Those who know me know that I’m a politics junkie. It’s kind of like being a hockey fan, but, y’know, relevant (zing!) I’ve been, since the age of about the age of eleven, an obsessive politics nerd. While my classmates were comparing baseball scores or arguing about point spreads (or whatever it is that sports people do when not actually parked in front of a TV) I was reading Macleans’ magazine and the Globe and Mail. Except for the sports section, of course.
It should be clear by now that my grasp of “sports” is pretty much nonexistent. I just genuinely have never managed to muster half a damn about sports (except, oddly, for Olympic-calibre curling. I’m as perplexed as anybody about it, too.) I understand the technical rules of a game if I bother to read them but for the most part I do not understand the appeal of professional athletes competing as a form of entertainment… especially at the “highest” levels of the sport/entertainment industry. For instance: I’ve been to NHL games, and I’ve been to OHL games, and you know what? OHL is better hockey. The players want it more, they give it their all. I hate watching an NHL game, especially a mid-season game with a couple of teams who clearly won’t be playing for the Stanley Cup this year; the players know it and look bored. Also, as a quick aside, if you are a sports fan go buy some tickets. I know dozens of alleged sports fans who have never gone to an actual game. If you’re a Raptors fan, then watching the Raptors on TV should be what happens when you can’t afford parking at the Air Canada Centre this week. It should be the last resort, which is another good argument to supporting your local regional franchise. Live hockey or football or basketball or (gods help us) baseball is just a better way to spend your time… hell, go out to a bar and watch the game on TV there, with friends.
Anyway, back to me. I follow politics like some people follow sports. I don’t root for a particular “team” so to speak; I won’t be wearing a Liberal Party shirt or a Conservative baseball cap anytime soon… or even an NDP pin, although I vote for them nine times out of ten. But I follow it, I’m knowledgeable in it, and I genuinely enjoy it when somebody does something particularly clever or interesting. Which is one of the reasons I’m fed up with Canadian politics at the moment: nobody has done anything particularly clever or interesting lately. Katherine Wynne getting elected to run the Ontario Liberals is about it in the last couple of months; I had hopes when Rob Ford got turfed out of the mayor’s office, but then he “won” it on the appeal. And the less said about Parliament, the better — although I did enjoy a friend’s recent quip about The Eighteenth Brumaire of Justin Trudeau.
As a Canadian I find myself I following American politics in the same way that a football fan in Hamilton watches the NFL: with a mixture of enthusiasm and mild guilt for watching somebody else’s league instead of my own. I genuinely think Obama was the best choice for President in both the last two elections, and if I’d been an American I’d have voted for him… if only because the Republican Party can’t seem to get its act together and put somebody halfway intelligent on the ticket. (I’ll leave aside the raft of social issues on which the GOP and I won’t see eye-to-eye.) But it’s just not that interesting anymore. I find the problems in Canadian politics and in American politics are weirdly similar: in Canada the Left is ineffective and in disarray, in America the Right has frothed itself into irrelevance.
And that’s a problem. Not just in my politics-as-sport analogy, but genuinely and seriously for all of us living in these alleged democracies. Political discourse requires a discourse, a discussion between viewpoints. If one side has their collective head up their asses and the other side is getting a free ride because of it, then the game is broken.
I have lots of conservative friends; I know people in the SCA who are Tories, Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, Libertarians, and even a couple of hard-core Objectivists. I also know people who are Liberals (both lowercase-l and capital-L), NDP members, socialists (both lowercase-s and capital-S), outright Communists, and of course a wide array of anarchists of various flavours. And that’s a good thing. I found myself thinking about this a couple of days ago when a friend messaged me, saying “after having read your blog, you and I should never talk about politics or economics. It would probably end spectacularly poorly.”
Well… not necessarily. An old proverb runs something like: “If you’re a stupid man, surround yourself with smart people; if you’re a smart man surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
Diversity of opinion is a good thing; I genuinely believe that. The genius of the democratic tradition is that it allows for that diversity of opinion, for the discussion. Discussion, mind you, not the mindless bleating of party lines or the barking of demagogues or — worst of all — the uninterested grunts of the apathetic. The increasingly factionalised and hidebound approach to politics in North America is starting to worry me; the unwillingness to concede that the other side has a right to their opinion much less a potentially valid point should be worrying us all. If you’re willing to come to me and lay out your position, respectfully, intelligently, then I am more than willing to return the favour. You can disagree with someone and still be friends: Sit me down with a cold beer and a conservative friend who’s willing to have an intelligent, reasoned debate with me on any given issue and I’m a happy man. I like the debate. I like having to defend my position against a good argument. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me honest. And sometimes it forces me to change my mind… or at least re-think why I believe a particular thing.
And I think we could all use a little more of that in today’s politics.