What happened to the common good?

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When did governing stop being about what’s in the best interests of people and the common good?

The practice of acting in the common good has taken a severe beating here in Canada as well as the United States.

Right-wing politicians have managed to somewhat disguise their disgust for working together and consensus building by abusing the meaning of freedom, trumping individual rights and fend-for-yourself values and by engaging in deeply divisive tactics and politics.

That means finding a convenient enemy; someone to blame.

In Canada, that enemy, as of late, is unions. The Harper government has decided to abuse the power of its majority to carry out a full-frontal attack on unions and workers’ rights.

Tim Hudak, Ontario’s Conservative opposition leader — so devoid of real ideas to spur on an economic recovery in that province — has also decided to make unions a target. He wants to turn Ontario into a right-to-work (for less) province, like we have seen in some jurisdictions in the United States. Of course, this concept has nothing to do with work and everything to do with eliminating or weakening that segment of civil society who oppose his Tea Party policies.

More than 50 years ago, civil rights leader Martin L. King Jr. warned that “We must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. … Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer.”

Hudak’s policies will lead to even greater inequality and will bring the U.S. class war north of the border. But when you have no real ideas, you invent bogeymen or demonize your opponents. You create chaos as a way of deflecting from your own shortcomings.

If you are living in the United States, you are likely aware of how blinding ideology and hyper-partisanship has gotten so out of control; so out of control that a small group of extreme right-wing politicians managed to shut down the majority of the U.S. federal government, hurting the economy, people, families, businesses and sick Americans, including cancer patients — some of them children — who were turned away from participating in clinical trials.

The U.S. government shutdown is a result of paranoia and rigid ideology, not values. For the Republican Party and its Tea Party-wing it is manifested in Obamacare, or rather the elimination of it.

Ezra Klein, the editor of Wonkblog and a columnist at The Washington Post, reminded Americans what the shutdown is really about in a commentary last week. It is about “stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That’s it.”

That’s why the Republican Party shut down the government and wants to default on the debt, he noted.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, noted that what is unfolding in the United States is a continuation and ramping up of its class war where the interests of the one per cent are pitted against those of lower-income families.

“But at this point the 0.1 per cent, by and large, are pleading with the  (Republicans) to knock it off. So while class war may have been where this started, the monster has long since escaped from its cage.”

Krugman explains the Republicans have been held hostage by its radical Tea Party wing and that radical wing, supported by many rich Americans who wanted their taxes slashed again and again, are now in control, bringing the United States to the brink.

The actions of these Republicans have been financed by obscenely wealthy Americans who don’t want to pay their share. But it is also driven by a deep-seated paranoia that Obamacare is a Communist-like policy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but since when did truth matter in politics anymore?

The U.S. brinkmanship is also driven by intensely divisive politics, the search for an enemy, the dismissal of evidence and reason, and the complete failure to govern for people. The common good has long been lost in the equation. Consensus is a foreign concept.

Sounds too much like Canada these days. Not as extreme, but certainly we are on the same path.

We have similarly divisive politicians. Tim Hudak is one. Stephen Harper is another.

Can you imagine trying to create or build universal medicare today with such political leaders? It would never happen. The common good is beyond their grasp. Indeed it interferes with their vision of free-for-all, fend-for-yourself Canada.

These are politicians who lack vision, imagination and the understanding that good leaders should act to build consensus rather than creating bogeymen and engaging in untruthful politics.

Canadians might think the United States has gone off the rails, but we should take heed. We have politicians who look south and think chaos is also how they grab power.


Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns Oct. 19.

Organizations: Republican Party, Republicans, The Washington Post New York Times

Geographic location: United States, Canada, Ontario Medicare

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    October 05, 2013 - 08:49

    Much depends on the meaning of "common good." Does it mean a collective prosperity arising out of the things we allow to occur, like allowing the rich to provide employment for us, or does it mean everyone's getting what he deserves by doing the actual production of at least one thing everyone needs and sharing in the productive work of others by providing them with at least that one thing they need either to be productive or to enjoy being so? Where the unions go wrong is in not working toward the latter version of the common good but in being content with the status quo.