The questionable wisdom of electing potted plants

Recently, a member of the Canadian House of Commons,  John Williamson, invoked Martin Luther King Jr. to praise the abolishment of the long-gun registry. Not to be outclassed by his northern neighbor, an American Congressman, Allen West, opined that eighty members of the opposing party were Communists. The frequency of these lapses into idiocy by elected officials in their public statements is reaching critical mass, and so disheartening to the voters of our two respective countries that stupid statements, false equivalencies and comparisons to Hitler are becoming the new normal way of going about the people’s business. But you cannot blame a puppy for making a mess on the floor if he hasn’t been housebroken. The responsibility lies with the ones who put him there. Morons are running the show because we tossed them the job and sighed, “Have at it, oh insipid masses.”

Democracy is the most precious form of government and the most capable of greatness when insightful, committed people are in charge; it is equally the most susceptible to abuse and neglect when the wrong sorts get their hands on the public purse. One of the problems with our democracy is that the mechanism by which one chooses one’s representatives – the election – has for a long time, philosophically, been not about establishing a vision and a set of tenets to guide a nation, but simply about delivering the other guy a resounding whuppin’.

I’m not the first to come up with the analogy that we are treating our politicians like athletes and supporting the parties the way one would pledge undying allegiance to a particular sports franchise. Much as we expect nothing more from athletes in their post-game interviews other than “Yeah, well, we gave a hundred and ten percent out there,” it seems acceptable for politicians to spout inanities and continue winning. In Canada, the opposition bemoans how media revelations of mismanagement, ineptitude and suspected election fraud have done little to move the polling numbers of the sitting government. Yet the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and they still sell out their home games. When you abdicate the responsibility of informed citizenship and become merely a fan, of course you’re not going to care how badly your guys are doing – they’re your guys, thick and thin. The thing is, whether the Leafs win or lose a game has no bearing on your daily life. Who wins elections does.

In a properly functioning democracy, the people deserve a true debate, where points of view are considered, argued vigorously, and evaluated on their merits. I have my ideological leanings, as we all do, but if it came to a choice between a reasoned and intelligent advocate of the other side versus one of my guys brainlessly reciting talking points and breaking Godwin’s Law, I’d choose the former. I want a functioning, curious and logical brain hard at work for my community, because they truly want to make it better and not because politics comes with a sweet pension. A person of true principle, not an empty suit who only understands every third word of the legislation we’re entrusting him to vote on; a seat-filler who last had an independent thought sometime in the summer of 1985.

Every hockey coach knows that one strong forward won’t make up for a bunch of guys who can’t skate. In politics, even the best leaders need a strong bench. We need to stop filling out the ranks of our representatives with twits and thugs we wouldn’t trust to wash our cars just because we might like the guy at the head of the pack, or the team they happen to play for. We deserve better than that. Our democracy deserves better than that.

Governing is not easy. It requires the best of the best. And yet, every political party in existence has its safe ridings or districts; areas where the loyalty to a team is so entrenched that little attention is ever paid to the caliber of the individual acting as the standard bearer, nor must much of a case be mounted to ensure that loyalty. It’s said of such races that the incumbent party could run a potted plant and still win. It should come as no surprise then when the winner shows in his or her representative career the kind of reasoned and nuanced approach to governing possessed by the average fern. (No offense to ferns.) Otherwise sane parents who would not for one moment tolerate their child throwing a tantrum and calling Uncle Frank a Nazi are only too eager to install like-minded infants into elected office because of party worship. And unless that stops, unless we choose the best of us and not the loudest, we’ll never get the government our democracy needs. We’ll only get Wrestlemania in suits and ties – and last time I checked, I’m not sure The Undertaker had much of a fiscal policy.

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7 thoughts on “The questionable wisdom of electing potted plants”

  1. “If we have democracy and we don’t use it, if we have democracy and we don’t vote, if we have democracy and we don’t question our politicians, if we have democracy and we don’t know what bills are being passed in our parliament, what the heck do we have democracy for?”
    — Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran

    http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/April-2012/Prisoner-of-Tehrans-Marina-Nemat-We-wanted-to-make-people-in-the-theatre-really-feel-uncomfortable/

    1. Great article Evan, thanks for writing and sharing it. What Marina and others like her have gone through is inconceivable to many of us in our corner of the world, but voting in irresponsible half-wits like the two examples I noted above just because they belong to a party we happen to like is how you eventually get laws banning dancing and nail polish.

        1. Reading today how the same strategy is being used in the Wildrose campaign in Alberta, with individual candidates muzzled lest their intellectual foliage reveal itself. And the voters are going to tick the box for these empty shirts anyway. We never learn.

  2. To quote “Winnie” “It has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. I would say that of all forms of government our Parliamentary system is the best and it is by no means perfect. I would venture to say that with the exception of Dictatorship the American version of Republicanism is the worst.

  3. “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It was almost 65 years ago Winston Churchill uttered those words; one wonders if he’d feel that way today with the muzzling of independent thinkers and absolute obeisance to the party line the hallmarks of parliamentary democracy in 21st century Canada.

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