Politics inside the tip of the pyramid

By Ivan Morgan

Thirty years ago, I had the great good fortune to have supper with Ed Broadbent, a former leader of the NDP who died last week. He was a hero of mine, and I have been thinking of that evening I spent with him. What a time! He was a thinker, and the meal was a wide-ranging discussion of ideas. I won’t bore you other than to say he challenged a lot of what I believed at the time.
I have forgotten most of our conversation, but I remember how civil he was. He had strong opinions about his political opponents, and disagreed with their policies, but spoke warmly of them as people.
I think this is what is increasingly being forgotten in politics today.
I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I am trying to make a point. (And I know I keep writing about this, but I think it’s important.)
Like most of us, I have always viewed politics as a left wing – right wing spectrum of ideas. I am not sure that model is useful anymore. I don’t think it reflects today’s political realities.
Once upon a time the left promoted what they called progressive thinking – more freedoms for people, more humane treatments for people, making tax dollars work for all. They were predominantly working class.
The right was conservative; they wanted to preserve tradition, protect the status quo, have smaller government, and lower taxes. Traditionally they were the well-off.
The right was known for its extremists.
Now we have extremism on both sides, and politics has taken a decidedly nasty turn.
While better than American politics, Canadian federal politics gets nastier by the month. With an election looming we see more and more divisiveness, and we see leaders trying to paint their opponents as evil and dangerous.
I have been involved in many federal campaigns over the years. We’ve won some and lost some. Sure, I resented the losses, but did I hate my opponents? They might have pissed me off, but I didn’t think they were evil.
These days the rise of extremism, especially on the left, has people demonizing their opponents – and you and I by extension – if we don’t see things the way they do. Calling your opponents racists, homophobes, genocidal murderers, and the like is not debate. Calling a different opinion to yours hate isn’t either.
Ideology has replaced religion for many people. For many, especially on the left, there’s no debate anymore, just belief. Say something they don’t agree with and they go for the jugular. Sanctimony and self-righteousness is not debate.
Like in religion, looking down on others helps true believers feel better about themselves. They hold the correct views and thus are morally superior. Like religion, if you join them, and believe what they believe, you too can be saved. Just forget the “do unto others” stuff and feel good about yourself at the expense of those who are, frankly, not as good as you. Not as righteous, not as correct.
It’s hate dressed up as love. I don’t think it has any place in our politics.
Ed Broadbent had the confidence in his ideas to appeal to voters’ best natures. He dealt in ideas, and compassion. He didn’t resort to name-calling, and sanctimony. He chose persuasion over abuse.
Don’t be bullied by people who are quick to attack you if you don’t agree with them. If you have doubts about a particular issue, that doesn’t make you a racist, a moron, or dangerous. It makes you a Canadian.
As for that old left-right political model? How about a new model? Instead of a left-right spectrum, how about a pyramid? At the tippy top are noisy, nasty, uncompromising extremists of every stripe, and, underneath, afraid to speak up, are the rest of us.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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