Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Why Canada Can't Have an Obama, and Why I'll Never Join Your Party

Barack Obama ran for President without the elders and power brokers of the Democratic Party behind him. He ran on the vague notion of hope and change and on a set of concrete ideas about health care, the economy, foreign policy, the environment, education etc.,

Canada cannot have it's Barack Obama at the moment because out political structure wouldn't allow it. In Canada you have to get a good number of party insiders and power brokers behind you before you even think of running for the leader of a party - and then you have favors to replay. Then, when there is an election you break out the party platform but it's a targeted document. You make promises that you know you can't keep to the constituencies that you want to carry in the election.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I'm apathetic, or that I don't think voting matters - there is a difference. Harper is more evil than Layton no question. That said, none of them is really trying to bring the country together. They are saying that if the country would like to unite behind them that the country is welcome to do that.

While I see a clear difference between political parties, I cannot ever see myself joining on of them. The political parties are not about 'ideas': The Liberals used to be, back in the days of Trudea. The NDP used to be, in the days of Tommy Douglass. The Conservatives haven't been about ideas in recent memory. They claim the ideas of the right, but then they do whatever it takes to stay in power. The Bloc may, possibly be about ideas, but they are bad ideas - which doesn't help.

Personally, I like individual people (candidates) and I like ideas (good ideas) but institutions are more interested in power than ideas and political parties are institutions. All of them, from what I can tell, will sacrifice any or all of their ideas if it means staying in power. What is really sad though is that even in the age of social media there is very little independent thought among party members. When a party does something, or makes an announcement, right or wrong the party line is echoed across it's share of the blogosphere generally without criticism (with the exception of Western Conservatives who recently discovered that Stephen Harper doesn't believe in much).

That means that, in Canada at least, the revolution in media is not creating a broader diversity of ideas. It is creating an echo chamber that is less diverse than what the main stream media was serving up before - which is just sad. So while I'm still contemplating what the Un-Party may become I won't join any political party where you are expected to abandon your ideas, on conscience on the alter of the part leaders.


Matt said...

i'll agree with your idea to a degree. however by joining or going to a party you make it what you want it to be. given the low number of party members in the NDP it's rather easy to have some say with a political astute friends to become the power brokers. why not take over a party and become the power base you currently resent?

Justin Beach said...

Because then I'd be what I resent. I don't want to become the power base. I want to have ideas and put them to the test against other ideas and see who's ideas hold up the best. I think that is what is lacking in Canadian politics at the moment, not enough ideas and not enough leaders willing to stand behind their ideas and fight for them.

gordo said...

politicains and the media are the same.

BJ said...

I don't agree with this article at all. Obama is quite a contrarian relative to a lot of Canadian values. Obama wants expanded health care "available" to everyone, not universal care that is certain to be there. I don't want availability to buy, I want guaranteed coverage. Obama isn't for gay marriage, so he isn't for full equal rights. He's for the separate but equal idea that we should expand rights, as long as its not called marriage. Obama is also from a very notoriously corrupt Chicago political machine and had to do the insider political game to get where he is. Don't idealize him, because Canadian identity is still clearly different from American identity. Despite all of Obama's shortcomings, I still am glad he won over McCain. But the article suffers from way too much of a glossy eye instead of reality.

Justin Beach said...

No, it doesn't. Sorry BJ but apparently you didn't read it, or read things into it that aren't there. I didn't say anything about whether Obama's ideas and policies were good or not. What this is actually about is that he came out of left field without the support of the party elders and strolled into the white house.

The Canadian party system simply wouldn't allow that to happen.

BJ said...

Maybe, but at least Canada has political parties. The US is locked in a two party system, and besides. Obama got backing of major Democratic players. The Kennedy clan were the first to break, but the bottom line is that Obama certainly was no party outsider. Michael Ignatieff, while not my favorite politician, spent less time in Liberal caucus before he got the leadership than Obama did in the Democratic party. Sorry, while I agree with a lot of things you speak of, I don't agree with your idealization of Obama. Obama was an established Democratic figure by the time he ran, he just wasn't a party stalwart like the Clintons. In Canada we just had Ignatieff sweep in, from outside the country no less, and win over Bob Rae's insider status. I just don't see it the same as you, Obama isn't the outsider people claim him to be. He spoke at the DNC 2004 convention as a newcomer, he spent 4 years building his brand before he ran and won. Again, that's more time than Ignatieff was even back in Canada. I'm not upset with you, but I do find the Obama-mania a bit humorous. You can only idealize him to a point before it becomes absurd.

Justin Beach said...

I'm glad you're amused. Humor is a good thing. Although...it should be remembered that Ignatieff was recruited by Liberal power brokers - he did not come in on his own with high ideals and a desire to serve. He was brought in, apparently with some promises as to his future within the party. You should also know that I've hardly given Obama a free ride.

BJ said...

You're right. Ignatieff wouldn't be there if power brokers within Liberal ranks didn't want him to be there. But could you imagine a leader running for Democratic caucus in the US after having been out of the country for years?? Wouldn't happen in a million years. As an addendum to what I said earlier, I should have said the Kennedy clan was one of the first to break publicly for Obama. Ever since he won his Senate seat in 2004 and spoke at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama has had Democratic power brokers working on his behalf. And they used bundler fundraising techniques to mask big time donors and pretend they were all small donors. Huge billionaire interests would get together and lobby by breaking up their money and donating little bits and pieces of the pie according to people who agreed to use their name for the campaign finance limits, giving the appearance that Obama got all of his money from small, grassroots supporters. The majority of Obama money came from bundling, not genuine grassroots efforts. Obama, afterall, refused public campaign finance dollars to have a fair, unbiased fight. Again, I'm not defending Ignatieff in any way, but to pretend Obama didn't have as much establishment help is to ignore the facts.

BJ said...

Oh, and Obama is already proving to be a sellout to the American people and proves the two-party American system is almost a one business party system with a few variations on social issues. His stimulus package is primarily waste, it doesn't fund home buyers to stay in their homes and come to an agreeable price that people can afford, it funds the banks. His stimulus plan includes pennies for transit projects and infrastructure, but tens of billions in contract dollars to go to corporations to choose what they want to do with it. Obama is a horrible example of American politics at their worst. Just when you think light is at the end of the tunnel, you essentially have the same one business party system at work, with a radically new face, and only subtle differences on a few social policies like his stances on gay rights or abortion.

Big deal.. Obama has already set himself up to be another corporate welfare puppet in the American one business party system.

Dwight Williams said...

I think that Obama's taken a couple of "Canadian" ideas, particularly the health care stuff, and tried to culturally translate into terms that Americans won't immediately say "no" to. If I'm right, then I hope it works.

As to the rest of it...I think we do need a more explicit and clear-cut contest of ideas for the future of Canada than we've been enduring up to now.

I am also, admittedly, interested in being part of a specific combination of power bases seeing as the causes they support are ones I value. Benefit for participation matters.