Comedian Rodney Dangerfield once quipped “The way my luck is going, if I were a politician I would be honest.”
Dangerfield was following a long tradition of commentators using humour or satire or even political theatre to challenge the ruling class, a tradition that goes back past Plato, who said “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
We are supposed to doubt, challenge and question our politicians. It’s part of our democratic DNA, every bit as essential as a vibrant free press and open access to the information that the state uses to rule us. We are often wise to be cynical of the powers that be.
But cynicism is only healthy if it is balanced with facts, with passion, with an understanding of the nuances of policy. Being against something is fine. But we excel when we are for something.
The current provincial government sometimes refers to its mandate to justify sweeping cuts and changes — ideas that were never articulated in any election platform. Enough of us were so against the Wynne government that we voted for a party with no published economic policy.
For a government to claim a clear mandate for sweeping unarticulated policies because only 3.3 million people voted against the 3 million who voted for the current government is pure hubris. My cat could have defeated Wynne at the ballot box in our first-past-the-post system. And my cat is an idiot.
With a federal election looming in the fall, we face the prospect of history repeating itself. The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer have announced a tepid climate change plan. Their economic plan remains equally shrouded in mystery. Open town halls — that all the other leaders of all the parties do — are eschewed in place of stage-managed partisan theatre.
A good friend of mine is a hardcore, small ‘c’ conservative. He is excited for the coming fall election because he will vote for the People’s Party of Canada. We often don’t agree on certain things, but we do agree that facts are important. I respect the fact that he wants to support a party that has transparent policies that he believes in. Not some branding exercise backed up with a meme.
Because here’s the thing: no meme, riffing on the public’s dislike of someone, is going to solve any of our problems. What solves problems are ideas, backed up by facts, shaped into policy. It’s not sexy and rarely easy.
But the Scheer memes, and those of his proxies, will continue this summer in an organized assault on our political intelligence. Hopefully some of us will miss them because we are too busy reading.