Here is the first sentence of the John McCain profile that appeared in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. I dare say I won’t soon be in a position to seriously write something similar here.
“Whatever their disagreements on policy, United States senators, even in today’s hyperpolitical climate, are reluctant to impugn one another’s motives or integrity.”
I’ve no idea whether this is entirely true. But Matt Bai has surely spent enough time watching American politics to be at least qualified to say so. For that matter, a couple months ago we talked in the bureau about how much better the political process was functioning in the United States when compared to the state of affairs here. So much so, one could argue, that we should retire the “American-style” slur of ridiculous political action.
As previously and gratuitously noted on this blog, I wrote last week for this magazine about truthiness and the Harper government. But arguably more egregious than the Harper government’s aptitude for truth-twisting are the oddly personal attacks that are currently reflex here.
When Stephane Dion persisted in asking questions about the alleged torture of detainees in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister accused him of sympathizing with the Taliban. When Dion criticized the government’s refusal to disclose a change in detainee policy, the Defence Minister accused him of endangering the lives of Canadian soldiers. When the opposition demanded to know why a pair of Conservative officials had involved themselves in government business, the Prime Minister accused his critics of bigotry (the two officials, you see, were Greek). When the House was debating what to do with the Chalk River nuclear facility, the Prime Minister accused the opposition of risking the lives of Canadian citizens for partisan purpose. Peter MacKay has referred to the NDP benches as “communist corner.” The Environment Minister has, on separate occasions, referred to Dion as a “coward” (for asking questions about Chuck Cadman) and Ralph Goodale as a “sleaze bag” (as the Liberal house leader rose to ask about Maxime Bernier). Just recently, the Prime Minister casually mused of unnamed anti-Semites holding office in Parliament. And so on.
Do the accusatory members of this Conservative government truly believe these allegations? Are they genuinely intending to tell Canadians that this Parliament is rife with traitors, bigots, murderous partisans, cowards, sleaze bags, anti-Semites and communists?
If the answer is yes, than this government has a responsibility to take their own accusations seriously. A commission must be immediately struck to study, deconstruct and root out the evil that has obviously overtaken our democracy.
If the answer is no, than perhaps the public has ample cause to cease taking this government seriously. A government that so casually and recklessly says things it can’t possibly mean, is to be given the same consideration it offers.
Shortly after the Chalk River dispute, Health Minister Tony Clement was asked about the venom with which the Conservatives had attacked the Liberals on the issue. His response was perhaps the most telling of any self-assessment yet offered by a member of this government: “Sometimes you gotta fire a couple shots across the bow to make sure the opposition knows that you’re serious about the issue.”
It is, by this logic, all for show. And if politics is reduced to a game or form of entertainment, it becomes just that—a silly departure from reality, a past-time.
You could argue that what’s going on in America right now comes down to a collective realization that politics is, even when joked about by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, to be taken seriously. That who gets elected in November will have profound impact on both the lives of American citizens and the world at large. Sept. 11 might not have taught anyone much of anything, but the seven subsequent years have surely proven that those in power have just that—lots and lots of influence than can be used to do all sorts of things of significance.
Canada has, by comparison, escaped meaningful crisis for perhaps 13 years—since the last referendum. But whenever the next election comes and the turnout is inevitably lower than it was the time before, beyond blaming more than a decade of prosperity and security for voter apathy here, there will perhaps be cause to wonder what reason this government is giving for the general public to take politics at all seriously.