Wednesday, September 14, 2016
There's a Sickness In Our Parliament. If We Don't Cure It, We're Screwed.
What we're facing is a contagion that has swept into the political apparatus of several Western nations with disastrous consequences. It's the disease of hyper-partisanship. In its advanced stage you may wind up with something as calamitous as the United States Congress. We're not there yet but we're on our way.
A healthy partisanship is essential to democracy. Team A presents ideas. Team B presents other ideas. We get to select A or B to govern.
Partisanship, however, can turn malignant. If it's not held in check it can dominate political institutions to the point it actually shuts them down, defeats them, prevents them from working. We've seen this in the States and it is scary. Hyper-partisanship is expressed in fear mongering, appeals to base instincts and wedge politics. For its own advancement it wilfully destroys social cohesion.
Unchecked partisanship becomes much scarier, perhaps even lethally so, when it comes to major issues of the day such as climate change or inequality, among others. On climate change, for example, we are today writing the fate of our grandchildren and our writing is indelible. Extreme partisanship ensures the worst outcomes.
A recent article in The Guardian illustrated the real Gordian Knot of climate change. The author, UK environmentalist, Andrew Simms, argues that Britain's only hope for dealing with climate change depends on a switch to progressive, pluralist politics.
Today, in our hyper-politicized world, climate change has been hijacked by the political process. It is - and should be - a scientific issue yet, because it invokes the need for urgent political intervention, it has been turned into a partisan point of contention, thus ensuring that little if anything effective can be accomplished as the clock runs down.
Progressivism, likewise, has been turned into a blood sacrifice to our skewed political apparatus. It's been denigrated as the lunacy of the Left, the slippery slope to socialism. Yet the foundations for progressivism are to be found in the writings of the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke. Adam Smith's 1776 classic, "The Wealth of Nations," while selectively quoted by the Right, actually contains a number of progressive cautions. Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal" speech embodies a virtual roadmap of progressive principles. Burke, Smith, Lincoln, Roosevelt all reveal that progressivism is not a partisan issue. All parties can and should embrace it. That is the key to the pluralism Simms champions.
Ultimately, any meaningful - that is to say, effective - action on climate change depends as much on matters of principle such as equality, justice and fairness as it does on slashing greenhouse gas emissions. And we need to recognize that we have zero chance of that happening so long as our political caste enslaves climate change to partisan purposes instead of treating it as a scientific challenge that has risen to the level of an existential threat.
Today's hyper-partisanship has to be seen for what it is. It's not for the benefit of the nation. It's not for the benefit of the Canadian public. It's intended for one thing only, to improve the electoral prospects of our political parties in the next election. It is them, the political caste, placing their own partisan interests ahead of, even to the detriment of, the nation and the people. In some contexts it's a shameful but relatively harmless exercise. However, when it comes to an existential threat such as that posed by climate change, this obstructive hyper-partisanship takes on a truly sinister dimension.
How do we free ourselves of this anchor of partisanship before it drags us to the bottom? I haven't got a clue and yet I would gladly see the whole political apparatus scrapped if only so that we could start over again.