Last week there was a conversation stream going on among some on Twitter asking why it is that politics always seems to change people. The concern was that if some of the people who were running in the next civic election were already morphing into different kinds of individuals, then how could you know they would stick by their principles. It was actually a timely and cautionary conversation because the concerns are valid – some are clearly changing even two years before the next election.
As the political order, and politicians themselves, fall into ever-deeper disrepute, it has become almost a mantra that all politicians say one thing and do another. It’s hardly true, but enough of the reality is present that it is becoming more the rule than the exception. Charles de Gaulle used to state that, “In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” He should have known; he was an expert at it and became a case example for the ability of power to change anything.
We are about to begin a mini-series on what it is about politics – its power, manipulation, and potential – to say one thing and do another. But before we do it is important to acknowledge that the moment you break someone’s circumstances or habits that change is inevitable in any situation. The loss of work, a divorce, the arrival of a child, change of location, even a health crisis – all these change us in imperceptible and obvious ways. So to castigate political aspirants for morphing into someone else in order to get the vote is to fail to understand just how all-consuming the political run can be.
There is something different about politics though. It’s not supposed to be about the politician but the people he represents, and that is something completely different from most other occupations. Should the politician alter in her viewpoint or affiliation, there is often a corresponding result on those she is meant to serve. Handled poorly, a politician actually practicing one thing while saying another can leave a community confused, nonplussed, even angry. Conversely, one who says what they mean and means what they say can elevate not only the confidence of the community but its potential as well.
But politics is alluring to some, sometimes overpoweringly so. Some are drawn to politics in ways that are often inescapable. They say they want to serve but what they really desire is the influence, the perks, notoriety and the desire to feel people’s heads turn in their direction. Could this have been what Thomas Jefferson, the American president, worried about when he wrote, “Whenever a man casts a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct”?
My political career was brief, yet in that time I learned that change is inevitable for anyone entering political life. They have two choices: they can either admit it and explain their adjustments in position, or they can attempt to live in two worlds, wearing two masks depending on the circumstances.
As a new member of Parliament I struggled to maintain my principles and be true to my community. That was not always possible, for reasons that will be explained in later posts, but my increasing discomfort in the political arena was directly tied to my refusal to dip below the absolute necessity for respect and honour in the political realm. Sometimes I had to vote in ways I didn’t like. Other times it was necessary to vote one way to avoid an election Canadians didn’t desire. But at no point did I want to behave in a manner improper to the good people who elected me. My task was to work with anybody if it meant the betterment of my community and for that to occur there had to be respect.
There were failures, to be sure, but I was fortunate in having good support to honour that code of conduct. The video below was filmed by CBC about a year following my first election win. I watched it yesterday for the first time in a long time and I was struck by how much I was struggling. It might provide some kind of context for the things we need to discuss in these next few posts. I have learned as a basic rule of thumb that if a person wants to be elected bad enough they will change – count on it. It becomes impossible to separate personal ambition from service. That is what is now happening among those in discussion on Twitter in London, and they are confused. Politics seemed to them to be more noble than that. It is. But for us to raise politics again to a respected level we must be able to spot those more interested in standing over their community than walking with it. There is no future in a politics that is willing to squander consistency in a fleeting attempt to obtain or retain power.