Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Leaders We Deserve

French diplomat Joseph de Maistre once famously opined that "in a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve." Taken alongside the more esoteric "decisions are made by those who bother to show up", it's clear that if we elect poor representatives or a poor government, the fault doesn't lie with those public servants alone - it's also the fault of the people who marked an "x" for them, and the people who stayed home and didn't vote at all.

The reason our elected leaders don't perform better is because we don't demand it of them.

Let's think about that.

The reason we often have to choose between "the lesser of 2 evils" on whichever ballot we're marking, is because WE DON'T DEMAND BETTER.

Oh, we try to, in our typically passive/aggressive Canadian way. We just stay home, and hope the politicians will take the hint. But of course, they won't. Because "You're all rubbish, I'm staying home" sounds identical on the tally sheet to "America's Next Top Model is on and I can't be bothered to vote".

Why do we do it? Why do we support candidates or parties that we KNOW aren't good enough?  

"I think the candidate's a jerk, but that's the party I support, so I'll hold my nose and vote for him."  

"I don't like that party, but I REALLY hate that party, so I'll vote strategically for the guys I don't like just to keep the guys I hate out of office."  

"I like him as a candidate, but I don't like his party leader. So I'm voting for the other guy."  

"I always vote for that party. I have since the 60's."  

"What can you do? You've GOT to vote, and those are the only names on the ballot."  

This is how we get stuck with bad governments and bad local representation. Those are just some of the thousands of different reasons you'd hear if voting was something we felt comfortable talking about in public. Dave Chappelle did a really funny bit once on "White people talking about voting", which I'll let you find yourself. I think the same stereotype applies to most Canadians, regardless of skin colour. We just tighten up whenever the issue of voting comes up. DID you? For WHOM? WHY? We'd rather give intimate details about our relationships than talk publicly about that kind of thing.  

This silence is the fertile soil in which inadequate politicians take root.  

Can you imagine a world in which we could get a "None of the above" box on the ballot? Where every single voter was an educated voter, who knew the issues and where their local candidates stood on them? Where we understood, as voters, that YOU CAN'T VOTE FOR A PARTY IN OUR SYSTEM, only for an individual whose name appears on your ballot?  

You know what would happen in that world?  

In dozens of local races, the results would come back, and "None of the above" would be the winner. Which is of course why we'll never be allowed to HAVE that box on the ballot: It would humiliate the people in power. But you know what? The NEXT time the people came out to vote, they'd have a bunch of new names on the ballot. And fewer ridings would elect "none of the above". And so on, and so forth. Because politicians, of all parties and of no party, from the local council to Parliament, would start to understand that winning a nomination, or submitting your paperwork on time, isn't enough. It's not enough to get involved in provincial politics 2 weeks before parachuting into a riding that needs a candidate for the ruling party, or to sign on to run as a hopeless cause, go to Vegas and hope your party leader morphs into the next Jack Layton on the hustings. 

 You think Joan Crockatt wants to spend even 30 seconds talking about Federal Health Transfers or fighter jets during the Calgary Centre By-election? No freaking way. Her strategy is going to be what has ALWAYS worked for Conservatives in Calgary: Smile for the picture, keep your yap shut, and get elected because you're on the right team. It works, because we as voters, aided by a permissive media, ALLOW it to work.  
I'm NOT saying, in ANY way, shape, or form, that we don't have some truly great public servants and candidates for office in this city, this province, and this country. We do. We have many incredibly qualified, passionate, caring individuals who could be making a LOT more in the private sector, who work 18 hour days trying to serve their fellow citizens. I'm proud to call some of these people my friends. I've talked to dozens of candidates for municipal or provincial office who, if you needed help, would give you the shirt off their back not because you're a voter, but because it's the right thing to do. But this isn't about the good ones - they're fine. This is about the times when you've turned on the tv to watch a debate, or stepped into your local voting station, looked at the ballot, and said "God, REALLY? THESE are my choices?"
If we were able, and WILLING, to point at all the people on our ballot and say "Not good enough"...  if we were able and willing to do that to the political parties, or their spin doctors, or their anointed private-sector broadcaster lapdogs... if we were willing and able to do that, they'd give us better candidates. They'd give us better policies. They'd stop talking to us like we're a bunch of yokel idiots, stop spinning every press release like we're too slow to notice, and they'd start treating us the way we deserve to be treated.  

The way we DEMAND to be treated.  

Because right now, today, we don't demand better.  

And we get the leaders we deserve.

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