What's in it for me? What difference does it make? They're all the same.
Two questions; one statement. They cut across ages, social strata, ideology. They're at the core — they even define — self interest, apathy and disengagement. They're the rotten mould eroding the Social Contract and in the end, they are the foundation for the old cliché, you get the government you deserve.
In last week's Pique, Deryk Fallon, a work-study student graduating from Whistler Secondary, penned a column about the perceived irrelevance of politics for many of his generation. Apocryphal or not, he described a friend whose disinterest in politics could be reduced to a pocketbook issue: "He's looking for policies that directly affect him — policies that amount to cold, hard cash for our generation."
I'm left wondering whether that statement represents a failure of what used to be called Civics in secondary school, or an apt, if cynical, description of the politics of self interest, or an intended consequence of politics as they've evolved over time. Whether it's any of those, or something else entirely, neither good nor change can ever come about from that attitude towards politics.
I don't know if they still teach Civics. Perhaps learning about various levels of government is too old-fashioned and quaint. I'm not brave enough to wade into the pedagogical minefield of school curriculum. I'll leave that to the four-way battle between teachers, administrators, the province and the courts.
Deryk's friend can be forgiven for thinking politics is only about self interest. Too often it seems that way. If I were an 18-year-old, I wouldn't know exactly what to make of the petty self interest of politicians pissing all over each other the way they were last week when the Translink referendum went down to defeat. Provincial politicians, who set up this inane idea and set the too-short timetable for it, passed the buck to the Lower Mainland mayors who floated and tried to sell the actual plebiscite. The mayors blamed the provincial pols. No one suggested trying to work together and make some headway into the GVRD's insane gridlock. Come to think of it, I can't figure out what to make of such Stupidity on Parade and I'm an 18-year-old several times over.
And what does an 18-year-old make of the federal Conservative's giveaway to seniors in the last budget? Changes to the formula for drawing down RIFs and a near doubling of TFSA limits were both designed to woo seniors, a cohort that tends to vote and, it's believed, tends to vote Conservative. Was that a blatant reward for voting or an inducement to vote again? Either way, it seemed to pander to the self interest of both the government and older Canadians and leave many younger Canadians wondering when they became invisible.
But suppose for a moment, that was the government's intention. Alienation, apathy and disengagement — simply remove youth from the mix. Why not, they've demonstrated their lack of interest by not voting and if you're Stephen Harper, you'd just as soon they not vote because not enough of them are core Conservative voters. If they stay home, Stevie wins. Feed their cynicism. Dole out the gravy to everyone else. Teach them politics is all about what you can get for yourself, not what you can do to make the country better.
Ironically, two pages later in last week's Pique, Leslie Anthony, writing about Kirby Brown, invoked the very heart of Civics and the Social Contract when he described Kirby's adoption of seventh-generation Thinking as a management tool. Manage today as though you were establishing the foundation for benefits that will carry seven generations forward.
What will Stephen Harper's Canada look like 100 years from now? Just the thought of that makes me hope for apocalyptic climate change.
So, to Deryk's friend and others so turned off and tuned out to politics at any level you're ready to shrug your shoulders and say, "Why bother?" let me implore you: Vote. I know it seems more like pissing into the wind than laying the groundwork for real change but it's the only hope we have.
Vote because you're too smart or too belligerent to be played by the likes of Stephen Harper or any of the other party leaders. Stick it to 'em. Show 'em you can't be manipulated. Show 'em what the future might look like if you and your friends and their friends all decide to flex your political muscle. It may not seem like it now but it won't be long before it falls to your generation to clean up the mess made by mine — the Generation of Swine. The less involved you are, the greater chance you'll leave the real decision making to little Stevie Harpers growing up almost unnoticed among you... yeah, you know the ones.
And when you vote this fall, vote with your head, not necessarily with your heart. Once again, the Conservatives are placing their bets on two things to return them to a majority — their core, the 34-37 per cent of voters who, like those frogs in increasingly hotter and hotter water, will vote for them no matter what, and the suicidal tendencies of moderate and left-wing voters to, once again, split the opposing vote into too-small slices, thus ensuring their defeat.
But after suffering through a majority government led by Mr. Harper, a minority Conservative government is both the best we can probably hope for and a real victory. It's a victory because it will at least set the stage for cooperation and, dare I hope, a coalition between the NDP, Liberal and Green parties. Hell, it may even get them to finally set aside their petty differences and form one party that can actually govern. What a concept.
It won't happen though unless people are willing to vote with their heads, not their hearts. We'd all like to vote for a person and party we can believe in. But this time around, the smartest thing you can do — assuming you aren't in favour of another Conservative majority — is vote for the person most likely to defeat our Conservative MP. If John Weston goes down in this riding, that's one less seat on the Con's side of the aisle.
But which candidate? How can we know who is most likely to defeat Mr. Weston? Polls might help but in an atmosphere of a highly polarized electorate, polls are tougher and tougher to get right.
Take a wander over to LeadNow, www.leadnow.ca and see how their Vote Together campaign might help accomplish that goal. It's a good place to start and if nothing else, it might get you interested enough to actually vote.