The Times They Are a’Changin’

Will the Federal Liberals come back? Are the Conservatives so worried about that happening that it explains their attack ads against the interim leader, Bob Rae? Will the NDP move to a “let’s get to power” stance with their leadership race this weekend? On and on the ephemera of the horse race story goes (along with the scandal du jour).

In reality, nothing is happening, as we have entered into a realm of waiting that will be resolved, eventually, by an earthquake.

Let me explain.

All the incessant posturing, pre-electioneering, shouting, etc. that is modern politics in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle, the spinmeisters, political consultants, and so on — all of which is focused on hard, fast, negative sound-bites — has alienated the electorate.

Identities are more fluid than they’ve ever been. This is precisely why people shout so loudly, whether it’s “Harper has to go because 60+% didn’t vote for him” or “You can’t ever again elect anyone else”. Today’s Conservatives are members of a party that’s in its ninth year of operation, founded from one that existed for all of three years, that was a rebranding of one that had existed for a little over a decade before that.

That’s soil as thin as the mulch-on-rock that you find in Stanley and Pacific Spirit Parks in Vancouver. No one’s great-grandfather laying down the family tradition here.

The parallel to this, for those of us who have worked in and around the computer industry, was the late 1980s, when then “no one ever got fired for buying” giant IBM was almost universally disliked, mistrusted, yet (when a decision needed to be made) rewarded, for lack of an alternative.

Alternatives are not a substitution of one company for another; they are a shift in the paradigm of use.

When it came — with LANs, Windows 3.1, and the client/server computing model in and around 1992 — an earthquake occurred. IBM was rocked and spent years reinventing itself. (There are those who think this is happening to Microsoft in turn. We shall see.)

What this means is that the problem with politics has practically nothing to do with who the leaders are — the very thing the news is so concerned with.

The Liberals, for instance, will see no real gain by keeping Bob Rae (dropping the “i” from his iLeader status), or by making another leadership choice. The New Democrats are an exception to this, in that who they pick this weekend could fundamentally shift the party from its historical “conscience of the nation” to a party competing for power — but once they make their choice, much of what follows in the public arena will not depend upon “leadership”, merely what happens behind the scenes and within the caucus and riding associations.

Let’s face it: Stephen Harper is hardly the country’s most dynamic, exciting, voluble “leader”. His strengths lie behind the scenes while his weaknesses are in plain view. That’s how he became the subject of a nine year “hate” — oh, and Prime Minister for as long.

So, too, for the NDP — and if they choose power and elect their own “Harper” in Thomas Mulcair, the Liberals will be dead dog dinner for a long time to come, no matter how many members of the media still have their Liberal contacts first on the rolodex whenever a quote is needed.

I sometimes think the Green Party has it precisely backward (and I speak of them here because Green is as much a movement beyond normal politics as it is an attempt to enter the fray in the chambers of government). It’s not that we need another party. Instead we need a new politics.

Part of the mania for Barack Obama that we saw south of the border in 2008 — and the original Tony Blair in Britain in 1997 — and even Pierre Trudeau in 1968 — is that they didn’t need to campaign from the sound-bite, negative, “my opponent est un gros enmerdement (is a big shitting)” point of view.

They could strike out positively and say nothing about their opponents. “Vote for us because of a, b & c” is so much more appealing than “Vote for us because we’re not those lying, cheating, stealing cretins”.

So is treating the electorate as thinking, rational adults who are capable of responding to a sense of history, of vision and of direction rather than scaring them into taking action to avoid their fate.

That’s not to say that at various points in the campaign the “experts” didn’t create negative views, and the sniping didn’t begin — clearly it did with all the figures mentioned — nor is the public fooled with the leader keeping to high road while his or her entourage gets down in the mud (it is not; merde can be smelled even when the front-man’s shoes don’t stink.

Periodically institutions need reform. This is because, as Thomas Langan showed in his book Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom, the institution takes on a life of its own separate from the tradition that gave it life.

The faith yields the Church, and by so doing people in charge of the churches have interests in their roles separate from those required of them by the faith. Ecclesia semper reformanda is the response: the Church is always in need of reform.

The desire for societal self-government yields parliaments and assemblies, and those who sit in them have interests (for their factions, as the first American President, George Washington, noted) that diverge from what the process of governance requires of them. So it goes, everywhere.

Our political institutions are in advanced decay. They have been subordinated to parties, and those who cling to the apron-strings of power these represent.

What this electorate — and I care little whether we speak of your municipal government, your provincial government or institutional Ottawa — is most waiting for is the person who will come to politics to reform the system.

Reform, in this sense, need not mean “a new political faction”: it could come just as easily by working within an existing party.

But it would be a reform, indeed, of how politics is conducted.

They would take the Kinsellas with their “ass-kicking”, and the Carvilles and Morrises with their “triangulation” and “it’s (just) the economy, stupids”, and others of their kind and boot them overboard.

They would stop playing to the polls, or even worrying about them — pollsters need not apply for work here.

They would treat their counter-parts with respect and speak firmly but quietly about matters of import rather than seizing upon the “issue of the day” or seek to blow up the scandal du jour (really, what’s the difference between that and the pumping and dumping which our Securities Laws say is illegal around the stock market?) in their place.

They would assume in everything they do that their potential voters are capable of following complex issues with complex argumentation and rational (i.e. not simplistic) solutions on offer.

They would, in other words, offer an adult in place of the schoolyard bullies we must listen to today.

Would they win at first? Oh, heavens, no! — for staying the course is part of proving that this is reform and not merely a dash of lipstick on the same old street-walking hooker.

But there comes a tipping point, and then the whole structure from before comes tumbling down. When they do, it will wipe much of the past out of existence.

This is what Preston Manning didn’t know and lost sight of (and why I could not support his Reform Party). This is what is yet to be born.

In the meantime the public knows the system is rotten. They also know that the job of repair will be at least an effort worthy of the Augean Stables, not that most people have an education in Greek stories any longer. Big job.

Partisans don’t see this. All they see is the game, the tactical positions, the plays to make.

When you are offered dreck, dreck, and oh, yes, dreck, there are three responses. Hunker down and stick with the option you think is least worst until the situation changes. Swing wildly from option to option when hunkering down seems to hurt more than it helps. Or check out altogether and wait the whole thing out on the sidelines.

We don’t want what’s on offer, but the alternative hasn’t been placed before us. When it is, watch out.

The earthquake will be a sight to behold.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

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