(Volume 25 Issue 6)
By Jim Scott
The Baltimore journalist and professional cynic, H.L. Mencken, once wrote: “The aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, (and hence clamorous to be led to safety), by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”. In Ontario’s recently concluded provincial election we saw this practice fully and regularly implemented.
Not that there’s anything new about trying to strike fear in voters by accusing your political opponent of having evil designs on cherished programmes. After all, Mencken was writing in the first decades of the last century when political communication consisted of a whistle-stop tour, the daily newspaper and perhaps a radio speech or two.
With today’s ubiquitous broadband blathering about politics we can, unless we deliberately tune it out, be subjected to spam, tweets, robocalls, 24-hour “news” channels, as well as talk radio and good old print media.
We are supposed to be a more sophisticated and informed populace, but I’m afraid we have, on the contrary, descended into a cocoon of propaganda and blinkered ignorance that we actually cultivate with great passion. Good luck trying to propose anything innovative or imaginative.
During the election opponents claimed Progressive Conservative candidate, (and eventual winner) Doug Ford was in favour of “privatising” health care, and if elected would cut billions of dollars and thousands of doctors and nurses. That this had no basis in fact was irrelevant. Also, that our health care system was long over due for an overhaul was conveniently ignored to focus on the emotional implication of the charge: elect Mr. Ford and fire and brimstone will rain down from the skies. And there won’t be any health care workers around to treat your burns.
Since pollsters had the NDP “neck and neck” with the front-running Tories, no-one had time to break down the silliness inherent in the campaign.
As they thrust this imaginary hobgoblin into Ontario’s politics, the Lib/NDP duumvirate also raised their favourite shiny objects: free ‘this-and that’. Like jangling keys in front of a baby, no politician has ever failed to attract voters to the idiot idea that they are giving you something without payment or consequence. “Free” health care is only safe if Liberals are elected. (Their years of cuts and budget strangulation notwithstanding). Needing to outpace their cousins, the NDP add “free” drug care, “free” post-secondary education, and most alarmingly, NDP leader Andrea Horwath claimed her party would buy back all the hydro assets of the province and turn it into a Worker’s Paradise of cheap electricity!
Rarely does the Canadian media, (a few pundits excepted), question the sanity of handing stuff out with no regard to what it costs, not just in dollars, but in forgone opportunity or future indebtedness. People tune out the conservative position that governments cannot give you anything you don’t already pay for. Governments eager to expand their control over our lives cleverly call taxes something else, (“carbon pricing”) and wrap them in patriotic sacrifice. Older Canadians worry that tax cuts are a byword for ‘service cuts’, while the youngsters are convinced government is the font of largesse when dad and mom cut off the credit card.
Government has no money except what it takes from its citizens. We grudgingly give up some of our wealth with the understanding others will benefit as well as ourselves. We appreciate the fact we can contribute in small, regular amounts and derive the larger benefit when something bad happens; like any other insurance. But like every other human endeavour, no system is perfect. In order to improve it we must ask questions and have adult conversations about what can be done better. In the present super-charged atmosphere, fuelled by money paid to provocateurs and single-minded advocates, will it ever be possible to even raise an issue without being burned at the stake?