Monday, June 16, 2014

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Like many who follow politics closely, I consider myself to be deeply cynical. Probably the best window into the human soul, politics is the arena where often the worst aspects of our natures prevail; greed, selfishness, abuse of power all have ample opportunity to find expression in this venue.

Yet despite many years of observing these terrible truths about ourselves, I have never completely abandoned hope for the possibility of something better. Recent events have provided some basis for that hope, despite the best efforts of the Harper neoconservatives to remake us in their own image and accept them as Canada's natural governing party and all that that implies.

In this vein, a couple of articles are worth perusal. The first, Seven things Kathleen Wynne's victory tells us about ourselves, offers two especially important insights:

It’s about character.

“It shows that Ontarians don’t vote first for platforms or policies,” says political consultant Randi Rahamim with the Toronto-based firm Navigator Ltd. What people sense is bred in the bone proved more important than the Liberal scandal over gas plants or the ORNGE air ambulance fiasco. “Character matters most and people have a gut feeling about that. Who do they want to have a coffee with?”

I regard this as especially important, inasmuch it suggests that we have not totally lost the ability to relate to politicians as fellow human beings, regarding them as more than just stereotypes of self-interest and corruption. To see the face of human integrity in our leaders implies we are able to look beyond those who can best serve our own narrow interests through more tax cuts, tax credits, and continued erosion of the traditional role of government.

She makes us feel good about who we are as a community and, on a wider scale, a province.

[Peter] Donolo compares her appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama’s effect on Americans in his first campaign in 2008. “There’s a real sense of optimism that they see reflected in her,” says Donolo.

There’s so much to get us down, starting with the lack of jobs and the way a dollar doesn’t stretch anymore. That could have been lethal for Wynne; her own party has been in power since 2003.

Instead, she included her definition of government as part of her stump speech, stressing that people pay taxes to cover social services. She also made it clear the government must respect the value of hard-earned dollars.

Clearly this is related to the issue of character. People's response to Wynne was, once again, a human response that includes concern about the larger community, something the federal government has been working steadily and consistently to undermine, and mirrored in Tim Hudak's gleeful blood lust for cuts.

In her column today, Heather Mallick writes on a similar theme of optimism. Entitled Liberals won because voters aren’t cynics, she reflects on Wynne's election win as a victory for the inclusiveness that progressives fight hard for:

We elected a woman premier, imagine that. I spent years worrying that the advance of gay rights had seemed to sidestep women, with lesbians as hidden in the shadows as ever.

There was a time when a divorced woman who had fallen in love with another woman would have been shut out of public life. Welcome, Premier Wynne.

Wynne’s budget was left-wing in that it had goals that can only be accomplished by government. The job of government is to be visionary, to plan for the future. The private sector can’t do that because it isn’t built into their structure.

And there was Wynne winning votes partly with the sheer force of her obvious decency, warmth and humour, a Canadian version of another much-loved politician, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While I am far from certain that the Liberals deserved the majority they achieved, and while I have been around long enough not to get too swept up in a self-congratulatory mood, this election experience does give hope that "the better angels of our nature" Abraham Lincoln referred to in his inaugural speech more than 100 years ago have not deserted us; rather, it seems more likely they have lain dormant, awaiting someone to reawaken us to their reality.


  1. I agree!! Had that asshole hudak won, I would have given up on Canada!! I now have hope that we will finally be rid of the moron, harper. I don't think that I have ever hated a politician more!!! Can you call a Dictator a politician??

    1. A democratically elected person who becomes an ipso facto dictator, astone, is surely a politician of the most despicable kind. Add to his many sins the crime of electoral fraud; everything Harper has done since securing his government has been a violation of his pledge of open, transparent and accountable government. Let's hope that the ability to discern this crass manipulation is part of what the electorate brings to the 2015 election.