Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No Sale

Mercifully, this American election cycle is just about over. What that means for those of us who live on the northern shores of Lake Ontario is that the deluge of political calumny that thunders like Niagara from television stations in New York State will soon come to an end. With the help of professional consultants, modern political candidates have discovered that the way to win elections is to plaster the airwaves with wall to wall negative propaganda.

Joe Kennedy is said to have told his son John, before he won the presidency, "It's not who you are that's important. It's who people think you are." That advice seeems to have morphed into the corollary: "It's not who you are that's important. It's who people think the other guy is." And the other guy is always someone who, as Hugo Chavez said of George W. Bush, leaves the distinct whiff of sulphur whenever he exits the room.

I noted with sadness that the Ontario Liberal Party invited James Carville to its annual conference this past weekend to offer advice on how to win the next election, which is now about a year off.

I also saw the ad which the Republican National Committee is running against Harold Ford in Tennessee -- the one in which the blonde, shot from the shoulders up, appears to be in her natural state, and asks Harold to give her a call. Some naive commentators suggest that her invitation is a comment on Ford's religous hypocrisy. Those of us who have spent some time in the South know that the accusation goes much deeper than that.

Politics has never been a polite profession. And my own generation has not made it any politer. George Bush and Bill Clinton represent the schitzophrenic face of baby boomers. We split on the war, on the counterculture and on civil rights. And we tended to view our heroes and foes as characters from a comic book world. They were either virtue or evil incarnate. And, frankly, it was easy to think of them in such absolute terms when Geroge Wallace proclaimed, "Segregation then, segregation now, segregation forever!" and Richard Nixon informed us that, "when the president does it, it's not illegal."

But both men are dead now. And, to his credit -- before he died -- Wallace admitted the error of at least some of his ways.

It is time to admit the errors of our ways. Barak Obama is right. It is time to move beyond the catagories of the sixties. It is time to stop fighting old battles. There are enough new battles to occupy us.

The first sign that we have moved on will be when the deluge of negative ads dries up. The next sign will be when political hopefuls stop calling on folks like James Carville to offer them professional advice. The third sign will be when we actually have a debate between candidates, rather than television events where reporters pitch questions and the audience waits to see if the batters can hit them out of the park. And, finally, we'll know that we live in a functioning democracy when every candidate knocks on every door in his or her riding and talks to at least one person behind every door.

A pipe dream? Probably. But what we have at the moment is a nightmare. And if nightmare scenarios are all we can generate, how many citizens will continue to vote?

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