On a recent afternoon, a couple of Daily Herald reporters were having an impassioned discussion about the upcoming American election.
Since they were young and Canadian, one of them strongly felt that Barack Obama had to win or nothing good would ensue.
I listened quietly for a while in my corner office until all of their hope became just a little too much for this old cynic.
I told them that ultimately it probably doesn’t matter if Obama or Mitt Romney wins. I think there’s a political gravity that usually sucks parties closer to the centre when they take power anyway.
Social policies may differ and their relationships with the business community may separate them but I no longer see one as an agent of change that the other isn’t. If one side makes a bold move, the other side will likely reverse it when they get to power.
It pains me to say it but I no longer believe that politicians can make the world a better place.
It’s a world view of such unrelenting negativity that it will startle people who know me. I think I’m generally considered to be an upbeat person with an optimistic view of most things.
But I’ve lost my belief in the people who govern us.
I have two caveats in this conversation.
The first is that this conversation doesn’t apply to local politics. If you can bump into incoming mayor Greg Dionne at the grocery store, he might be able to get your road plowed for you.
The second is that I almost always like the people who serve in politics. I’ve had the chance to enjoy extended conversations with Victoria Jurgens and Randy Hoback and I’ve walked away impressed with them both.
I think they take on their jobs with the very best of intentions. And I know that they are both excellent at working with and for the people that they represent.
They truly can solve problems on an individual basis, one person at a time.
But somewhere in the process I lose faith in their governments’ abilities to govern.
It’s sad, really. I used to be a devoted political junkie but it seems like I’ve been worn down by the years in this business.
Is it because I’m anti-Conservative, with right-wing parties in power in Regina and Ottawa? Actually, no.
I had no more faith in Greg Selinger’s NDP government in Manitoba or Jean Chretien’s Liberal government in Ottawa from 1993 to 2003.
There’s a popular expression called “jumping the shark,” based on Fonzie’s waterskiing efforts in a 1977 episode of Happy Days. The expression suggests that something has moved past what originally made it fresh and relevant.
Television critics say that began the long slide for Happy Days that lasted seven more seasons.
I see things that are sure signs to me that a government has jumped the shark. A self-annointed realist would probably suggest that I’m a wounded idealist, too sensitive for the gory realities of the blood sport that is politics.
And they may be right. But I don’t think that I’m alone in wishing that we lived in a less power hungry, less ideological, less angry, less cynical and more rational system of government.
Too much of what happens in Ottawa and Washington is the result of lobbying and the big money realpolitik of the corridors of power.
And that’s sad.
Most governments jump the shark pretty quickly in my estimation.
You see it when their friends start to be rewarded.
You see it when their donors start to be rewarded.
You see it when their decision are based entirely on ideology, science or logic be damned.
You see it when a logical argument by a political opponent is met with personal attacks.
You see it when decisions are made purely on the election cycle.
You see it when good ideas that come from across the aisle are discounted and ignored.
I’ve lost hope that even minority governments can be governed with any sense of communal resolve. Points need to be scored at every turn, perhaps a symptom of the 24-hour news cycle and the pundit-heavy need for a constant accounting of today’s winners and losers.
I had a brief glimmer of hope when Obama was elected because he seemed to signal something shining and new.
But it was never meant to be and I should have known.
The real money that runs politics from behind the scenes was never going to allow anything significant to change and stay changed. He may have had big ideas but they ran into gridlock.
And in a country where 10 per cent of the population believes he is Muslim and one-quarter thinks he wasn’t born in the U.S. and doesn’t have the constitutional right to be president, what can we expect?
When even the little guy doesn’t care — blinded by politics or wild conspiracies or maybe even just too dumb to understand — what hope is there for big ideas?
We’re no better up here. We can only wish that government does the right thing, usually by accident.
And we can hope that maybe, against all odds, another Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lester B. Pearson or John A. Macdonald can find us before all hope is lost.