A prayer for a bully
On Monday, almost exactly one year after he joined it, Warren Kinsella was asked to leave his volunteer position on the legal affairs committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress. It’s not often that volunteers get fired, but it happens.
Kinsella joined the CJC a year ago, announcing it, not by coincidence, right when he was fired as a columnist with the National Post. His blog entry on the subject was titled “The universe balances out”, a version of Aesop’s fable of sour grapes. Kinsella asked us to believe that serving on a low-profile, volunteer committee of lawyers was as desirable to a political animal like him as having a prestigious political column in a national newspaper. Oh well – let the man lick his wounds; we’ve all had bumps in the road of life. You won’t believe me, dear reader, but even though Kinsella was threatening me with lawsuits even then, I still sent the man a short note of consolation, as he seemed so genuinely dolorous because of his ouster from the Post.
Kinsella quickly became a noisy advocate for the CJC’s position on political censorship, and engaged in a year-long smear against the Post (and others who disagreed with the CJC). How such a scorched-earth approach to advocacy served the interests of the CJC was unclear; then again, how any of Kinsella’s antics (like Catscam) helped the CJC’s cause was always an open question. (When I asked why Kinsella was serving as a CJC officer while giving advice and help to the anti-Semites at the Canadian Islamic Congress, Kinsella sued me for saying it!) The CJC should have turfed him then for consorting with the anti-Semitic enemy, but better late than never.
It will be interesting to see if Kinsella turns against the CJC in anger now, too.
Others will note Kinsella’s latest defeat with glee. And part of me is glad to see someone who tries so hard to bully and blackball others, have his own stratagems backfire on him. But, to be very frank, I’m not that gleeful – I actually feel sad for him. I’m not saying that condescendingly – it really is sad to see a man with so much energy and talent get so consumed with personal vendettas and petty squabbles that it starts to cost him in his professional and public life.
I’m not going soft on Kinsella – his lawsuit against me is absurd, and if taken at face value, he means to bankrupt me. He’s a bully, and a fountain of foul-mouthed defamation in his own right. But there comes a point when someone – even someone who swears he’ll destroy you – is so self-destructive, and so blind to that self-destruction, that you feel a pang of sorrow for them.
I was never close friends with Kinsella; I invited him to write in the Western Standard magazine once (of course, it was because he was disparaging Paul Martin), and I once caught his tone-deaf band playing in a fetid basement in Toronto. And we once spoke on a panel together at a conference; that was about it. But I felt a sort of collegiality with him because we were both engaged in the political life of the country, albeit from opposite points of view. There is a camaraderie that happens in such circles; to my surprise and delight, I have made several genuine and even deep friendships with Liberals I met on debate panels. I suppose it starts from a sense that you both love the democratic system, and for talking heads like Kinsella and me, that you enjoy some of the more theatrical aspects of campaigning. I think there’s a sense of humour necessary to being a pundit, even a serious one. And so, until he went haywire a year ago, I felt a small sense of fraternity with him.
There was even a brief moment – oh, say about a half hour – when I thought Kinsella and I might work together on a project. It was several years ago – 2004 if I remember – and we were both on the board of the Canada-Israel Committee. The subject of political intimidation came up – nicknamed “chill/vil”, for libel chill and public vilification. It was how radical Muslim groups like the Canadian Islamic Congress were trying to silence critics through things like defamation threats (and human rights complaints!)
Kinsella and I were both at that meeting, and I suggested a bi-partisan “rapid response” team of lawyers and spin-doctors to fight back against radical Islamic chill/vil. I remember mentioning Kinsella by name, and the feeling of slight naughtiness at the thought of us working on a political campaign together. Alas, nothing came of it – until, shockingly, Kinsella actually helped out the chill/vil side of the equation by meeting with the Canadian Islamic Congress.
But underneath his bluff and bravado is a real man with – though he might deny it – real feelings. I know he must be embarrassed and angry today at his ouster, just as he was a year ago. And though I won’t do it, I feel a strange urge to send him a note of consolation again.
Not because I wish him well in general – I hope his political candidate loses, and I hope that his vendettas against his enemies (including me!) fail, too. But I truly hope he gets back on a productive, calmer track in life, one that’s less about scorched earth, threats and bullying, and more about that thing that I thought we once had in common: a belief in the democratic process.
I think Kinsella – I used to call him Warren, but I’m not sure if you can call someone suing you for $5-million by his first name – has been blown off course by his own temper. A year ago this month Kinsella wrote on his website that his wife had counseled him to drop his obsession with me. He hasn’t – he’s doubled down on it, made a fool of himself, and has now exposed himself and his family to the potential costs of a failed nuisance suit. He’s filed equally spurious lawsuits against other of his enemies, such as those at Free Dominion. Forget about the legal and financial jeopardy his nuisance suits have put him in, and forget about the public snickering at his hyper-litigiousness and thin skin; and forget about his dubious reputation as an apologist for political censorship: what about his family’s plea for him to get back to productive things, and let go of his obsessive antagonisms?
I guess what I’m saying is that Kinsella looks to me like he is spiraling down. I think that hit me when Steve Paikin wrote a personal account of Kinsella’s erratic threats against him. I know that Paikin and Kinsella had an amicable relationship – maybe not a friendship, but a happy rapport. Reading how Kinsella’s foolish attempt to bully Paikin has obviously ruined that friendship made me think: “this guy is self-destructing”. I thought that perhaps it was just me. But it’s not – it’s the Post, and the CJC, and TVO and too many others.
I hope Kinsella loses his nuisance suits. But where I thought I might feel schadenfreude, I feel sorrow. The news of his termination today doesn’t give me any joy. There is none in this public spectacle as he tumbles down, a flailing ball of anger and impotence.
Don’t call me weak for saying that I hope he gets back up again. Not so he can throw another punch at me, but so he can get on with being a serious person -- and listen to his family.