Monday, 9 December 2013


“Alice in Wonderland” has achieved a power in local politics one would not normally ascribe to the renderings of Lewis Carroll. 

Recounting the behaviour of Kathy Dunderdale, Richard Cashin has frequently invoked Carroll’s unforgettable Novel to explain the Premier’s illogical behaviour and strange utterances. 

Other pundits have spoken the name “Alice”, as metaphor, too. 

It suddenly seems appropriate to consider the powerful imagery to which all of them, especially Cashin, has drawn attention.  To be clear, we ought to assume it is not our beloved Alice, but the Wonderland she came to inhabit, that gives the parody context.

It is hard to blame Mr. Cashin, or anyone else, for attempting to make sense of a place gone mad.  The Premier’s behaviour seldom fits the reality; public policies have been turned upside down, she lets her Ministers say one thing when the opposite is true; ‘what’s one seat?’ she informs the voters of Harbour Grace-Carbonear as they head to the Polls.   At times, you would think it was she, and not the Mad Hatter, who intoned: “You would have to be half mad to dream me up.”
Still, no one likes to have their youthful fantasies corrupted by ‘adult’ thoughts, however absurd.  Having dismissed a host of metaphoric possibilities, from The Emperor’s New Clothes to Pinocchio, though they contain amazingly suitable elements, none seems as all-encompassing as Wonderland. Therefore, it is difficult to fault Cashin for having eschewed the alternatives and to have settled for the consistency Carroll offers. 

Who would have thought that “Alice in Wonderland” might sate the search for reason in one who would have us walk over a fiscal cliff?  Permitting Cashin to default to allegory; allowing him to sacrifice, not just any, but one of our most cherished childhood fantasies on the altar of metaphoric expediency, seems a high price for Dunderdale’s school of inverse thought. Has Cashin gone too far?

Like truth, parody has its place, in literature as in politics.  That, alone, is reason to suggest even childish innocence cannot be allowed to suppress an explanation for unctuous leadership.

When you place the Dunderdale Administration in the context of a ‘Wonderland-sized’ cauldron of twisted logic (we’ll build it for 30 cents per KWh sell it to Nova Scotia for 4 cents and make a profit) perhaps this is a better question: is ‘too far’ actually far enough? 

Few of us possess the cool clarity of the grinning Cheshire cat or the quietude of the March Hare but any call to reason, inside a world where Dunderdale, Marshall and until recently Kennedy are present, confirm that the Cabinet Room contains all the characters of a Mad Tea Party.   There’s also the Duck, the Lory, and the Eaglet, Wonderland creatures who participated in the Caucus race, in which they keep running around in circles.  The Dunderdale’s Cabinet has its share of lesser actors, too.

Alice was a confident, rational and sensible girl who simply found herself “in a strange world ruled by imagination and fantasy”.   While it would be fair to say the Premier is a resident of fantasia, unlike Alice who encountered odd characters who loved silly rules and senseless logic, the Premier is her own conjurer.  She is an illusionist who creates secret walls with strange names like Bill 29, builds a Nalcorian empire based upon either blind ignorance or blind faith and sanctions a mega project whose riddles and contradictions make us as mad as Alice’s made Dormouse.

Lewis Carroll eventually got around to answering:  "why is a raven like a writing desk?" But Dunderdale won’t tell us why she will spend at least $4 billion before the Quebec Superior Court gives us an answer on water management.

Cashin might have implied, with greater specificity, which of Wonderland’s characters is most useful to the allegorical task. In the tradition of a unionist he gives deference to an appropriate division of labour permitting those more technical to employ their skills with singular application.

The Mad Hatter, for example, is a straight giveaway.  Angry one minute and happy the next, no one better exemplifies challenged notions of order and endless confusion.  Who among us cannot name the one who engages in a kind of ‘dunder-speak’, mixing up facts, mistaking good business for bad economics (if you got the juice…we got the use) all the while telling the Opposition it is they who don’t understand. 

The Queen of Hearts offers allegory, too. 

 “Off with their heads” was the Queen’s favourite order indicating arbitrariness that is all too familiar.  Yes, the Premier is dismissive of advice, pillories critics, and is overly sensitive to criticism.  But, like the subjects of Wonderland, we know her power is fully contained within her own rhetoric.  
The Cheshire cat demands special prominence.  He is the only one who can explain Wonderland’s madness.  No such source of wisdom resides on the eighth floor; not a soul in her office can figure out the public agenda or what turns the Premier’s private world.  The Premier’s timepiece seems broken.  She is trapped, like the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, in a perpetual tea time.

Perhaps, that’s why, in Confederation Building, each day starts over much as the one before. It may be uncivil to say, but it was also that way when the government was headed by the former King, Danny.  Even then public servants were used to the idea, just as Alice discovered, time is a “him” not an “it”.

Ed Martin, too, earns a role in Kathy’s Wonderland.  How could one possibly ignore the nasty Knave of Hearts? Yes, he stole those tarts! But, who took one-half of Muskrat Falls and gave it away to the crafty Scotians?  For a pittance! For 24 years!  Oh my! This surely must be an “off with his head” moment.  Echoing the Queen of Hearts: “sentence first – verdict afterwards”. 

The perfectly suited invocation of “Alice in Wonderland” suggests Richard Cashin had some advantage over most readers of the story.  Of course, Cashin has a history.  He would understand that the NDP is much about “muchness” just as he might the grand but mistrustful words of the “Dodos” in the House of Commons.  To be sure, he enjoys insight into how things, entirely senseless, could be entirely logical.    

I am betting, though, he has not considered the possibility the Premier is attempting to out-Carroll Lewis Carroll.  The Premier is parodying a parody.  Says the Author:

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”

Isn’t it perfect?  Carroll has merely dreamed up Wonderland.  The Premier lives it!

How much more can we take?  Isn’t the Premier’s creation just a big deck of cards? Have we all gone mad?

I know what the Mad Hatter would say…

“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
You are invited to read: GIVE THAT MAN AN OSCAR