Triumphalism and Politics (or: Nobody Likes Sore Winners)

As I move into this election with no firm idea yet of who I intend to vote for, I find myself swayed by boisterous commentary, but probably not in the way that the commentators would want. Maybe it's a character flaw of mine, or maybe it's just me being Canadian, but the first commentator that starts thumping his chest about how this is the most important election in the history of Canada, or how their opponents are irredeemably corrupt, momentarily loses my vote.

I have basically committed to not vote Liberal, but I came close to breaking that commitment when I read the Toronto Sun headline on the date the election was called: "THROW THE BUMS OUT!" it shouted on the front page. Leaving aside the blatant partisanship of this paper, it says much about the Sun that they're unable to frame their arguments without petty insults. To them, we aren't so much in an election as a schoolyard brawl.

Coming upon this headline, I imagine for a moment how the Sun writers and other commentators would respond if the Conservatives were given a majority mandate. They would be insufferable. We would see the newspaper equivalent of a fratboy celebration. Peter Worthington spewing beer in a wide arc. Sue Ann Levy in her undies table dancing. And as soon as I have that image, or the image of other obnoxiously boisterous Conservative supporters, my mind closes. I am not willing to give these people the satisfaction. I am almost ready to vote Liberal in spite.

On the other side, I hear some say that Stephen Harper is the anti-Christ, and suddenly I'm rooting for a Liberal defeat. Perspective, sadly, seems to be at a premium across the political spectrum. Stephen Harper is not the anti-Christ. He's not even George W. Bush. We haven't seen a former-Alliance leader giving such a credible performance as a moderate since Preston Manning mellowed out. Even the Conservatives radical tax cut policies (which I'm philosophically opposed to) seem to look at the failures of the George Bush and Mike Harris administrations and make adjustments. On the issue of gay marriage, I have confidence that Stephen Harper will not move against the progress that society has made, or that if he does, the resulting backlash will ensure that he's only a one-termer.

Stephen Harper is a man with whom I have many disagreements, but from where I'm standing, I can live with having him as prime minister for the next four years, especially if his opponents offer nothing credible as an alternative. Opponents are going to have to do better than just calling him the anti-Christ. They're going to have to face his policies head on, put forward a better agenda and show us why it's more credible. This means you, Paul Martin!

So far, Jack Layton has stayed back from the fray, letting the punches thrown by the Liberals and the Tories sully both parties in the eyes of the voting public. Whether or not this will be enough to raise the NDP above fourth-party status remains to be seen, but as long as he sticks on message and puts forward his policies without too many schoolyard chants of "Liberal and Tory! Same old story!", he'll have my respect, at least, and quite possibly the respect of many Canadians who wouldn't otherwise vote for him.

I know that in this campaign, some members of all the parties are going to frame this as a battle for the soul of Canada, against the socialist/liberal/right-wing enemies of Canada. Nothing can be further from the truth. This election is about Canadians deciding among themselves and in concert with other Canadians who they will allow to lead this country for the next two-to-four years. Will we go with the tired old administration? Or do we take a risk with someone new?

Either way, whoever wins will not have "won". They will have had power invested upon them by the Canadian electorate. We chose them, not the other way around. What we give, we should give with solemn ceremony, and those who receive it had better be able to accept the responsibility with the requisite humility.

Or else.

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