I first heard about Layton's death when my husband sent me a text from work about it. He had just arrived at the office and heard. Eldest was on the computer at the time, so she quickly checked the news and we read more about it before she went back to her work.
I can't say I was surprised to hear of his death, and only slightly surprised at how soon it was after he stepped down. The contrast between how he looked during the election and how he looked when he stepped down was so dramatic, it was clear he was fading fast. I have, in the past, reflected on how I thought he should have stepped down when he announced his fight with pancreatic cancer, so that he could devote all his energy to his health and loved ones. For some people, that would just make things worse - when my own husband was on medical leave, being stuck and home and not working caused more problems with his health than it solved. When Layton didn't step down then, I could see that as being part of why.
Since becoming Leader of the Opposition, my dislike of Layton just intensified. He kept making pronouncements about how he was going to make PM Harper and the Conservatives do this or that or whatever. For someone who had no power to do much of anything, his arrogant and adversarial attitude irritated me. Layton was one of those politicians who, the more I saw him in action, the more he made my skin crawl.
When I heard of his death, I could only feel sympathy. I didn't know him outside the political arena, so there was no sadness on my part. I could empathize with his family and friends, and with the difficulty of facing a losing battle against whatever cancer it was that took him so quickly. That's about it.
Then things at home took precedence. I ended up getting a call from my husband to come get him, as he was in too much pain to stay at work. He hasn't been back since. Though every now and then he has seen some improvement, the pain keeps coming back. Right now, he's pretty much worse than when this whole thing started. Aside from the pain in his back, we are now thinking it's his sciatica.
With all that's been going on, I've only briefly been on the computer. A quick check of my email, but not usually long enough to actually answer anything. A quick run through my news, but mostly scanning headlines. And, of course, checking my facebook. The tv pretty much never got turned on, so anything there I missed entirely. By the time I got uninterrupted time on the computer, it was late at night. Sleep has been on the short side, and writing while sleep deprived is just not a good idea. The only reason I'm able to write now is because Dh has gone to lie down again, and I am ignoring my usual online activities to write this post.
Meanwhile, since I've been unable to access the computer for any length of time, and there's nothing I can do to help Dh other than stay out of his way, the girls and I have headed out a fair bit, so I just haven't been home much lately, either. On top of that, I've got a course I need to finish, so I've been working on the unwritten portion of that (I'm doing to have to find some way to get enough computer time to do the written portion soon).
Yeah. It's been an interesting week.
With all this in a swirl around us, I've missed most of the hysteria surrounding Layton's death. The few times I popped onto facebook, I could see it escalating. The first sign was when someone posted the hope, love optimism thing on their facebook status. At first glance I though, "oh, I recognise that. Who's it from? Ghandi or something?" Then I saw the attribution to Jack Layton. Hmm. I guess I was wrong.
Then another status changed. Then another. And another.
Between one quick glance at my newsfeed and another, I saw all sorts of people changing their statuses to that line, repeating it in comments, and going on about this letter that Layton wrote.
Things went downhill from there.
Suddenly all these people were going on about how touched they were by Layton's death. How they cried when they read the letter. How moved they were by it. How inspired they were by Layton's life. Much public grieving, accolades, sackcloth and ashes.
Seeing all this in bits and pieces, I made note of two things. One, who it was I was hearing this from. I had no surprises there. Two, out of all these people going on about how much they missed Layton, how much they loved him, and so on, only ONE of these people actually met him, was an active NDPer, and someone who, before Layton died, had spoken highly of him as someone they looked up to and admired. ONE.
All those people who were going on about crying on hearing his death, planning on going on candlelight vigils and so on?
As far as I could see, it was just another example of people inserting themselves into some celebrity's life, making themselves feel better by being part of something bigger than themselves. As far as I am concerned, there is no psychological difference between these outpourings of public grief over a famous person they have no connection with, and those rioters who were just "good kids" doing something stupid. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger. Everyone wants to say "I was part of this." Whether that something is helpful, harmful or something in between is the only difference.
Then I caught Christie Blatchford's NP piece. This is where I first learned that the now famous letter wasn't actually written by Layton. Now, as someone who is dying, I can see wanting to write a letter to friends and family. Since Layton was also a public figure, I can see wanting to extend that to a larger sphere. I can also see, being sick and probably in pain, needing help to write such a letter. Who better than his own wife for that?
But the help of two NDP spin doctors?
Blatchford's column was about the over-the-top response to Layton's death. Even with what little I saw of it myself, I completely agreed with her. Unlike her, I think this sort of thing started much earlier than with the death of Diana. I think it goes back to Elvis, who's death saw an outpouring of public grief. Elvis, however, touched many lives with his music, so it was more understandable. Then there was the assasination of John Lennon, which also saw an outpouring of public grief. Again, like him or not, John Lennon touched a lot of lives with his music, both solo and with the Beatles. Both these deaths made the public expressions of grief over a famous person much more acceptable and, in a way, it was understandable.
Then there was the death of Diana, where the outpouring of public grief went over the top. Yes, Diana had touched many lives during her time as Princess, with her campaigns against landmines and the like. She was genuinely loved by the public for her kindness. As her personal life fell into shambles, people could sympathise. Even so, the response to her death was well out of proportion, and even today there are people who haven't got past that (as demonstrated by the crass man holding a "Diana Forever" sign on the street while Prince Charles and Camilla drove by after their marriage).
This happened again when Michael Jackson died. By then, these public and excessive outpourings of grief over the death of a celebrity had become expected. I found it distasteful then and, like Blatchford, I found it distasteful now. These public demonstrations are not about the person who died. I find them extremely selfish and self serving. When people who had never even heard of Jack Layton before start talking about how they cried over their death and, in one case at least, travelled to another country to take part in his funeral, you know it has nothing to do with Layton, and everything to do with themselves.
"I cried when I heard of his death" says someone who's never paid attention to politics before.
"I was so touched by his letter!" says the person who only read the last couple of lines.
"I'm going to the candlelight vigil" says the person who has never been politically active before in their lives.
"I made a chalk drawing in memory of Jack in Toronto," says the person who drags their little kids along to do chalk drawings as well.
No surprise that Blatchford immediately got attacked for her column. No surprise that these attacks were vile and hateful beyond belief, and aimed towards her personally. No surprise that when I saw a few of Layton's new fans bring it up on facebook, it was to share an article that compeletely misrepresented what Blatchford wrote, while expressing disgust at her personally for daring to not worship Layton and questioning their own motives.
It was like some sort of mass hysteria.
Thankfully, I missed out on so much of it, for what little I did see was more than enough to disgust me.
As for Layton and co's letter (and yes, it has been confirmed by the NDPers involved that Layton didn't actually write the letter himself), I didn't get a chance to read the whole thing until the day of his funeral. I didn't watch the funeral myself because 1) I had no interest in watching the funeral of someone I didn't particularly care about and 2) I spent much the day with a friend.
When I finally read the letter, I was horrified and disgusted. This letter was a campaign speech. After his preamble, he talked about the NDP, telling them what he thought they should do after he died. Then he made his "no one left behind" blurb (yeah... didn't Bush try that with the US school system? Didn't that fail spectacularly?). Then he tried to rewrite history.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country.Uhm, no. They voted for the NDP because the Bloc screwed up and the NDP was the only choice for people who weren't pissed off enough at the Bloc to vote Liberal or Conservative. Nobody expected many NDPers to actually get elected - including those running for the NDP.
You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together.Translation: vote NDP in the next election!
Then he starts into the collectivist shilling.
We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly.And we all know what the NDP's view of "more fairly" is. Wealth redistribution - take from the rich to give to the poor. Except, of course, the NDP elite, like Layton himself and Chow, who have lived very well on the public dime for decades.
Of course, there just has to be a dig against the feds!
We can restore our good name in the world.Yeah. Our current government is doing a good job of that right now, thanks. Of course, that's depends on who's good opinion "in the world" you want.
We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change.Earth to the NDP - our votes matter now. We have real choices now. We are working for change now. That's why we not only have a Conservative government, but in the last election, we gave them a majority. That's how democracy works, and if people are unhappy that someone they didn't like got elected, they should be mature enough to accept that maybe, just maybe, the rest of the country doesn't agree with them.
Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together.Why am I suddenlty thinking of Animal Farm?
Okay, so that's the letter. Then there was the funeral.
A state funeral? What on earth for? Aside from being against protocol (after all, protocol is not written in stone), what did he do to earn one? What did he accomplish that was so great? Come in second place at an election? Make a lot of speeches? Hang out at gay pride parades?
Not watching the funeral myself, I still caught many people commenting on it. So many went out of their way to watch in on tv and talked about how moved they were by it, how they cried, and so on.
Then I started to get hard details. Like the fact that there were three religions represented. Actually, only two. Jewish and Muslim. The "Christian" representative? A gay, married cleric. Layton, it turns out, was a member of the United Church of Canada.
In structure, the United Church has a "bottom-up" governance, where the congregation selects its clergy, rather than clergy being appointed by a bishop or other body. The policies of the church are inclusive and liberal: there are no restrictions of gender, sexual orientation or marital status for a person considering entering the ministry; interfaith marriages are recognized; communion is offered to all Christian adults and children, regardless of denomination or age.In other words, it's a church that doesn't stand for anything and falls for everything.
Let me point something out here, and I'll paraphrase someone else's excellent metaphor in the process. Being part of a religion is like being a member of a club. Clubs have rules. If you don't like the rules, don't be part of the club. Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, views homosexual activity as a sin. I can't speak for Judaism or Islam, but in Christianity, we believe in the forgiveness of sins, so if someone sins but repents, we believe they are forgiven. However, for a CLERIC to be gay AND married - in other words, this is someone who actively engages in a behaviour Christianity views as sinful - they are living a life that is counter to Christian teaching. There is no repentance of sin, since they clearly reject the notion that their actions are sinful. One cannot be a Christian while deliberately acting against Christian beliefs (and this would apply to any behaviour recognised as being sinful by Christian faith).
So having this cleric representing Christianity isn't about being open or tolerant. It is a slap in the face to all people who are faithful Christians. A very deliberate slap, too. It wasn't about faith. It was about politics.
Since then, I've had a chance to view videos of the funeral, and I was thoroughly horrified.
This wasn't a funeral. It was a political, NDP campaigning, event. Now, I'm not one for sombre funerals and believe they should be celebrations of a person's life, not just mourning their death. Even so, I was disgusted by the sight of people clapping, cheering and giving standing ovations to the so-called eulogy given by an NDP hack. This sort of behaviour during a funeral and in a church was highly disrespectful, but respect for such things doesn't seem to be very high on the list of the far left, who reject religious beliefs and those who hold them, even as they take advantage of such beliefs to further their own ends. Cheering of the idea of negotiating with terrorists? There's a reason he was called "Taliban Jack." And no, it's not "conventional wisdom," no matter how you want to spin it. It was a bad idea then, and it's a bad idea now. Terrorists should not be negotiated with. Ever.
Yet this obnoxiously partisan speech had people cheering and clapping. In a church. During a funeral.
No, not a funeral. Layton was just an excuse for more campaigning. That his flag draped casket was next to the man while he spoke made it just that much more mordid, creepy and disgusting.
I find myself wondering. Just how lucid was Layton near the end? Just how much of this did he approve of?
I doubt we'll ever know.
In the end, though, this whole thing has left me thoroughly disgusted, not only by the people who took advantage of Layton's death for political grandstanding, but by those who mindlessly, herdlike, played along with it.
I wish I could extend my sympathies to Layton's family. Had I not seen any of these, I probably could have. As it stands now, any such sentiments would smack of hypocrisy, which I loathe. Not even for his widow, for allowing his funeral to be highjacked like this. I think the only person I really feel sympathy for is his daughter. She and her toodler daughter seemed to be the only ones not taking advantage of Layton's death for their own personal, political ends.
I find the whole circus has been disrespectful, distasteful and hypocritical beyond belief.
RIP Jack. As much as you can, with your followers dragging your corpse into the muck with them.
Me? I'm going back into my cave to try and help my husband with his health issues as much as I can.
correction: Layton's funeral was not held in a church, but at Roy Thomson Hall. Somehow, that seems fitting for the psuedo-funeral.