Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Essay on Civility in Politics (Or, “Don’t be Hatin’”)

So I was thumbing through NOW (like I usually do) and I came across a letter regarding a past issue about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his push to privatize the city’s garbage pick-up.

“I read your article on the garbage debate and sensed a little bitterness toward our mayor,” wrote Mike Holt. (Of course where he got an idea like that, I’ll never know.) “I, for one, am very proud of the citizens of Toronto for electing Rob Ford and feel he is doing a wonderful job. I savour every defeat of the socialist councillors and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

He continued, “First Ford, then a majority for the federal Conservatives, and in October a landside victory for the PCs in Ontario. I have never been prouder to be a Canadian.”

A couple of things concerned me while reading these words. One is the fact that in order for this man to be a proud Canadian, the majority of Canadians must support his political views, and two is the continuing notion of total warfare in politics that I’ve been seeing ever since the commencement of the last Federal Election.

To bring this back to Guelph, someone posted a comment on my blog, Guelph Politico, shortly after I adjourned for the Victoria Day long weekend. The comment was attached to a story I wrote about Conservative candidate Marty Burke a couple of days after the May 2nd election. I don’t think I had given a second thought to Burke or his disastrous campaign since hitting ‘Post’ on that article, but what was it that Al Pacino said famously in The Godfather Part III…

“Just curious as to what you feel qualifies you as any type of political expert?” asked the anonymous poster. Well there’s this monthly cheque I get from Echo Weekly. But seriously, what? Am I being called out? Because that’s what it feels like. But the poster goes further.

“Have you a graduate degree in political science? Have you worked behind the scenes for any of the parties? Are you a party member?” he or she asks.

First, I do not have a degree in political science. I have a plain old BA in History from the University of Guelph, where I also did take a several political courses. You know who else got a BA in History from the U of G? David Akin, an Ottawa reporter for CTV, Global and now host of The Daily Brief on the Sun News Network. Like me, he cut his journalistic teeth as Editor-in-Chief of the student paper The Ontarion.

As for the other two questions, no, I’ve neither worked behind the scenes for a party, nor have I been a party member. Do I have to be in order to better understand politics? One of the reasons I’ve never signed up for a party is because I enjoy by status as an independent. I find it better to keep my political options open, at the very least to make it easier for me to appear impartial as political reporter and commentator. But honestly, I’ve never in my adult life found myself drawn enough to a particular party to be a member.

“Or have you just taken the five minutes it takes to fire up a new blog through blogger, and viola you consider yourself and therefore implicitly demand others respect your opinion because you’ve actually taken 20 minutes and written an article? [sic]”

Well I’m not sure that sentence entirely makes sense, but I get your gist. And it actually took me 10 minutes to set up the blog and that includes choosing the template, and adding the words “Guelph Politico” to a picture of Guelph’s skyline I took for the banner. Oh, and then there’s the over 500 posts I’ve generated in nearly three years, and the hours I’ve invested in writing and doing research and searching out contacts and going to various events.

And I don’t demand others respect, I just seem to get it. Here are the names of a few people that have treated me like a journalist: Frank Valeriote, Liz Sandals, Mayor Karen Farbridge, the entirety of the 2006-10, and the 2011-14 city councils, Jack Layton, Elizabeth May, Stephane Dion, and numerous candidates in elections at all levels of government. And that’s just politics.

“Sorry Adam I see so much horse shit in your articles, plain lies in fact. You’re actually very lucky no one has decided to sue your ass yet.” Well, if they did decide to “sue my ass” as you say, I hope they enjoy their settlement win of X-Men comics and old Babylon 5 tapes (RIP Jeff Conway, AKA: Security Chief Zack Allen).

I won’t bother to ask Anonymous to point out the “plain lies” I’ve perpetuated. “Lying” has become a blanket term used by people of all political stripes to attack people that disagree with them. My conduct and my credentials have never been called into question until this past election cycle, and I’m sorry to say that it’s because of the growing state of poisonous partisanship.

Speaking on violence after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy said that hatred forces us to look at our brother like aliens, “Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community.” He asked people to remember that “that those who live with us are our brothers,” and that perhaps “we can begin to work a little harder, to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

May the same be said of us after a nasty election.

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