Friday, February 5, 2010

Strategy and morality. . . .

I find it strange that people boast about their leader being a brilliant or formidable tactician in the field of politics. In making this claim these people are often willingly reducing politics to nothing more than a game. Yet we all know, the qualities we claim to desire, and should desire, in our representatives are honesty, straightforwardness, respectfulness, courtesy, commitment, compassion, etc. But when we boast that our party leader is admirable because of his ability to out maneuver other duly elected representatives, we are simply confirming that our leader has dispensed with the admirable principles that we claim to stand for. The application of strategic consciousness to the issues of politics clearly undermines in most cases the moral qualities that we seek to implement in our system. Of course this is not necessarily true all the time. Gandhi, for one, applied strategy in order to achieve his political goals. But he was always straightforward about his strategic process. His approach would be to say we are doing x to achieve y. He didn't pretend, for example, that he was engaging in the great salt march in order to have better relations with the British colonial government. He didn't claim to fast in order to encourage people to eat fewer somosas. No, clearly strategy can, if made with honest disclosure, be a principled thing. But it certainly is not so in the recent examples of our politicians. 

People have bragged in the past about Stephen Harper's strategic prowess. But in every case of his supposed genius, it is being applied in a dishonest way and with the goal of shutting down real political discourse. He didn't say, I am breaking my own election law because this is a good opportunity for me to acquire a majority. He didn't say I am proroging parliament in order to avoid a legitimate vote of confidence. And recently he didn't say he was proroging parliament in order to buy himself time on the Afghan issue. Yet we all know that was what was going on. That is not strategy, that is just dishonesty. When people brag about their leader's strategic genius the litmus test should not be "does this effectively undermine my political opposition?" The question they should always ask themselves is; is my leader being honest and straightforward in the pursuit of his political goals? 

One thing to consider is the psychology of this process. Only if you are being honest about your goals can you be honest about the outcomes. Many people observed that George Bush seemed congenitally incapable of admitting he was wrong or had made a mistake.. This is generally because he was seldom honest about his political motivations so an admission of error would make no sense.  Stephen Harper cannot, for example, admit that he made a mistake proroging parliament because his stated goals (choose which every one you want among the several that he has used) were an effort at  're-calibrating his budget agenda to better serve Canadians.' Admitting that he was wrong would make no sense within this context. An admission of error could only come if he could admit that there was some incongruity between his goal and the outcome. Instead what you find men like Bush and Harper doing is continually shifting the grounds of their stated goals in order to try to avoid admission of error. Bush of course famously invoked 911 before he invaded Iraq, when this became problematic, he invoked 'Weapons of Mass-Destruction,' and when that failed he attempted to make it all an issue of human rights and democracy, and then toward the end when all else failed you would occasionally hear some vague reference to 'stability in the region' etc. And of course, Harper has recently done the same thing with prorogation. Because he will not admit publicly what his actual intentions were, he is forced to constantly shift his stated intention. 

Gandhi's great salt march was a way of highlighting an immoral law, and a method of inspiring a people. It was clear direct and honest. Indeed it was a strategy but its goal was not to undermine Gandhi's political opponents through trickery. Gandhi was not taking advantages of loopholes in the law and then misrepresenting his actions as something they weren't. It is about time we stopped admiring politicians simply because they sometime outmaneuver their opponents and start admiring politicians who state their goals clearly and portray their strategic moves honestly.

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