Some contrary thoughts before the results are in

So, people who follow this blog know I was pretty worried the last time around about a conservative victory. I created the ‘fear and loathing report’ to follow the election. This time I managed a measly two blog entries. Partly, admittedly, my blogging output has fallen off. I am trying to spend a little more time thinking and less time writing. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Partly though I suppose I am just more calm about the possibility of a conservative victory. Not because it wouldn’t be bad, by any measure I can think of. More because I realized if they don’t win this time, they’ll win next time. The liberals have been in power for too long. When that happens people vote conservative. That’s been the pattern over the past few decades. Then the conservatives run the country into the ground – run up the debt, destroy the public sector, engage in corruption – and then people vote liberal again.

That’s a kind of comforting mainstream analysis – to think of politics as a cycle. A few days ago I was feeling alarmist. I don’t think of history as a cycle so much as a spiral, anyway. But it seems to me the world sees these elections as pretty low-stakes. The winner will be pro “free trade”, pro intervention in other people’s countries, pro following the US military to disaster in Kandahar, pro occupation of Haiti, pro “getting tough on crime”, pro integration with the US, pro privatization, pro deregulation, pro dispossession of Palestinians, pro war profiteering. True, the degree to which the winner is reactionary remains to be seen, but there’s agreement on these fundamentals.

I tried discussing this with a colleague at work, explaining why I was seriously considering abstention (I didn’t abstain, I just voted).

“If you abstain,” he said, “you don’t have the right to complain about anything.”

“What if I reject all the available choices?”

“Then you should choose the least bad, or run yourself.”

“What if I reject the whole system?”

“Then pack up your sh*# and get lost!”

I thought that was a bit too “love it or leave it”. But I wasn’t stumped: “But I have nowhere to go. I reject the global system!” He shrugged and said he was torn between the Green Party and the NDP, both of which had reasonable platforms. I said I wasn’t impressed with the foreign policy of any of the parties.

“Your problem is that you’re at odds with the whole population. Of course the parties are going to reflect the population.”

An interesting point, that. Whether we’re voting or abstaining, whether we’re right-wingers or liberals or leftists or anarchists, we all want to believe we’re in tune with the population. Abstainers point to the 40% who don’t bother to vote. They’re the silent majority who’s with us – and you can add lots of those who do vote, because they’re just trying to choose the best of a bad lot. Liberals and conservatives just point to the electoral results themselves. Social democrats argue for proportional representation. The leftist thesis is that the media prevents certain issues and facts from reaching the population, distracts them, demobilizes them, and that if the population knew more, and felt more empowered, they would be inclined to be leftists. Can we take all that for granted, do you think? It’s what I go on as a working hypothesis, but sometimes, and it’s usually around elections when right-wing parties get elected, I wonder – if I am at odds with the majority, does that mean I should do something different?

A last thought for vote night. Maybe Canada isn’t so much going against the trend in the Americas as it’s 5-10 years behind the trend. The liberals discredited themselves. If the conservatives disgrace themselves (though it might not be giving them enough credit… they have some slick machinery, some smart advisers from Australia and no doubt the United States), then maybe the left will have a shot. That was how the PT in Brazil (and for that matter the Bolivarians in Venezuela) got in: the other parties went down in corruption. What the PT did with the power once they got it is another story.

Counterevidence: The PT got in because of a reputation for innovative management based on what they did in the state governments they controlled. If we make the analogy between the NDP and the PT, the NDP have won provincial power, and having gotten into power, proceeded to not distinguish themselves from those to the right of them.

Enough. It’s time to go watch TV.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.