What lesson should we take from today’s election south of the border? Well, perhaps that when elections devolve to lowest common denominator, no one is served. Not the candidates, not the voters, and almost certainly, not the nation.
It has been a battle of candidates being caught in half-truths and untruths, of private individuals trying to skew the election in their favour using the massive funding of political action committees, of attack ads and public vilification.
The campaign has served to further polarize an already-polarized electorate, one where the opposite sides now regularly dismiss their opponents’ arguments without even beginning to address the salient points in the debate, and one where the truth depends not on facts, but on whose version you blindly accept.
It’s a sad state of affairs for a once-great democracy.
Sure, attack ads are successful and relatively cheap. Sure, it’s easier to cast your opponent as a villain than it is to explain how and why you are actually a better option to actually solve problems. Sure, legal challenges and dirty tricks can buy you crucial slim-margin victories in tight races.
But sometimes, the questions shouldn’t be, “What can we gain?” and “What can we get away with?”
Sometimes, it has to be, “Is this really the right thing to be doing?”
There’s plenty for us to learn from the battle.
Politics in Canada is becoming an increasingly nasty game of things like character assassination and computer tracking voters’ views to divide and conquer using carefully honed niche messages that sometimes even contradict themselves — but campaigning here is not yet the polarized, facts-challenged morass that exists in the U.S.
We don’t have the same level of hateful talk radio, where your political opponents are cast as being one step short of the Antichrist. Nor do we have hugely rich players using their capital to buy acceptance of — or merely impose — their personal politics on others using massive advertising campaigns. (Watching television on American stations in the last few weeks has been an exercise in political slander at levels that are virtually unimaginable in most progressive democracies.)
We have to recognize, though, that even in this country, we are somewhere along that slippery slope. Issues have become secondary to personality and personal attacks and we are letting ourselves be persuaded more about campaigns that hinge on what we don’t want, rather than what we do want. And procedural dirty tricks? Well, fraudulent robocalls were happily imported from south of us by someone.
Campaigns are certainly about winning, but there has to be a point when we all ask a simple question: “At what cost?”
U.S. President Barack Obama might have won the last U.S. presidential election on a promise of hope that he was subsequently unable to deliver.
But when the promise becomes something closer to institutionalized hate, no one wins.