines like “Politician speaks mind, PM upset.”

And then, for once, everyone would know what the hell all those policy types are talking about. Or is that not what the policy types want? Talk about a coalition of the idiots.

Originally published September 2, 2004 in Eye Weekly

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