The rules of the playground still apply.

If there’s one thing that unites most, if not all political parties, it’s the ongoing bafflement about how to motivate an increasingly disillusioned electorate. In backrooms everywhere, party executives and policy wonks debate methods of getting average folks on their side. They talk about advertising, signage and social media campaigns. They discuss their candidate’s best qualities, review their key messages and even discuss wardrobe. But too often, these unabashed political junkies miss one very important point. THEY are often the cause of the electorate’s disillusionment.

Hyper-partisanship is a total turn-off to the average disengaged citizen. Think of it like a dating profile. Demonstrating hyper-partisanship is akin to declaring yourself a smoker–90% of your potential dates have already archived your profile before you can say, “policy platform.”

There are some very good reasons for this. It goes back to kindergarten. Most of us were taught from an early age that name-calling is wrong. We were most likely scolded for responding to situations with derisive or childish labels. Our parents and teachers would have reminded us to keep our emotions under control and try to respond reasonably and fairly. We are encouraged to criticize constructively, build bridges and respect differences.

Then, we become adults and observe politics. The first thing we notice is that everything we learned in kindergarten doesn’t apply in politics. We see name-calling, angry retorts involving derisive labels, childish responses to questions and a total lack of respect for differing opinions. And many of us shake our heads in disgust. This is why honest and intelligent citizens recoil from involvement in the political sphere. They don’t show up to vote because they feel their mere participation in the voting process equates to sanctioning behaviour they see as repulsive. It’s like asking someone to drive the getaway car for a bank robbery. Is it any wonder that people balk?

Now, I am not advocating apathy. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 and continue to encourage my family and friends to get out and vote, despite their disapproval of politics. What I am doing is urging each and every candidate and political party out there to rethink the way they do politics. I’m also suggesting pundits and party supporters stop demonstrating childish and egotistical behaviour. You may like listening to yourself throw partisan insults around and think you are illustrating your superior intellect, but I can assure you that all you are doing is driving away potential voters.

Let’s stick to respectful disagreement and quit putting people into categories so that you can write them off more easily. Our political system is becoming increasingly fractured because people refuse to work together across party lines. Instead of cooperating for change in Alberta and in Canada, we seem to be turning our backs on each other and building walls. Our social media conversations are rife with petty name-calling and you can tune in at any point in time to observe angry and emotional exchanges involving political operatives on all sides of the spectrum.

Humour is one way to engage people, but a great deal of skill is needed to do this well. There are a few comedians who manage to be genuinely funny without coming across as overtly partisan. You can deliver a funny, biting political commentary without appearing petty or belittling…but it does take some careful thought. Most partisans lack the ability to do this well, unfortunately. Good political humour is largely coming from non-politicians, since outsiders seem to be capable of thinking more clearly about the issues than the insiders.

Call me a dreamer, but I think that people can raise the level of political discourse, if they put their minds to it. Your kindergarten teacher will be proud of you.

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7 thoughts on “Inspiring a disillusioned electorate

  1. It just may be time to take up a collection from the average American voter and buy every member of Congress a copy of Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” along with implicit instructions to leave it for the next person after they leave office with a list of all the lessons they learned.

  2. Jody,

    I’ve decided to run for the Alberta Party (and they say they will have me)… in (what will be) the new constituency of Leduc-Beaumont. Before making my decision, I promised myself to run with all I am… and I’m a pretty funny guy… who believes deeply in public civility.

    Putting humour, honest passion, and real debate back into public debate is something I’m all about… and instead of demanding it from others… I’m going to put my word on the line.

    If nothing else… it’ll great fun to address the dreams and aspirations of those I might represent in a way I think would make politics better.

    So… right here and now… on your blog about doing politics more civilly… and with as much goodwill and humour as possible… I’ll be the first to promise a higher level of civility, goodwill and humour. Watch me and see.

    Will

  3. I don’t see an ‘elevation in the level of discourse’ happening, and everyone is, one way or another, complicit–the parties, the politicians, the strategists, the power brokers, the volunteers, the pundits, the media, the Twitterati…right down to the average citizen.

    What has been the biggest news story so far? The Wildrose bus. What does that say about all of us? While some may lament humanity’s short attention span and proclivity for entertainment over substance, I simply acknowledge it as human nature. After all, though Churchill was undoubtedly a great leader, he was a downright acerbic politician. (Recall his colourful remark about Attlee: “Attlee is a modest man with much to be modest about.”) Perhaps the insults are shorter in length in the age of TV sound bites and 140 character tweets, but the demonization of opponents is nothing new. Everyone does it: the right says the left hates freedom, the left says the right hates people, and the commentators and unaligned say they’re all bastards.

    I don’t know what the effect of imperative policy issues is. They could elevate discussion by focusing discussion on them, or they could raise the stakes, further necessitating overblown and hyperbolic rhetoric.

    We shouldn’t lose all hope, though. Since the unfortunate tweet about Danielle Smith’s family situation, there seemed to be a collective sense of disgust at the type of campaigning that was going on. Week 2 has been much more substantive and civilized than Week 1. Whether or not things stay that way is another story. “What the people want” tends to be an organic phenomenon that shifts and changes and is simultaneously affected by and independent of what the parties do.

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