Friday 9 November 2012
Democracy is Broken
These thoughts have been running around in my head for a little while (a couple weeks at least), and I think they will continue to do so unless I finally write them down here. Let me provide a little context first, for the sake of any Americans who read my blog. (Wait, people read my blog?)
Canada is also a democracy, though we don't only have the Liberal (aka Democratic) and Conservative (aka Republican) parties - there's also the New Democratic Party (created in the early 1960s), the Bloc Quebecois (who run in Quebec), and the Green Party (who now have one seat federally). So we may not be quite as polarized, but you can point to the West of the country and say 'Mostly Conservative' and the East of the country and say 'Mostly Liberal' the same way some would say the American South is 'Mostly Republican'. (Or at least infer that from some of the election fallout on twitter.)
Canada's increasing polarization is probably in part due to the merger of Canada's old Reform Party (mostly from the West) with the Conservative Party some years ago. Of note, Quebec was 'Mostly Bloc' until the last federal election when they went 'Mostly NDP' as what was perhaps their most viable alternative. (Provincially, they just kicked out the Liberal party. Who had at it's head the former head of the federal Conservatives. Politics is weird.) But frankly, any sort of generalization can be dangerous, and the extra parties we have up here I think only prolongs the inevitable.
For the record, a second difference is that we also don't elect leaders separately... our ballot is only for our regional guy, and the party with the largest number of regional guys form the government. Which I believe differs slightly down south. But then I'm no expert, let me make that clear too. In fact, ten years ago, I wouldn't have really said I was political at all. These days, I admit to a Liberal bias. Part of me wonders if that's just a facet of growing up, but I'm starting to suspect that even if I was a teenager today, politics would be a larger part of my life. It's getting nasty out there. Not just in the United States.
Let's get the preliminaries out of the way first:
-The article American Politics Go Tribal effectively boils the problem down to a "We're right, so you must be wrong" mentality. Leaving the undecideds to tune out the lunatics (on BOTH sides), and politics in general. The fact that the media feeds on this mentality doesn't help.
-Perhaps related to this, the voter turnout numbers always seem to be declining. To the point where we're now trying to encourage people to go and vote, and patting ourselves on the back when we do vote. Twenty years ago, wasn't this simply a matter of course?
-We're stuck in a rut. The United States just elected status quo. (In fact, they elected TWO DEAD GUYS, in order to have status quo. I'm not kidding, check that out.) Filibuster is a word that gets far too much use - as much as Prorogue does up in Canada, where we keep electing Stephen Harper. Seems humans fear change.
In effect, democracy seems to be in this downward spiral of 'us versus them'. So who will step forwards and save us??
Aha. There's your problem.
You can find fault with ANYONE if you go in hoping to find fault. "That person can't save us, they're too liberal/conservative/black/white/bisexual/overweight/anorexic/tall and their dress looks terrible. We need someone else." Um, what if that person has REALLY GOOD IDEAS? Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, used to drink too much. William Lyon Mackenzie King, our longest serving Prime Minister, used to commune with dead spirits. But what they do on their own time is their own business, right?
Oh, right, not anymore. Hi 24 hour surveillance!
Why was Romney the Republican choice? From what I can tell, it's because he was the guy people had the least problems with. Not because of his platform (which didn't add up mathematically), or his brilliant visions of the future (which seemed to keep changing), but because, you know, the other guys drank too much or slept with women or had a bad hairpiece... yeah, let's go with the Mormon. He's harder to slander.
And before you Canadians start chuckling, re-watch Rick Mercer's Rant from March of this year. "In the old days, between elections, Prime Ministers used to devote all of their time to governing Canada. Not anymore, now a Prime Minister has negative ads to approve and reputations to destroy." Yeah, that one.
News flash: With all the negative campaigning, you'd have to be out of your mind to throw yourself into politics these days. (I turn once again to Rick Mercer's satire here.) I'd even go so far as to say we've ACCEPTED no one guy will save us, so it's now a matter of the party picking someone 'safe', playing the party card, and avoiding policy talk as much as possible because that's where they'd be most vulnerable to attack ads (or outright lies that opposition party faithful won't question).
So, this is why democracy is in a downward spiral. Because anyone who might have a good plan for fixing things either tuned out long ago, doesn't want to deal with all the naysayers who don't believe there's truth in stuff like mathematics, or the person simply doesn't want the skeletons in their closet exposed. And the few good ideas that DO come up (by advisors or otherwise) get beaten down into the ground by the opposition because, again, "We're right, so you must be wrong".
I suppose the other thing that prompted me to blog about this is the fact that Remembrance Day is coming up. (Veterans Day for Americans.) People have died for the freedoms we enjoy. And yet a handful of Americans are doing things like flying the flag upside down in protest, while up here scandals have meant going to Canada's Supreme Count to rule on an election outcome - for the first time since the Second World War. Somehow, I don't think this lack of collegiality is what the people fighting in that war had in mind. ...and wow, even as I type, Rick Mercer comes through again with a rant about MPs v. our veterans.
Now, I do see this 'us versus them' view of democracy changing. Mainly because teenagers today are putting all manner of crazy things online, to the point where once they're older, they won't necessarily care that there's a drunken photo of that candidate when he was 16... seeing as they know there's probably a photo of themselves in a similar situation floating around on the web somewhere. Maybe, at that point, they'll see a bit of themselves in the candidate. And then maybe, just maybe, the voter will consider the IDEAS rather than the image and the party spin.
The question is, will it happen in time. Because we're running out of sensible candidates to support.