The Decline of Politics
With the first draft, and thus (hopefully) the heavy lifting, of my thesis completed, I've taken to reading books for pure enjoyment and intellectual stimulation again. I do still take notes occasionally, just in case, though. I'm in the midst of reading Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom, a very thoughtful and engaging study of the need to promote liberal democracy abroad while strengthening it at home. The first half deals largely with the former, and includes a survey of the need to build constitutional liberalism and democratic institutions in such happy places as Egypt and Saudi Arabia (see last post).
The second half is equally engaging because it hits a lot closer to home. Though Zakaria is talking about the decline in American politics, a lot of the issues there are very pertinent here: lower voter turnouts, decreasing satisfaction with the working of government and the practice of politics, over-emphasis and reliance on polls (think former PMPM), and the various other maladies that are negatively affecting our political institutions. The fifth chapter of the book is required reading for anybody who is interested at all in politics and improving our political system. In the fall semester in my Canadian politics seminar we spent a couple of classes examining the Canadian polity and its shortcomings, and they really come through in the book. There is an incredible quotation of JFK in there that really sums up a lot of my issues with governing today, which really deserves printing here:
"The voters selected us because they had confidence in our judgment and our ability to exercise judgment from a position where we could determine what were their own best interests, as part of the nation's interests. This may mean that we must on occasion lead, inform, correct, and sometimes even ignore public opinion for which we were elected."
Can you just imagine a politician getting up today and saying such a thing? Probably not, because to do so might have an effect on their polling and cost them 100 votes. For me, I like to hear politicians speak plainly and with substance, not vacuous statements that might as well be said by a Hollywood "activist" or a Miss America contestant. A couple weeks ago the Prime Minister stated that he felt that many Canadians were "naive" about the War on Terror and our participation in Afghanistan. Predictably, Liberals were all over this statement and took great pains to slam Harper for making a truthful statement that contradicts a very simple 'rule': politicians must always speak of how intelligent or insightful the Canadian people are. Simply put, a lot of people are not aware of the importance of our presence and participation in Afghanistan and how important it is that we seek to promote universal (I refuse to say 'our' or 'Canadian') values of human dignity, liberty, and political freedom.
Seeing my former party being so ambiguous on Afghanistan, and their increasingly venomous rhetoric about the supposed 'Americanization' of our efforts there, is disheartening. However, it is not entirely surprising. They probably conducted a poll or two or read the TorStar and saw that the Canadian public's support is either waning or soft, and they're looking to use that as an issue to reclaim Parliament. There are two kinds of liberals when it comes to foreign affairs and international relations: moralists, who seek to change the world and make it a better place, and hypocrites, who talk about making the world a better place but don't do anything to achieve it.
Too many of Canada's Liberal MPs fall in the latter category. They talk a good game, but they don't walk it. Kyoto? Darfur? Responsibility to Protect? 0.7%? All of these ideas, had there been policies crafted and strenuous efforts to implement them, could have been resounding triumphs for Canada and established us as a truly credible leader in the world. Let me assure you, we would not be General Custer charging blindly into the abyss. Instead, there's a lot of pronouncements about feel-good plans and ideas but no follow-up. More than any stupid spiel or misguided approach, this is why I left the party late last year. And now I see that a friend of mine, who was deeply involved in the party since he was 13, has had enough too. We are far from the only ones. Just before the leadership convention in 2003, it was reported the party ranks had swelled to over half a million people. In an era in which peoples' distaste for politics and political parties was at a peak, there were folks flocking to the Liberals because there was an incoming leader who talked the talk and appeared as though he would walk the walk. Not even three years later, the disgust with that very same, now former, leader is sufficient to the extent that he's a non-entity backbench opposition MP. And thus the cycle of cynicism continues.
Political parties are increasingly irrelevant, and have been relegated to the status of election fundraisers. A former OUC colleague of mine back in Kelowna was a member of the Reform, and then Conservative, Party for years. The only times she ever heard anything from them was when they needed money. Never got an invitation to any events, never heard about high-prolife Tories/Reformers coming to town (back when Belinda Stronach was still something of a celebrity, during the Conservatives' first leadership campaign, she came to Kelowna, and my friend didn't hear about it until the next day when I asked if she went to the thing), it was just "we need money." The Liberals treated me a little better than that, but in the end I was just another member of the Youth Wing and I'm still getting bombarded with campaign donation requests. The apparatchiks of the party are all yes men & women; if you disagreed with the Board (PMPM's coterie) you got marginalized. Same thing with the Youth Wing, which was and still is dominated by Martinites. I argued till I was red in the face more than once about how to approach the BMD issue, but folks were dead-set on opposing it with irrational and ill-conceived plans that lacked any depth and thought beyond "It's George Bush's plan, he's going to put weapons in space!" After the policy convention of Feb. 2005, the emails and invites for party events slowed considerably. The money requests kept coming though.
I've enjoyed the past six months in the wilderness. It's fun in an echo chamber where you can yell and critique and advise, and nobody really listens because you're on the outside looking in. There have been times where I've been close to signing on with the Conservatives, and even a moment or two where I considered re-joining the Liberals so I could work on the Ignatieff campaign, but there's so many cons to having a party affiliation. Because I'm 25, I'm still slotted in with the youth wing of the Liberals, which means I'm identifiable with a group that supports legalizing prostitution and marijuana cigarettes. No thanks. The Conservatives have a good political strategy going, but I'm wary of being kept at arm's length, like my friend was, and there's just some lingering Liberal rhetoric in me that acts as some sort of wierd barrier for me. Thus I shall remain a voice in the wilderness until such time as I feel comfortable putting a party label on me--it worked well for Churchill didn't it?