You want to run politically – locally, provincially, or federally. You might think that your greatest challenge will be the uber partisanship that has destroyed so much of the political legacy of compromise in Canada, and you’d have a point. This past week the city of London, Ontario found itself the centre of national attention when one of its local elected officials (a former Liberal MP) was accused of using federal funds inappropriately during his time in Ottawa. Our community has been going through difficult times these last few years, but the sight of a present government MP slagging the London official in Question Period and on national media embarrassed our community on a nation-wide stage. No charges have been laid on the official, nor has anything yet been proven, but it didn’t matter. It was just a partisan kind of bullying that made Londoners deeply uncomfortable. Fortunately the other two government MPs from the city showed more admirable restraint.
This is the stuff you’ll have to face if you run for office, and if you end up choosing the party over your community you will have committed one of the greatest sins of elected office.
But you’ll have one greater obstacle and it will drive you crazy. You’ll soon discover that deeper realization that 20 years of the kind of partisanship mentioned above has turned off your constituency – apathy rules in most regions of the country, often typified by lower voter turnouts. The present American election season is revealing this once again, but in a new dimension. Numerous media venues south of the border have taken to “fact-checking” as a way to keep candidates from telling outright lies to the public. This was perhaps best displayed in the presidential debate when CNN moderator Candy Crowley corrected Republican candidate Mitt Romney on his accusation that President Obama didn’t condemn the terrorist attack in Libya until two weeks later. Romney faced the equivalent of being smacked down on national television for his subterfuge. Confronted by this following the debate, one Romney staffer stated, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” In other words, it isn’t about truth anyway.
In previous election seasons, media would call together panels representing both sides and let them duke it out. But falsehoods were rarely exposed in a definitive manner. So this time the media has taken to confronting candidates directly, in the belief that voters both want and deserve the clear truth. But it doesn’t seem to have increased public interest in the contest. Hyper-partisans still believe that negative and false ads work.
Maybe, but as we will see in a later post, I think the only thing such negative ads succeed in is turning people off of politics altogether, or baiting the ideologues who are incapable of curbing their anger for the greater good.
Truth is not red, blue, orange or green. It isn’t even black and white. We assume far too easily that everything has to have two sides and that we must select one or the other. In the modern world of politics we hardly find truth at all – just sides, often jarringly expressed. The modern Canadian voter is sophisticated enough to comprehend this and she/he turn away in disgust at the modern political spectacle of the tragic loss of the public space.
Canadians understand that politics is about the angle, the slant, the message, the barb, the perception, even deception. Citizens are looking for solutions but instinctively understand what Aldous Huxley expressed years ago: “Truth does not cease to exist because it is ignored.” All this “fact-checking” means nothing to the modern citizen because they stopped relating politics to reality years ago.
No party, regardless of its colour, possesses all the truth. The great and historic Canadian genius has been found in our ability to pull together the various aspects of reality from where we can gather it. But to listen to modern parties today you would think that opposing parties possess nothing of value. That is hardly true. What every party present in any legislative chamber possesses is the collective choice made by the voters in their riding. To slander such parties is to deny the democratic presence of those who voted for the person of their choice.
And that could be you. The only problem is that the majority of the people in your constituency likely won’t vote in the next election. It won’t be about you, but what they think of politics in general. There is only one way to get their attention and that is to stop slagging. Tell those listening to you that you will work with any other politician to tackle the major problems confronting our age. Not only that, you refuse to place your party, or even yourself, above those in your riding. You do that and you’ll get lethargic voters to sit up and take notice. They’ll have trouble believing that you’re real, so you have your work cut out for you. Your greatest obstacle will be the disillusionment of the voter, not your opponent. Your greatest accomplishment won’t be just winning an election, but winning back the belief of your fellow citizens that politics can matter again. You’ll win if you win them; all other political victory is hollow compared to that.