09.15.2015 01:06 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: is it time to forgive and forget in politics?

Campaign 2015 has been noteworthy for plenty of things. There’s been the fact that all three of our main political parties—the Conservatives, the Liberals but also the New Democrats — have a shot at forming a government. That’s something that hasn’t really happened before.

The length of the thing is a first, too. It hasn’t been one election campaign: it’s been two election campaigns stitched together, with Labour Day in the middle.

Also unprecedented: big media — the so-called consortium — losing control of the leaders’ debates. The cost of covering Election 2015 is steeper than it has ever been. And the number of female candidates — highest it has ever been, and about time, too.

But if Campaign 2015 is remembered for any single thing, it is this: stupidity. As in, stupid statements, or stupid behaviour, by political candidates and political staffers alike.

There have been so many inane and insane utterances — by representatives of every political creed — it’s almost impossible to keep track of them. It’s practically been an idiocy epidemic.

CBC, as a public service, tried. Here are a few taken from their list.

The NDP’s most-senior communicator — that is, a guy who is supposed to know how to communicate—was found to have told the Pope to “go f**k yourself,” on Twitter, and called the Catholic church “misogynist, homophobic, childmolesting.” Nice.

The Conservatives lost two candidates on one day — one for urinating in a coffee cup at someone’s home, and the other for posing as a mentally disabled person, faking orgasms, then posting the results online. Want to be a CPC candidate? Urine!

The Liberals had a couple beauts, too. One B.C. Liberal candidate didn’t just counsel pregnant women to smoke — she counselled them to smoke weed while pregnant, too. And, before that, there was the Calgary Liberal candidate — now blessedly gone — who told someone on Twitter she wished they’d been aborted with a coat hanger, and another one to “go blow your brains out.” Oh, and she mocked lesbians, too, just so no one would feel left out.

Candidates forced to resign over sexist comments made in the online comments section of newspapers. Candidates resigning for suggesting that Israel, our ally, engages in “ethnic cleansing.” Candidates apologizing for comparing a party leader to the Nazi’s Joseph Goebbels. It goes on and on and on.

There isn’t enough column space, in fact, to cite all the examples of Campaign 2015 political stupidity. There are just too many.

So why is it happening? Is it something in the water, as noted?

Before you start blaming social media — like my firm’s client, Twitter — keep in mind that almost half of Election 42’s bimbo eruptions have taken place in old-fashioned ways, like in media interviews (e.g. pregnant women should smoke dope) or in the presence of a TV camera (e.g. relieving oneself in a coffee cup). Not everything that happens takes place on social media.

Social media is indeed a political problem, however. It gives politicos an immediate and global online platform — and, unhelpfully, without the benefit of editorial oversight. And it’s permanent, too. As I remind my four teenagers all the time: “The internet is forever. If you post it, someone will find it.”

Besides, blaming social media is scapegoating the medium, not the messenger. And, if we are looking to pin the blame on someone, it should be pinned on the messengers. Like a donkey’s tail. Because donkeys they all are, to a one.

You think deleting that photo of you, in flagrante delicto, won’t be found by war room guys like me, after you win your party’s nomination? You think that late-night chat room ran — in which, drunker than a frat house set loose in a distillery, you extolled the virtues of apartheid — won’t be located much later, when you are trying to present a fresh-faced and scrubbed version of yourself to the electorate?

Think again. If you did it, we will find it. Guaranteed.

Given that all of us have done stupid things over the years — and, rest assured, Your Humble Narrator has done more than most — perhaps we are collectively approaching these contretemps in the wrong way. Perhaps we in the chattering classes shouldn’t be treating every verbal misstep as a capital offence. After all, if Rob Ford and Donald Trump have shown us anything, it is that the people are far more forgiving about stupidity than the pious folks who ply a trade in the media or politics.

The public, in their wisdom, already know that people in public life aren’t as smart as they pretend to be.

So, maybe it’s time we just let most of this stuff go. And just, you know, talk about policies and plans and programs instead.

Sounds crazy, I know. But perhaps — just perhaps — it’s a bit more important than someone’s long-ago, ill-advised tweet.

22 Comments

  1. WallyW says:

    Most new politicians aren’t worth spit, because they are just the leftover dregs who fill in a space on a ballot. Just look at the NPD MPs who surfed in on Jack’s Orange Crush tsunami; university students and assorted rabble! I fear we will be treated with another bunch of crapulous candidates again. Oh, well….

    Perhaps successful people avoid being politicians because politics is a dead end job filled with obstacles, frustration and eventual failure, not to mention being judged by the miasmatic media and of course the well-informed and very intelligent Canadian voters.

    The veteran politicians are survivors who are simply ego-driven and have nothing else to fall back on. The public trough can be generous but also degrading. Perhaps all it is is a popularity contest for the masses. No wonder the turnout is so low.

  2. Barb Roxton says:

    Make Canada Great Again ?!

    (If we understand you, and we think that we do.)

  3. DougM says:

    “So, maybe it’s time we just let most of this stuff go. And just, you know, talk about policies and plans and programs instead.”

    The population might and probably is already for the most part. But the politicians (of all parties)? Never going to happen! War is dirty.

  4. MississaugaPeter says:

    Disagree.

    Maybe at one point we should have laxed the laws on drunk drivers because they couldn’t help themselves.

    Maybe at one point ….

    To err is human, but that does not give you a free pass. The problem is that some of these over opinionated, stupid people, are now filling a vacuum where more wise people wouldn’t bother going.

    For example, look at the credentials of the NDP Communications Director. Resume is devoid of anything that would spell out Communications Director for a Party that may run Canada in a month. And two years after tweeting something even a half-wit Communications Director would know is unacceptable, he is on top.

    I think of Wildrose when my schoolmate won the premiership in the final days. If not for some clowns and their opinions getting press in the final week, Steele would have probably been premier.

    Exposed clowns need to be cut loose. That is smart and good leadership.

    In the last week of the campaign, Mulcair and the NDP deserve to get clobbered because of their idiocy in keeping at least two clowns around.

    Yes, to err is human. But a two year forgiveness period is too short a period of time. 7+ year old buffoon remarks can be forgiven, more recent can’t. And this guy who was strongly considering voting for the NDP can’t support a leader who can’t make a simple, slam dunk decision.

  5. Jon Adams says:

    Given the current “gotcha” political climate, I further flabbergasted that someone like Rob Anders was allowed to happen for a decade.

  6. doconnor says:

    Swearing at someone who is unabashedly bigoted against you and your loved one is not an uncommon reaction.

    • Mitch says:

      Exactly. You might think the tweets were rude but were they inaccurate? The Catholic Church is misogynist. The Catholic Church is homophobic. The Catholic Church has been involved in some truly awful molestation scandals going back a long time. So what this all comes down to is a tone argument. And tone arguments are ALWAYS the refuge of those without the facts on their side.

      • MississaugaPeter says:

        Yup, the Church that was refuge for homosexual men and women for almost two thousand years, is homophobic? I lived with priests, and was told that 20%-30% of the priests living with us were gay. I, and the others, never thought anything wrong with that. As long as celibacy was adhered to, all were equal, and treated as equals.

  7. Joe Archibald says:

    I think part of the rising appeal of Trump and Sanders in the USA speaks to this point well but in a different way. Despite the reality of who they are, both appeal to a desire for anyone who isn’t perceived to be an insider. Their supporters could care less about any drunken chat room rants, they want change and sometimes any change is better than none.
    I also think it speaks to a desire to talk about issues, and many see parties with their rigid caucus whipping as the worst way to get at issues. Even if, especially in Trumps case, those issues are misguided people want parties out of the discussions.
    Social media adds to the chaos and deflection and I think eventually people will faze out how much they care what dumb thing Jonny tweeted or did 15 years ago.
    My hope is that trend catches on and the collective intelligence will guide a better, issues focused election process and eventual government.

  8. Maps Onburt says:

    Great column Warren. I’m always telling my five kids the same thing. The Internet is forever.

    • davie says:

      You are right so far. But I am old. I can only guess at your age. But I talk to my grandkids about this, but they seem to have a different attitude toward use of the internet. They seem to look at it the way that we regarded an unrecorded lunch time chat or a late Friday night conversation with a person close to us: they don’t worry about the content being kept to be hauled out in public court and sued against us sometime down the road. Notice the ages of most of the people being nailed for past utterances on the internet. We older (and so much more knowing) have pretty powerful ‘tut tuts’ – like getting young candidates to resign or step aside. But I wonder what under 30’s are thinking about how e elders are using past internet entries against them.

      (…am I making you feel old, Maps Onburt?)

  9. Matt Lewis says:

    Warren, I think your not being a candidate this go-around is a great thing, as those guys don’t deserve you. Your columns are now much more inciteful and even-handed – and a pleasure to read…

    Keep it up, sir….Cheers.

    Matt Lewis

  10. Scotian says:

    I’ve been online in various forms since the mid 80s, and I ALWAYS assumed that whatever I wrote was public information, that I had better be willing to own it if I ever needed to, whether it was written under my own name or a pseudonym/alias. I don’t understand why that is such a hard concept for so many to grasp. Even in my more shall we say private and personal playing around in the online world I was ready to own what I said down the road and simply point out the context it was in and that no one there was there without choosing to be there, etc. Before my health became a permanent disqualifying issue I was someone that did consider the possibility of running for elected office in my life, yet that wasn’t the main driver for my owning everything, no that was simply my simple belief that we should never say or do things we are not ready to own, including our failings and mistakes when we make them.

    I’m told that is a truly old fashioned belief, is it really? If so, then is it any wonder things like our politics have degraded to this extent across the board?

    • davie says:

      Yes, you are old fashioned.
      I once told a young teenage granddaughter that she should not put anything on the internet that she would not say standing on a table during lunch at her school cafeteria. She smiled and asked me if would be putting blueberries in our pancakes.

  11. davie says:

    There are 338 ridings. Each has 4 or more candidates. Our media has done a great job of showing us the errors…that sells advertising. I would think, though, that a lot of candidates exist who are selfless, intelligent (at least as intelligent as anyone here is), caring about their fellows and their country’s future, and who are getting out and offering their views, and listening to ours. I suspect that playing up the errors sells more ads; reporting sound thinking, experience, plans and proposals that have substance takes just so darn long to explain. And there are just so many candidates to cover and explain.
    An election is a time we get to focus on our collective direction. It is a time when we get a chance to talk with each other about where we want to go next. Sometimes , though, it shows us just how many people make a very nice living speculating on polls, trolling for gaffes by somebody else, and shifting voters around on their war room chess boards.

    As for whipped votes, they start with whipped candidate choices. As mentioned in the article above, it is politically incorrect for any MP to parrot Jimmy Carter and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu with regard to what is happening to Palestinians, and it is similarly politically incorrect to do so as a candidate…even in time previous to being a candidate. A candidate’s reach should consider the whip, or what’s a metaphor.

  12. Aurelia says:

    Well, I wish I could believe the internet is forever. I used to say that myself, but so many of the early infertility and mom blogs I used to read are completely gone, not on archive.org, not on Google cache, not a scrap left. Backups hosted on old servers that are now garbage. And lots of old LibLogs, gone. Not even a whisper of an RSS feed left.

    Having said that, yes, lots of things do stay on the internet forever. Question is, why is it that different than 30 years ago? Back then, before the Rodney King video changed the way we view “proof” of a crime, sworn testimony of one witness, maybe 2 was all that was needed to convict someone. And unsubstantiated gossip alone (of certain kinds) could destroy anyone’s reputation. Career gone…..

    Remember the West Wing MS story? It wasn’t a joke, still isn’t. People are fired every day in this country for having disabilities and diseases and alcoholism and drug addiction. But patients need support to recover, and real life groups like AA and NA and mental health support groups swore confidentiality and everyone kept that confidentiality.

    Now, many of the same people meet online, 24/7 to stay sane, to trade advice on rare diseases, on stigmatized diseases, and they use pseudonyms because who wants their in-laws to get offended and huffy? Gradually, over time, society changes. Maybe we’ll finally accept that brain diseases aren’t moral weaknesses. And no one will care what we said long ago….

    As for careless videos, Facebook fights, and twitter anger? I remember a lot of awful things people said decades ago, when they were drunk at a political convention or two. Lots. MPs, staff, reporters. More than a few incidents that no one wants public. Again, a few sworn witnesses back then and their career was toast. For what? Briefly being an idiot? Or being an idiot every Friday night, but loyal friend and ally the other 6 days of the week?

    People need second chances, and third chances, and maybe more before we learn our lesson.

    As young adults, if we screwed up, we all got told off by our elders the next day, while very very hungover. If anyone had done something illegal or truly immoral (eg, racist act), then that would merit calling police. Serious consequences.

    But for the less serious, they gracefully forgot our transgressions. And we learned about trusting and being trustworthy. Proportionality. Forgiveness.

    Those are critical lessons. Giving life sentences for every impulsive comment online and pretty soon, we’ll have no one left in any political party to run for anything.

  13. Tim Gallagher says:

    Two candidates have gotten canned (one con, one Liberal this am) since the article so we haven’t moved on yet.

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