11.01.2016 09:44 AM

Politics, not covered in glory

Let me tell you a story.

In my first year at Carleton U. – after a year or more of punk rock bacchanalia back in Calgary, and the corresponding impact on my GPA – I had decided to buckle down. So there I was in the big first-year Poli Sci course with 300 others, head down. I was focussed.

And I was focussed, on that day in September 1980, on the little guy in front of us.  He was our professor for the year.  He was Israeli, from Haifa, and he was shy, a bit idiosyncratic, but clearly smart.  Near the end of that first class, here’s what he said to us:

“On the very last day of this course, I am going to tell you the truth about politics.”

And that’s it.  He wouldn’t say anything else. All year, I kind of wondered what he was going to say.  So, at the last class, on the last day, he lectured as he always did.  Time went by.  We were getting down to the last few minutes.

“What’s the truth about politics?” someone yelled out.  The professor smiled, a rare thing.

“All year, we have been talking about politics, the science of politics,” he said.  “But here is the truth about politics.”  He paused. “If you get into politics, it will break your heart.  It will end badly.  It will be bitter, in the end.”

And, with that, he walked out.  I never saw him again.  We all stood and applauded him.

Being a contrarian of long-standing, I of course completely ignored his advice.  I was elected student president at Carleton in ’83, I worked for Andre Ouellet and helped chair John Turner’s youth campaign in ’84, and so on and so on.  I got right into politics, right away.

As you’d expect, knowing me as many of you do, I got into plenty of trouble.  Most of the time, it was for making jokes on the Internet (true story: I always wanted to write comedy, but never got the courage to do so).  Jokes about baking cookies, jokes about barbecued cat, jokes about someone’s transit plan.  I like making people laugh; I love people who make people laugh (hero: Andy Kaufman, still).

Not all of the trouble I got into was comedic. Sometimes, of course, I got in trouble for getting into big and serious fights on behalf of my candidates, mainly Messrs. Chretien and McGuinty.  I don’t regret one of those fights, because I believed (and believe still) in those leaders, but I certainly came to regret losing friendships along the way.

Anyway: one thing I never did in politics was get involved in (a) fundraising or (b) candidate recruitment.  Those two fields, I saw early on, were very dangerous.  They were trouble.  They would always ended badly.

Thus, this and this in today’s papers.  That’s just today.  Tomorrow there’ll be more stories like that.  Moving expenses in Ottawa, a laptop in Washington, etc.  It goes on.

I know a lot of the people behind these kinds of headlines.  I feel sorry for a lot of them.  They’re not crooks and criminals.  They’re like every other human being I’ve met in my life: they’re flawed.  Sometimes, they try and take a shortcut, and they get caught.  A lot of the time, they have done absolutely nothing wrong, but are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they become the victim of a mob.

My Israeli professor, of so long ago, was right.  The political journey probably always ends badly.

But the ride, until that bitter and lonely end, is sometimes glorious.

 

6 Comments

  1. Mulletaur says:

    Only those who are truly passionate about politics, those who are in it to change things for the better and are willing to take a side and slug their guts out to make it happen will end up bitter and disappointed. The careerists and tourists who are just visiting to collect something on their resumé they can leverage into a well paid job in the private sector generally end up quite satisfied with the experience.

  2. The Doctor says:

    To me, one of the continual heart-breakers is how decent, principled people and truth-tellers constantly lose out to Macchiavellian dicks. There are tons of examples, but to name some, Jim Prentice, Hugh Segal, and reaching way back, Adlai Stevenson. And of course, there’s the standard fate of the principled, outspoken backbench MP, i.e., essentially banishment.

    • jennifer stewart says:

      and there you have it. once elected we turn over our GDP to these people who then use the money to divide and conquer us. see last year of Harper.
      wanna know why?
      THEY AREN’T AFRAID OF US.
      The police beat and kill us and still get paid.
      Politicians will steal and suffer no consequences.
      They will use our money to lie endlessly. See Economic Action Ads and then go on a corporate victory lap to peddle their influences.
      They will pee in cups in our very kitchens.
      And all because again
      THEY AREN’T AFRAID OF US.
      I hope to live long enough to see the day we the citizens scare the bejeesus out of every politician and their associated parasites to their very core.
      and it’s coming.
      I know how it’s coming and more or less when. It’s happening at the Dakota Standoff and will happen in many other places. This won’t be no occupy movement and the powers that be will never see it coming

  3. Matt says:

    Quote:
    Thus, this and this in today’s papers. That’s just today. Tomorrow there’ll be more stories like that. Moving expenses in Ottawa, a laptop in Washington, etc. It goes on.

    Regarding the second “this” a Globe and Mail article about yet another instance of “cash for access” involving a Liberal cabinet minister attending a private fundraiser with people who have direct interest in the minister’s area of responsibility, in this case the Natural Resources Minister being the guest of honor at a $1500 a ticket event at a law firm whose expertise includes mining and resources permits and regulations. That $1500 donation got the ticket holder a membership in the Liberal Laurier Club, an elite fundraising arm of the Liberal Party, which entitles contributors exclusive access to senior cabinet ministers

    Government House Leader Bardish Chagger replied that the Liberals are following election financing rules, which she said are superior to those of some provinces.

    Here’s the problem with that response:

    Trudeau introduced his own set of rules which strictly forbid the cash for access thing for ALL in his government. And I quote:

    Open and Accountable Government rules.
    “there should be no preferential access, OR APPEARANCE of preferential access in exchange for political donations.”

    No wonder as the Globe’s Bob Fife pointed out in another column last week he’s having trouble getting any Liberal to admit the Open and Accountable Government document even exists and why Trudeau is trying to move all this under jurisdiction of the PMO where the independent commissioners like Ethics and Lobbying won’t be able to investigate them.

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