Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Who's Really "On Your Side"?

Since its release last week, a lot has been made about the most recent Conservative party advertisements.

First off, with Stephen Harper rushing to trample his own fixed election date legislation, they are clearly pre-election campaigning. There is no question about that.

But the theme of the ad bears some obvious consideration.

In the ad, numerous "main street Canadians" lavish praise on Stephen Harper and his government. This enthusiasm-themed ad -- a stark contrast to the various negative ads the party has released over the past 18 months -- features various people in rather ordinary settings -- a blue-collar worker at his shop, a man leaned against his pickup truck in what appears to be his driveway, a woman at the park with her kids.

But for an ad that goes to such lengths to appear to portray ordinary Canadians in ordinary settings, there's something very off-putting about the obviously-scripted nature of their comments.

Certainly, this is an election spot. And while one certainly expects this sort of thing from election advertising, they at least expect the producers of the ad to at least try to be a little less obvious about it.

Aside from that, there has always been something unsettling about politicians who insist they're "on your side".

For some Canadians, it may seem comfortable to know there's someone "on your side" -- or at least insisting they're on your side. But it begs an inevitable question:

If this particular candidate, this particular party, is "on my side", who isn't?

Has partisanship really become so deeply engrained in our politics that we're literally choosing sides?

Sadly, when followed through to its logical conclusion, the taking sides mentality goes far, far beyond political partisanship. After all, anyone who isn't hopelessly naive understands that there are some people who simply will not agree with them on any number of topics, if not at deep, fundamental levels.

Theoretically, we choose our political affiliations based on who best empathizes with our particular concerns and beliefs. Of course some people do choose their political affiliations based on a much more fickle basis, as evidenced by those who vote for a particular party because it's "cooler" to do so, or refuse to vote for a particular party because they "won't win". But for the most part, we expect individuals to support particular political movements because they believe in them.

Ergo those who hold different beliefs, concerns and priorities than ourselves will inevitably choose political movements that differ with our embody beliefs, concerns and priorities. But our movement -- be it a party, protest organization, or community foundation -- is "on our side". And the others, well, aren't.

In the minds of those most prone to such thinking, those who aren't with us are against us. And that's where half the problem lies.

This "on your side" mentality only breeds parochialism into our politics and, ultimately, into our communities.

In Strong Democracy Benjamin Barber reminds us that proper democracy is a cooperative effort -- something that citizens work together on, not fight against one another over. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who will never understand this, even those for whom the beliefs they claim to hold suggest they should.

The "with us or against us"-"on our side/not on our side" mentality only divides citizens who should otherwise be working together in an effort to build a better country for all Canadians, not merely the country preferred by those who are "on our side".

Perhaps some day our politicians will come to understand this. But in order for this to happen, voters have to stop rewarding politicians for sewing the seeds of partisan parochialism in our country and in our very communities.

A good citizen is on everyone's "side". A healthy democracy depends on it.

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