I don't know if I am just getting old and being nostalgic about the past but it seems to me that politics is certainly gotten nasty over the years. Perhaps it is thanks to men like Karl Rove whose political style has gotten so popular with political parties everywhere. But I think part of it is that in the past thirty years or so we, as a culture, have made issues such as domestic violence and bullying very important, so the fact that our politicians are still making a culture of hate, anger, and bullying part of their political MO makes such behaviour in our political discourse seem particularly noticeable and nasty. What are we to tell our children about the proper modes of behaviour when the behaviour of our own political leaders is so rife with name-calling, dishonesty, lack of accountability, and bullying? And what is the point of running programs in our schools that suggest that violence is not the way to solve conflicts when our political leaders, (particularly right-wing ones) seem to still exist in a milieu of the 19th century old West?
Watching the Ontario elections which are just wrapping up now, I have been disappointed by the Tea Party style of the Progressive Conservative Party in particular which has run a nasty campaign which has revolved around almost pure negativity (with the exception of one rather corny ad about Hudak's "family values"). But I saw ad after ad, day in and day out in which the PCs relentlessly attacked the Liberal Party and its leader in a distinctly mean and misleading fashion. I don't think there is anything dishonest about highlighting a government's tax policies by drawing attention to so major taxation legislation that the government enacted. But there is something distinctly dishonest about making those pieces of legislation the cornerstone of your campaign when you have vowed to maintain those very policies. This dishonesty is compounded when the last time your party was in power it left a huge (unrevealed) deficit during times of prosperity with which the incoming government was forced to contend. Now, I am not a big fan of Mr. Mcguinty, in large part because he failed to change the terrible education funding formula that the last PC government had instituted and which has been terrible for the students of Ontario, and because he has not addressed the near crisis in Ontario universities and colleges. But the dishonest attacks on Mr. Mcguinty brings the entire political system into disrepute, lowers the discourse of politics, and serves to alienate more people from democracy.
This is not to say that the Ontario Liberals have been immune from negative politics during this campaign. Though the LPO ran a largely positive campaign, their attacks on the NDP have been distinctly dishonest. Their attempts to show some kind of kinship between the Ontario NDP leader and Tim Hudak, when they know that no such kinship exists, is just Karl Rove politics all over. They have made a big issue of telling people that the Ontario NDP have voted the same way as the Conservatives many times. But of course they know, as does anyone who understands parliamentary politics, that such voting does not reflect some implicit agreement between the two opposition parties on substantive matters of policy. Andrea Horwath has indeed voted against a number of progressive policies that one would assume that the NDP would support. But this happens in all parliaments with all parties because governments nowadays love to write large pieces of so-called omnibus legislation which contain many pieces of legislation that should, if one pursues politics honestly, be separated. In many cases governments do this precisely because they know that an opposition party will vote against the legislation and that this issue can be used against that party in a future election. If an opposition party likes some piece of, say, childcare funding that is in a bill that also includes huge pieces of legislation that that opposition party also opposes, then they are obviously bound to oppose it, and it is wrong to then use that vote to suggest that the opposition party opposes childcare funding. The Liberal Party of Ontario has done this throughout the campaign and it is a tactic that is straight out of the Conservative handbook.
There is a serious disconnect between our modern, and important, focus on civility and the terrible consequences of bully and violence on the one hand, and the tenor of political debate in this country on the other hand. I learned a long time ago when I was living in El Salvador that abstract political goals about making the world a better and more just place mean absolutely nothing unless they become an integral part of our personal behaviour. Until politicians are willing to act in an honest and upright manner then all their talk amounts to little more than hot air and empty promises. And the parents who refuse to tolerate, cheating in the classroom, bullying in the schools and violence on the playground should refuse to accept such behaviour from their politicians. The biggest problem is, of course, that many people have rejected modern politics by staying at home during elections and this speaks to a crisis in democracy itself. Until we begin to resolve these issues, then our "democracy" will not deserve that title of honour.
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