Doorstep Postings: Touching grass, or touching the grassroots? Don’t ask the keffiyeh-wearing NHL anthem singer to understand Canada

NHL photo of Kiana Ledé at the All-Star Game in Toronto on Feb. 3, 2024.

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

There’s no formal name for it, so, for the purposes of this column, I will call it the astroturf vs. grassroots problem. But rest assured: it is the most difficult problem in Canadian politics, and has been for as long as I have been involved.

If, after reading this, you think you have a solution, you might have a lucrative career in politics ahead of you—but you might have to get in line.

I’m mostly familiar with the right side of the aisle, but all parties and groups struggle with the problem. Thus I can tell you that it affects conservative parties of all sorts. It affects the energy sector. It affects banks, health professional associations, and grocery chains.

And the complaint is always the same: the organization in question has a message it wants to get out, but it can’t quickly and effectively articulate the message, and it can’t find people to get excited about the message. They seem clunky, slow, corporate, and fake.

The other side, whatever it may be, is, or seems, nimble, proactive, aggressive, capable of commanding a frightening number of ground and social media troops, and most importantly, they look cool. Astroturf vs. grassroots—or so it seems. 

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this is the absolute state of what Jewish activism vs. what a whole suite of interests opposed to mainstream Jewish causes has become. If you’ve spent any amount of time trying to brainstorm with a bunch of other concerned Jews about the problem of the day, you know exactly what I’m talking about. By the time everyone’s finished kvetching, it’s time for lunch—and the other side has already launched more initiatives than anyone can keep track of.

We should reach out to [insert group here]. Does anyone know anybody? We need a targeted campaign about this. Someone else who’s good with social media should handle that. I saw this great video from Israel the other day! How can we get a million people to watch it??? So what if it’s in Hebrew? Who’s talking to the politicians? Well, my friend is running in a nomination race in this coveted suburban 905 riding and they could certainly use some volunteers. Don’t get me started on the other side. How do they have the time to get all this done? Someone must be paying them off! We need to follow the money. Who knows how to follow money?

Every so often this process generates something of value—even more rarely, it creates something that isn’t mocked into oblivion.

When a minor musical celebrity performs what used to be—up until recently—a career-limiting move by telling Zionists to stay home from her concerts and then showing up wearing a keffiyeh-style cardigan to sing the U.S. national anthem at the NHL All-Star Game (after similarly performing at high-profile baseball and basketball events in the months before Oct. 7) what’s the pro-Israel side to do? Run to Toronto Sun mainstay Joe Warmington for his after-the-fact assessment? Try to drive a wedge by asking why Kiana Ledé didn’t sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in French? Oh, I know! My friend is friends with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. They’ll get to the bottom of this, for sure!

And why didn’t anyone take five seconds to glance at her very, very pro-Palestinian social media and the criticism of her onstage activism published days beforehand at the Times of Israel? Well, that wouldn’t be going through the proper channels. Nobody wants to look like a bunch of free-speech-crushing corporate gatekeepers.

No, indeed—crushing people for their views is what the intolerant left does, which is why B.C. NDP post-secondary schools minister Selina Robinson has stepped down from cabinet after a backlash to her comments about how Gaza was empty before Israel developed it. 

It’s annoying that nobody is making sure that politicians who cheerlead for violence against Jews are experiencing similar consequences online, but like I’ve said before, the social media war and dial-a-protests are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. To use a non-Jewish example: bashing Loblaw chair Galen Weston is a national pastime, but Galen isn’t getting any poorer. Even so, your insides scrunch up every time he shows up on your screens in that sweater. And the Liberals know that too, which is why their online goons spent the weekend trying to argue that because Conservative campaign boss Jenni Byrne’s lobbying firm represents Loblaw, then that means that Pierre Poilievre needs to shut his mouth about out of control grocery prices.

A bit of a stretch? Definitely. But this campaign wadded up a bunch of grievances, weaponized it online, forced the Toronto Star to cover it, and boom, here’s the PM himself giving a soundbite about how he’s fighting for lower grocery prices. (He isn’t, but that doesn’t matter.)

Don’t like Danielle Smith’s new policy on transgender kids and parental rights in Alberta? Take to Twitter and call her “Marlaina Kolodnicki.” (That was her name before she changed it.) Is doing this the same as deadnaming a trans kid? Not in the slightest. Does anyone who doesn’t pay attention to politics get the joke? Nope. Do the people engaging in this absurd tit-for-tat look unhinged? Probably. But it’s a fun way to insult someone you don’t like and to surround yourself with like minded individuals quickly.

Anyone who doesn’t get it is probably phobic in some way anyway. For his part, Doug Ford is very phobic of touching this subject—so, mission accomplished, Danielle Smith deadnamers? 

The genius of a Liberal social media campaign—and a pro-Palestinian campaign, and an anti-pipeline campaign, and every other cancellation frenzy—is that they have the appearance of being spontaneous and genuine while weaponizing the worst impulses. Every intentional spelling mistake, every childish insult, every easily refuted accusation, is calculated to further provoke the other side. Then, even though your basic Liberal tweeter (assuming they aren’t bots, a subject of intense debate) is driven by sneering contempt for their intellectual lessers, they can point their finger and accuse the other side of being hateful. And if there’s anything the other side doesn’t want to do, it’s anything that would make them look hateful. Getting mad at the PM for not reigning in his more crazed caucus members while he’s playing lightsaber with a bunch of kids is—everyone say it together now—a bad look. With the possible exception of Pierre Poilievre, nobody wants to risk looking bad. Could this have something to do with Poilievre’s lead in the polls and the crowds he’s drawing?

Conservative strategists worried about optics don’t want to ask that question. Instead, they’d rather make the claim that a majority of Canadians won’t fall for left-wing snow jobs. And I’m sure that’s true, but you know what they say: the astroturf always looks greener on the other side.  

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.