Monday, September 8, 2008

Democracy inaction

Please remind me again about how our country is viewed as a beacon of democracy in the world, because I'm not feeling it today.

The largest TV networks in Canada - CBC/Radio Canada, TVA, CTV, and Global - decided today that they would not "allow" Green Party leader Elizabeth May to participate in the televised leaders' debates scheduled for October 1 and 2, largely because three of the four "main" parties threatened not to participate if she took the stage. Leaving aside for the moment how the Bloc Quebecois is considered a "main" party when it only fields candidates in one province, while the Greens have candidates lined up in all 306 ridings across the country and are still considered a fringe element alongside the Communists and Libertarians, it seems to me that in a truly democratic society, there ought to be a free and open exchange of honestly held opinions, and that should especially extend to the leadership debates during an election campaign between all those who want to run our country.

Last time out, the media consortium told May's predecessor that he couldn't participate because the Greens had no seat in Parliament. May fixed that by recruiting a sitting independent last week to sport the Green colours. Now the consortium has changed the criteria - not that they've actually articulated what those criteria are, mind you - and seem to be refusing to allow her entry simply because some of the other players threatened to take their ball and go home.

Let them. Unlike our American neighbours, election campaigns here don't run on for two years, they're only six weeks long. If any leader is truly stupid enough to pass up two evenings of free TV coverage, then let them sit it out. Our media consortium, instead of being truly independent and telling folks, fine, don't participate, rolled over to the collective powers that be and chose to freeze May out instead.

It is posturing like this that has frustrated a significant proportion of the electorate, including me, into giving up on organized politics altogether. There's no leadership being exhibited by anyone when the democratic process, and by extension, the voters themselves, get screwed over by leaders protecting their own self-interests. This is exactly what's wrong with organized politics today - it's not at all concerned about what the electorate wants, it's all positional and protectionist. Pardon me for thinking that an electorate can never have too much information on the issues, and the parties' positions, before casting their ballots. By keeping Elizabeth May and the Green Party out of the leaders debates, the media consortium is depriving voters of a real opportunity to compare the Green platform to the platforms of the other main parties and let them draw their own conclusions.

I understand why the politicians are opposed, as an extra person at the debate takes away from their air time, and some voters looking for something different may be intrigued by the novelty of some of the Green's ideas, but the role of the media is to first, represent the public interest, and two (trotting out an old chestnut) to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Looks like they let us down on both fronts.

***UPDATE*** After a day of uproar, everyone grew a collective brain this afternoon and decided Ms. May could participate after all. Democracy. What a concept.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. She's not even a pale Geraldine Ferraro

I promised myself I wouldn't get sucked into this.

For the entire Labour Day weekend, I tried to summon enough energy to blog about the Republican National Convention, to no avail. I really just didn't care enough about Sarah Palin to take the time out of my hectic schedule to blog about her.

But then the media frenzy about the pregnant daughter and - gasp! - Palin being a WOMAN took hold and - catnip time. My bad. On one side, we find the folks who say having a second female v-p candidate is a great step forward for women. Obviously, these folks think Palin can steal the pro-Hillary vote from disgruntled female Democrats, largely because anyone with breasts will apparently follow others similarly endowed around without worrying about what's they're actually thinking or doing. Being a woman, it seems, is all the qualification a candidate needs for these votes (by this criteria, I would have blindly supported both Kim Campbell and Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. Hey, they're chicks and I am too - solidarity forever! (fist pump - "whoooo!" Maybe I should wave a lighter?)). These are probably also the people busy critiquing Ms. Palin's "style" - hair, clothes, and shoes - on TV tonight. Let's not worry about what she might say in her big speech, as long as she looks pretty doing it - just like a good little woman should, beside her (figurative) man. This is progress?

These are also the pundits who are shocked - shocked! - that the media would criticize Ms. Palin for anything. Having breasts apparently also makes you bulletproof (breasts - the versatile accessory!). Imagine. I mean, why would the media possibly be interested in a conservative, pro-life, anti-choice, "kids should practice abstinence and there should be no sex ed and birth control" Republican who has a pregnant, unwed teenage daughter at home hooked up with a self-professed redneck boyfriend? Can't see anything interesting there. Move it along folks, nothing to see here - except a big old train wreck of hypocrisy. If she can't control her own house, should she really be next in line to control the country? If her kids won't listen to her, why should anyone else?

Spin doctoring the media is a big business. Consultants on presidential campaigns earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to see these things coming. It's not like it was a stealth attack out of nowhere. The woman is campaigning on a moral superiority, "family values" ticket. That just begs to be examined with a fine tooth comb. But that examination should apply equally to men and women, Democrats and Republicans, not just the only woman on either ticket.

Which brings me to the other side of things. Related to the "What will she wear? How will she look?" breathless line of media ridiculousness and sexism (why doesn't anyone care about Obama's suits? They're really nice suits, probably handmade) is the overtly sexist questioning of whether or not a mother of five can be vice-president and hockey mom at the same time. No one asks Obama if he can balance work and home life and he's got a pair of kids, 10 and 7. I'm not saying the question shouldn't be asked - but it should be asked of all candidates (OK, Biden and McCain's kids are all grown up, but still). And to be fair, I would expect the men to have their contradictory family lives explored if they made family a campaign issue (did I miss the articles on "family values" partner McCain's infidelity, the screwing around that led to the demise of his first marriage?). Because these issues raise interesting questions about priorities, judgment, and personal ambition, which I think ARE important considerations when choosing a President.

What kind of parent - mother or father - accepts a job offer, fully knowing their kids are going to get dragged into the media spotlight and knowing that because of the parent's espoused politics and the child's contrary conduct, that kid is going to be a lightning rod for public debate?

As we all know, I have no children. But I would like to think that if I did, I would sacrifice my personal ambitions and put protection of my child first, last, and centre. Ms. Palin's daughter is five months along, 17, unwed. Mom's a pro-life, born-again Christian who believes in abstinence. Is mom really so naive/daft/arrogant as to really not understand that the media were going to have a feeding frenzy off this contradiction? Whether they SHOULD have such a feeding frenzy is a totally different issue, but politics is not a nice, clean Sunday afternoon sport. It's right up there with gladiators and bloodletting. And it didn't just start 10 days ago. Mom knew what she was getting into, and she leapt in anyway.

When Ms. Palin was considering the offer, she ought to have also considered what effect this incredible cauldron was going to have on her family. Her daughter hasn't chosen to be involved in any of this - it's been thrust upon her, and she keeps looking like a wounded deer waiting for NRA-mom to finish her off and put her out of her misery. What kind of parent does that to their kid? Where is her judgement? Her sense of priority? To me, that naked ambition is the biggest judgement issue to come out of the past week.

I would feel the same way regardless of Palin's gender. I think it's an incredibly selfish thing for a parent to put their personal ambition above the well-being of their family. I was taken aback when John Edwards continued his run for the Presidency after his wife's cancer recurred (I'm not even going to get into the whole affair thing), and I would have a problem with any candidate who went full steam ahead regardless of the impact on their spouse and kids. I thought the whole point of being a parent was to put your kids first. Apparently that concept of family hasn't caught on with the "family values" crowd.

I'll believe we're making progress when women are chosen because of their capabilities, not their breasts (and there are dozens of American women in the Senate, the House of Representatives, Gubernatorial mansions, and private industry who have wonderful credentials to be vice-president or President, of all political stripes), and when we spend more time evaluating their ideas and their records, and not whether or not they have the right shoes. Wake me up if that ever happens.