Monday, May 09, 2011

Secular Religion pt III or The Perfect Politician

I don't think it was a referendum on Michael Ignatieff... I think we opened up the breach in a way against Harper and against what he stands for, and someone else surged through and benefited, and at that point maybe the attack ads had an impact on my capacity to capitalize on a longing for change. There was a longing for change that I think we played an honourable part in creating, but we couldn't benefit because someone else surged through. Good luck to him. And then what happened, of course, is, as the NDP surged through, the blue tide began to rise in counterbalance and we got squeezed in between. 

- Michael Ignatieff, "Exit, Michael Ignatieff"

I remember watching "The West Wing" in undergraduate university and thinking how much people with conservative views must have hated that show.  And I'm generally pretty cynical with anything so concerned and invested in the opinions of the Mob as modern democratic republicanism so in a way, I really resented liking it.  It gave this vision of public service that we all want to believe in, but have precious little reason to.  We all know what Churchill said about democracy.  When I look at the quality of the politicians that the Mob selects among and then selects for, I wonder if Churchill knew how right he was.  Even the people (like me) who think democracy is great, still think it pretty much sucks.  I wish everyone was able to judge people of character and capability and people pretending to be those things but, sadly, not everyone can.

My chief problem with democracy isn't actually that people can (and consistently do, given popular sentiment) choose idiots as politicians.  It's that at its core, democracy is a governing solution of giving up.  It is the resignation of a society that we can't actually figure out what is right or what is best through trust and dialogue.  So we're just going to settle for whatever the most of us think is best at the moment.  If most of us think think killing the Census is best, or allowing people to anguish in poverty is best, or building prisons is best, then we'll do that.  Doesn't matter if it is actually best, because we don't believe that can be determined objectively.  At best, what's best can be determined only through trial and error via the whims of the Majority.

Because no point in politics or democracy is subject to an objective test of what's best or what's right, all that's left is whim, fancy, fad, mania and invariably, disappointment.  No aspect of electing an MP is subject to any concrete criteria of the soundness of a person's judgement, everything is done on gut.  The vast majority of people voting won't even take the small amount of time to personally speak to the candidates of their riding, so in that way, they don't even get a chance to go with their gut.  They have to go with their gut and their predjudices as filtered through what they hear on the mass media.  So now, in addition to nothing in politics being based on actual ability to run a government, and nothing in electing someone being based on actually getting a sense of them, what little influence the Mob has in making the government comes from the limited and inaccurate perception of them as filtered through the media.

So to recap:

1) we don't elect MP's based on themselves as people but rather on their party allegiance and the leader of the party
2) we don't judge the leader of the party based on anything other than their ideological similarity to our own preconceptions...
3) we lament the quality of politics and politicians when at no stage of the process do we actually try to elect qualified, thoughtful, like-minded people, our only criteria is to try to elect like-minded people.

Do Canadians want good, honourable, credible, believable, dependable civil leadership?

Question 1: If you were running a business and the only criteria for whether someone got a job at your company was whether they thought as you do and like what you like - and not whether they could actually do their jobs, what would the quality of your workforce be?

Answer: Crappy.

Question 2: If you were elected solely by a narrow margin of supporters of your party and no one else in your riding, how much of your efforts in parliament would be to fight for your whole constituency and how much would be to fight for those who actually got you there?

Answer:  MPs represent the people who voted for them.  It's time that we start saying this and acknowledging what it means. They can say they represent their whole riding till they're blue in the face.  But why should they be?  Why should they seek the approval of the riding as a whole when whole swaths of their constituents will never support them or vote for them, because what they do doesn't matter.  No one is going to look at what they've done at all as they cast their ballot.  All that matters is what party you belong to.

Question 3: If people want integrity and politics as much or more about consensus as it is about conflict, how do we justify supporting a ruthless, calculating political machine like Stephen Harper over a substantive issue driven apologist like Ignatieff?

I find this point particularly difficult to argue, as the Conservative platform was built and built successfully around, raising the fear, uncertainty and doubt about the Liberal leader through a tireless campaign of character assassination.  The Conservatives actually have plenty of achievements to rest on.  But they made, quite accurately, the political calculation that the most surefire winning strategy was not in emphasizing what they have and can do for Canadians but rather how Ignatieff didn't deserve to be Prime Minister.  And Canadians, left and right, believed.  Left-leaning Canadians went NDP and right-leaning Canadians went Conservative.  And I'll bet all of them will tell you how disgusted they were with the attack ads.

We have an overwhelming sense that politics is broken, an overwhelming sense that it will stay broken, an overwhelming sense that it could reflect what's best in us, an overwhelming sense that it represents what's worst in us and an overwhelming sense of not doing a damn thing to change it.  And because of all of this, I'll likely be writing this same post this time 5 years from now.