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Politics: The Art of the Possible?

The Liberal Party of Canada kicked off its National Policy Convention yesterday with a barn-burner of a speech by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau – if it was a very small barn. For a profession (and I use that term loosely) like politics which relies heavily on inspirational oratory, we’re almost penniless these days.

Politics has become vicious, overly partisan, and about as inspirational as over-cooked asparagus.

We no longer have any of the great orators; the great speakers we once had. Now it’s all talking points targeted to small, special interest groups identified by overly-analyzed polls. It is not only dividing us it is eroding our democracy.

Great leaders inspire people to unite behind a vision or to face a crisis together. They use words like artists use paint and music and poetry. They create ideas that bring people together and they lead their nations forward.

It isn’t just the ability to speak well that’s important; Barack Obama is proof that empty rhetoric delivered well is still nothing more than empty rhetoric. It’s the combination of passion and innovative ideas expressed with confidence and without the need to act like a thug against your opponents that inspires people. In other words, the willingness to stand for something rather than merely oppose something else and the ability to excite people about what it is you believe and that you want to achieve.

Ronald Regan was one of those leaders.

His ability to communicate even unpopular ideas is almost legendary. He had a natural charm and relaxed delivery that was at the same time disarming but underscored a strong sense of purpose and conviction. He didn’t feel the need to beat the bejesus out of his opponents because he believed in what he stood for and was able to deliver that in a positive, motivating way.

John F. Kennedy was another. Kennedy’s words are still quoted today by liberals and conservatives because they meant something when they were spoken and still do.

Compare that to the political leaders of today; John Boehner, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Barack Obama and Hollande of France, Cameron of Britain or Hillary Clinton.

Where’s the beef?

These folks, especially here in Canada, have reduced citizens to little more than being taxpayers and voters when we are actually much more than that. We are citizens. It is our country, our nation and they are elected to serve us not rule, manipulate or bore us to death.

In Ontario, despite the economic holocaust the Liberals have wrought, the Wynne government has moved forward on new educational requirements for barbers and tossed raises to the same teachers whose salaries they had frozen six month earlier rather than seriously address economic issues. That’s hardly the kind of leadership, let alone fundamental thinking, that inspires anyone.

Forget the Trans Canada Highway, the National Railway, The St. Lawrence Seaway or landing on the moon, our current crop of federal leaders can’t even get a bloody pipeline built despite the fact that it would create thousands of jobs, would not contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and would serve the economies of both Canada and the United States very well.

They can’t get it built because they are held hostage by politics and lack the will, the ability and the confidence to lead rather than pursue power and privilege for their own sake. They come to office full of promises that they reverse with all of the dexterity of a champion figure skater landing a quad.

The party doesn’t matter. It’s politics.

The Liberals in Ontario broke 75 election promises in the first six months of their first term in office and grew to like it so much that they just kept making more promises they never kept. The federal conservatives reversed themselves on income trusts, senate reform and lately, income splitting. And just this week, PC Leader Tim Hudak backed away from his two-year commitment to overturn the Rand formula and give people the right to work without joining a union.

They are cynical cowards, afraid to defend principle for fear it cost them an election.

It shows in their speeches. They are people with little ideas and small visions; people who would trade increased apprenticeship opportunities and maintaining existing levels of service to our veterans in order to toss a few million to maintain snowmobile trails for some other special interest – as presented in Canada’s most recent federal budget.

They strut; they preen, they pontificate and they criticize and attack each other but they can’t even write their own tweets on Twitter. It’s a protracted process involving strategists and bureaucrats that can take upwards of a week just to write a 140 character message.

They are a world unto themselves where right and wrong are not predicated on morality or values but on winning. Nothing else matters and these, my friends, are the guys who think that they are qualified to tell the rest of us how to live.

I got thinking about this last night as I watched Justin Trudeau speak at the Liberal Policy Convention. For a guy who has been doing quite well pretty much on nothing more than personality and good looks, it wasn’t a very inspiring speech. It was long on hope and short on substance which may, in fact, be a deliberate strategy but surely to God it isn’t part of the strategy to be flat and dull in the delivery of a speech about hope.

Good Lord! If you’re going to imitate someone when delivering a speech why on earth would you imitate Stephen Harper’s delivery?

I believe that the next election will be as much about likability as policy. In fact, when push comes to shove, I believe that Canadians are pretty much fed up with the acrimony, the micro-targeting of different groups, the uber-partisanship and the outright thuggery of politics these days. I believe people want a leader they not only can believe in but that they actually like, trust  and are proud to have represent them.

The late Jack Layton was a socialist and yet, he was so well liked, he drew support from well beyond his normal political boundaries and even his opponents tended to treat him with respect.

Imagine what this country would be like if we had a Jack Layton type leading the Conservative or Liberal parties – a person who not only had a good-natured likeability and who could deliver an inspiring speech but who actually stood for something and remained consistent in his principles.

That would be a leader who would, I believe, crush opposition to his or her election and without the need for dirty tricks, negative advertising or violations of the Elections Act.

That would be a leader worth following but I don’t see any coming down the road and I seriously doubt that any of the current crop will learn how to be anything but what they have already proven themselves to be.

Politics used to be important, inspiring and interesting. Now it is mean-spirited, partisan gamesmanship by a raft of uninspired and uninspiring people more focused on privilege and power than nation building or leadership. If politics is meant to be the art of the possible, our political leaders have turned it into nothing more than a vicious and foolish mediocrity.

They are petty people with petty ideas.

God help us!


© 2013 Maggie’s Bear

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  • Gramma Barb

    Bear…don’t you notice, these speeches given by the ‘great politicians’ are constantly referring to ‘working for the middle class Canadian’!!.? gosh I am so sick of that term! and another…..’we are here to serve the Canadian people’!!
    choke!!…AND it does not matter what color jacket they wear! geesh! ever notice they dress in either, blue, red, orange and green!!!…….ties and scarves! their mouths are working but the same old bladerbish keeps spewing forward…..Please someone tell them to leave those ‘key’ words out, because we the people are so tired of them…give us some concrete substance we can actually ‘listen’ to………

  • damorris

    I disagree with your praise for Jack Layton,a latte socialist who never in his entire life had to make one of the hard decisions that affect the Nation,or even a Province. Layton can come off as a hero of the people because the media and the credulous saw his smiling personality, and nothing beyond that,if there WAS any substance to the man. Layton could speechify,but beyond the usual progressives rhetoric,what did he really stand for? IMO, looking out for number one.

    We have reaped what was sown for us by the education systems of this Country, self-centered, self-interested politicians,who,if they portray the proper PC image, are accepted and even worshipped by the voters. This is the age of image,and Obama and Justin are Hollywood’s image of what the modern politician should be. So millions of us will vote for the image.
    Where are great Leaders to come from today, not from our coddled,overfed masses. There IS no adversity to breed character any more.

    I had to laugh today,reading a comment at Sun News that “at least we’ll be rid of Harper and his big business agenda”, as though Trudeau represents something else.

    I’m afraid this time,the Conservatives are NOT going to experience the groundswell of common sense,due to their mishandling of numerous issues we all know well, and Justin is going to BE the next PM. Harper has 18 months to repair relations with his base, but I doubt he has the will to do so.

  • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

    If you consider what a bunch of sissified socialists this country is(40% voted for the centrist Conservatives and 60% voted for left, lefterer, or leftest parties in 2011, as one example), does that not put Stephen Harper in the position of attempting to implement his agenda while keeping enough centrists and conservatives happy to maintain power? Would he not then be practicing the “art of the possible”? I know it’s cool these days to hate old Steve. Some hate him because he is too conservative, some feel he is not conservative enough. Others just feel he is far too mean(boo hoo, I want the Prime Minister to be my friend, but he seems so “mean” to people who want to take his job, etc). Libertarians aren’t satisfied with the lowest taxes available(is there someone offering to cut them more than Harper is or has?), they must have all or they will have none, so they hate Harper too.

    I wonder if you have read P.J. O’Rourke’s “Parliament of Whores”. If not, it’s worth it, along with anything else he has written. If there are stupid, petty leaders with little or no vision, they are of course visionless, stupid, petty people. But they are leaders because people voted for them. As O’Rourke points out, it turns out the whores are “us”. Sure, if everyone voted for the party that offered the lowest taxes, the most robust military, and the greatest personal and economic freedoms, some other party would come along to offer even lower taxes, an even more robust military, and even greater personal and economic freedoms. But people don’t vote that way, so the politicians don’t behave that way. — Just as an aside, this is why Andrew Coyne and guys like him disgust me. They bitch endlessly about how the Conservatives aren’t conservative enough, and how they don’t do things based on principle, and then they merrily vote for another party that is less conservative and less principled. — God help us, indeed. With so many “conservatives” ready to throw in the towel all the time, we will always have trouble dealing with the socialists. President Obama is the worst President since Woodrow Wilson, and perhaps the worst ever. Yet he won a second term because “conservatives” stayed home, refusing to support the squishy centrist who was by any measure superior to the other guy. There might be a lesson there for us.

    I’m not suggesting that we all need to tell everyone what a really great guy Harper is and what a wonderful bunch of angels he has in his caucus. I’m suggesting we compare them to the alternatives that are available. Conservatives need to get their heads in the game, or we really will get the worst case scenario in a year and a half. I have only been around for forty years, so I didn’t see first hand, but you talk about great leaders like Reagan and Kennedy as though they faced no opposition. Reagan was as hated by the press as Harper is today, and both Reagan and Kennedy were shot by crazy Communists, weren’t they? My point is that mean spirited acrimoniousness is not exactly new in politics. And Kennedy’s words and glorious tax cuts aside(and they were glorious, effective, stimulative, etc.), we certainly don’t want a leader like him, deflowering underage girls in the Lincoln Bedroom and all the other garbage he was into.

    To sum up, I see a lot of blogs and hear a lot of people that are really down on politics in general. I get it, people have different ideas and we have to hash them out and sometimes it’s ugly. But what I refuse to do is label them as “all the same” and wish there were a better way, or a better leader, or a better whatever. That whole act strikes me as extremely self-serving, an attempt to be “above it all”. No need to pick a side and then have to fight it out in the trenches, oh no, it’s easier to simply paint them all as the same bunch of jerks, and pretend that it makes no difference which bunch we choose. Being a conservative means taking the world “as is” and then acting upon it, rather than moaning that it’s not the way we wish. This is where my affection for libertarianism wanes: they typically live in Wish-Ville. I live in Real-Ville, where saying “all the options are bad so hang them all” isn’t good enough. If we can’t choose a “most good” option, we choose a “least bad” option. Just a thought…

    • MaggiesBear

      There is a difference between giving people a choice between policy initiatives and simply using the people as a conduit to get elected so you can do whatever you want. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have repeatedly lied during the election. The people voted, whichever party it was simply ignored what the people approved during the election. Far from being too easy to blame politicians, I think it has become quite trendy to blame the electorate. It isn’t the electorate that lies to politicians, it is politicians that manipulate and lie to the people. Call it whatever you like but that isn’t democracy.

      If you can’t trust a liberal leader or a conservative pm to adhere to both the promises and the values they claimed to have before they were elected then all you have is political chaos. That isn’t leadership, that’s anything but.

      • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

        I would love to see this leader you seek. Reagan likely came closest in the last half century. Maybe there is a Coolidge out there somewhere, who could just keep saying “no” to every interest group, to every spending plan, to every tax hike, etc. If there is, I’d love to vote for him…but would anyone else?

        As I said earlier I’ve only been around for four decades, but my understanding of human nature tells me politics has always been ugly, that leaders have always lied, that it has always been chaos. I’m not defending the liars, I’m just pointing out that it is not worse now than ever. It’s the same. It always will be. I’m going to keep voting for the least bad option that I believe can win.

        Trendy to blame the electorate? I have been doing so for a quarter century, but have not noticed it becoming popular. Do you contend that if our current PM had kept every promise, refused to bend on any principle, and told the unvarnished truth about every single thing to every single reporter, that he would still be PM? Do you maintain that his honesty and refusal to alter any portion of his philosophy would have saved him in the last election, or the one before? Or is it really your assertion that had he then lost said election, his replacement would have spent less, cut taxes more, never lied, and led us to Elysium?

        Of course not. So while we criticize, and hold leaders to account, my suggestion is that we also take note of what other forces were at work. The PM cannot be held blameless, certainly. But can the opposition? Can the voters? No.

        • MaggiesBear

          I am contending that the decline in voter turnout at elections is do in large part to the fact that an increasing number of people feel that their votes no longer matter and the entire exercise is pointless. They don’t create that frustration; political parties and leaders who do not keep their promises do. Politics has always been a blood sport but the road to perdition we are no traveling started with Pierre Trudeau campaigning against wage and price controls and then implementing then six months after he was elected. In a democracy, the people vote to give the winning party a mandate to implement an agenda it presented before the election. It is not a mandate to go off and do whatever they want after the election. We have become too blase about both our democratic rights and our responsibilities but that has been encouraged and manipulated by politicians and their parties.

          • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

            I’m not entirely sure we are on opposite sides here. Rather I think you are calling Harper out for being too much like the rest, while I am just saying I think he is the best of a bad bunch. Cytotoxic thinks I worship Big Bad Steve, and he can think whatever he is able to, but the fact is that if a better alternative comes along who can win, I’ll jump ship immediately. What I won’t do is stay home on election day, nor will I vote for a fantasy that cannot be. It’s the job of grownups to pick the best option, not to vent their spleen like the libertarian kids do. Just to be clear, I’m certain you are a grownup and not just venting like Cyto is. I don’t suppose we will solve the problem on this page, so cheers to you and your blog, I yield the floor on this topic.

        • Cytotoxic

          Shorter post: LEAVE HARPER ALONE.

          Paul Martin was better for small government, yet somehow I doubt you’d be turning the other cheek for his compromises if he were in power.

          • MaggiesBear

            I thought Martin was a terrible Prime Minister.

          • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

            I always thought I believed Martin was a very good Finance Minister and a rather aimless Prime Minister, but now that you “doubt” it, I’m no longer certain.

    • Cytotoxic

      does that not put Stephen Harper in the position of attempting to
      implement his agenda while keeping enough centrists and conservatives
      happy to maintain power?

      So why is Harper so opposed to safe injection sites and MJ legalization when most Canadians are clearly okay with it? Why govern to the fiscal left of Martin? Because Harper is first and foremost a freedom-hating authoritarian.

      TL;DR version of wall of text: Libertarians should ‘get real’ and that means shrinking government by supporting those who expand government. It worked so well with the Bush-era GOP why not do it again? /derp

      • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

        Hey Cytotoxic; are most Canadians ok with safe injection sites and MJ legalization? I am, but are most Canadians? You may be right but I’m not at all certain. As for why Harper would be opposed to both, it could be he thinks he can exploit a wedge issue, which would allow him to maintain power, which he must maintain in order to implement anything. Or maybe he just likes telling people what to do, as you say. My point was that I don’t see anyone out there who A) is MORE conservative fiscally AND B) can win. I could be wrong.

        I’m guessing you are libertarian. I am too, philosophically. I agree with the whole program, the legalization of drugs and the shrinking of the state and the whole deal, with the exception that I prefer a robust military and many libertarians don’t. Here’s the problem: libertarians need to get more voters to agree before they can implement any agenda. What would you say the numbers are on that? If Harper had not done that ridiculous “stimulus” budget, would he have remained in power? Would the Liberals and NDP have spent less? It’s a serious question. Would they have spent less? You know the answer as well as anyone. Yet you blame the guy who gives you something because he won’t give you everything.

        Tell me, do you think Harper abolished the long gun registry and Wheat Board monopoly because he is a “freedom-hating authoritarian”? If you do think so please say so and I can move on to talk to sane people, but you don’t think that do you? You are just angry because your — our — preferred philosophy is not being implemented exactly as you wish. I get it, I really do. But our fellow voters would not tolerate what we want the government to do. Seriously, they wouldn’t. And while Harper has all kinds of flaws, like all humans do, it is a little unfair to lay the blame for the socialist tendencies of the Canadian electorate at his feet.

        You’re right, W and his pals spent way too much. Have you seen a more libertarian approach from the Democrats? Compare like with like, not the guy in power with some fantasy king from ya libertarian wet dream.

        • Cytotoxic

          are most Canadians ok with safe injection sites and MJ legalization? I am, but are most Canadians?

          Yes the polling data is pretty clear.

          My point was that I don’t see anyone out there who A) is MORE conservative fiscally AND B) can win.

          He can’t win his majority back and will quite possibly lose to Trudeau. That’s what years of sh*t-tier governance will do.

          If Harper had not done that ridiculous “stimulus” budget, would he have remained in power?

          Not my concern. I only care about shrinking government, not cheering for MUH TEAM, unlike certain partisan concern trolls.

          you blame the guy who gives you something because he won’t give you everything.

          What Harper ‘gave us’ is deficits, massive spending, botched military spending, duplicity wrt to the senate scandal, ongoing attempts to get warrant-less internet taps legal, stupid TUFF ON KRIME legislation, a G8 police state in TO, attacks on foreign investment, corporate subsidy, a ramp up of the War on Drugs, etc. Reality bests your partisan apologia cloaked in faux-libertarian concern.

          do you think Harper abolished the long gun registry and Wheat Board monopoly because he is a “freedom-hating authoritarian”?

          He did it solely to appease his stupid base, who will now give him a free pass on everything.

          You are just angry because your — our — preferred philosophy is not being implemented exactly as you wish.

          No I’m angry that Harper sh*ts all over freedom and team-tards like you not only give it a pass but lecture those living in the real world for not deluding themselves into believing that Father Harper is ‘giving us something’.

          Bush made Obama possible. If you supported Bush after 2004, you are largely responsible for the current sorry state of America. Harper is our Bush. He is pushing ‘socialist Canadians’ (who are no more socialist than Americans) to the left so that his predecessor can be another Obama. You are responsible for the coming disaster and it’s no surprise you can’t see beyond your own two feet. Thanks to people like you, we are in a deep hole and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, all thanks to people like you.

          Partisanship is a mental disorder, and you have it. You also have hero worship. You and ‘people’ like you treat Harper as Obama supporters treat Obama. Harper = CPC Obama

          • http://jonathandfriesen.blogspot.ca/ Jonathan Friesen

            I’m not even going to dignify most of that. Once you start with the “concern troll, team-tard, ‘people’ ” bit I lose interest. You apparently disagree, and you are also evidently quite upset with me. I’ll try to get over it.

  • oldwhiteguy

    it must be difficult to lead or come up with a new idea. people today do not embrace personal responsibility. they are more than happy with the status quo as long as their version of the political party is in power. you have excoriated harper and some he deserves, but my experience has been that none have been any better. we embrace socialism while complaining that the liberals have just about ruined Ontario financially but we will happily put someone else in who will do the same thing. the conservatives have proven they are not conservative so we will probably put someone else in power who is less conservative and think we will think we have done a wonderful thing. none of the pretenders to the throne are any more honest than harper and will not reduce our debt or the size of government. young trudeau managed to get a law degree and I have no idea how. day after day things plod along with the same result and I for one cannot see anything changing. it has been this way for 70 years that I am aware of.

    • MaggiesBear

      I have criticized all of the parties at various times but I didn’t vote for them. I voted for Stephen Harper because I hold to conservative values and because I trusted him to keep his word. He’s in the driver’s seat in the country and is, therefore, more responsible than those in opposition. If we don’t hold the feet of the government of the day to the fire, we might as well all pack up and go home. Simply stating that the other guys are as bad so what they hell, isn’t defending either conservative values or our democracy.

      There are people dying in other parts of the world to force their political leaders to respect their democratic rights. We merely point at the other parties and say “see?”. The parties take full advantage of it and in the end, we are all poorer for it.

      • oldwhiteguy

        I did not state that the other guys are just as bad. I said nothing changes. the policies are the same, the cost and size of government continues to grow and government intrusion in our lives continues to expand, no matter who is in power. I would say that I am the most conservative person in Canada and no one that I have voted for has ever lived up to conservative values. they always make a nasty left turn when the get elected. maybe we should be in the streets taking action. I know it is badly needed in Ontario.

        • MaggiesBear

          We agree pretty much on all of that especially the situation in Ontario. What a complete and utter mess that is. None of the political leaders in Ontario actually get it and I think the province’s worst days are still ahead.

    • damorris

      Justin Trudeau has a B.A. from McGill,a B.Ed> from UBC, no law degree.

  • Randy

    One can only hope Bear, one can only hope.
    Someone has to step forward with skill, leadership and the ability
    to unite people from all sides and it had better be soon. Our democracy
    is being eroded by mediocrity, dishonesty, indifference and tribal loyalties
    and if we don’t get our act together we will lose it as we know it.
    However, we in Canada are becoming as territorial with our politics as they
    are in the U.S and I truly wonder if someone can unite the people with the
    attitudes that is prevalent today. With the media as it is, newspapers on one
    side or the other, left and right wing news channels, celebrities endorsing
    politicians, it all seems to foster and encourage a divisiveness amongst us.

    • MaggiesBear

      I agree with you and the end result of all of that is . . .the Ukraine.

      • Randy

        Jonathon and the old white guy raise good points and state
        what has been stated here on numerous occasions-that the
        politics of divisiveness is increasing. Harper has been scorned
        as being too cold, too impersonal and too vindictive to be a leader,
        yet Chretien before him was identical in running the country. But
        the media looked at him as the ” little guy from Shawinigan”.
        In the next election, we will be voting for the person we dis-like
        the least but it is so on many elections.
        As far as comparing us to the Ukraine, you are vastly over
        estimating our desire to stand up for our rights. We are quite
        content in this country to sit back and state that if it does not
        affect us, then it is not my concern. We watch as politicians of
        all stripes lie, steal, bungle and mismanage this country on all
        government levels and do very little, except re-elect them.
        The people in the Ukraine, Iran and other countries who protest
        for their rights and democracy do so with the threat of death
        or long term detainment. We do not have that threat and yet….

        • MaggiesBear

          You seem to forget that a year ago, 50,000 people took to the streets in Quebec over the proposed tuition increase and that was just a minor tax increase. Imagine what would happen if it was a truly serious issue. Toronto saw violence during the G9/G20 and Vancouver saw it over a bloody hockey game. I think Canadians have allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. What we’re seeing in the Ukraine and have seen in Greece, France and other western nations can just as easily erupt here.

          • Randy

            I seriously doubt that hooligans at a hockey game or
            professional rioters in Guy Fawkes masks speak for the
            majority of the population. If people want to change things, then vote. Which they don’t. When they say they
            have nothing to vote for, then they should find something
            to vote against. We have been lulled into a false sense
            of security and after every election, when the percentage
            of people who voted declines, the politicians become a
            little more emboldened. And we become a little more
            smug and dis-interested. I hope you are right that the
            populace can come to life, but I see little or no indication
            of it yet.

            • MaggiesBear

              I’m afraid I don’t see an indication of it either.