Sunday, December 11, 2005

Are Young Liberals 'Average Canadians'?

Have you seen the various television advertisements for the three major parties? The Tory ones are pretty crappy, and here's why. The NDP one is funny, especially with Martin getting a boot for Christmas. The best ones, by far, are the Liberal ads with their "30 million reasons to vote Liberal. What's yours?" schtick. I love them. They're inspiring, they're high quality, they pull on emotional strings, they're beautiful, and so on. There's just one problem, all the people who look like "average Canadians" aren't--they're affiliated with the Liberal Party.

No. Liberal insider. Peter Yung is riding association president for the Liberal Party in Burnaby-Douglas, B.C.

This 'average Canadian' thing carries over into a letter-writing story. Young Liberals wrote letters to the editor, and passed themselves off as regular Joes ('average Canadians'). They didn't mention the fact that they were Young Grits.

Jason Cherniak is upset that anyone would be upset about this. He thinks this is part of the reason why young Canadians are not interested in politics. And he thinks that being a partisan makes you no less of an "average Canadian."

Jason, I'm afraid, is wrong about everything in his post.

And here's why: For one, he conflates partisanship with interest in politics. Being a member of a Party is one way to be interested in politics, but there are plenty of others. For instance, I wasn't a partisan until I met Wudrick, who convinced me that it makes more sense to try and sway the Tories from the inside, rather than to yell at them from the outside. At any rate, to get involved in politics is not necessarily to help a candidate or join a political party.

For two, being a partisan does change your status as an "average Canadian." You may be an average Canadian in every respect, but with respect to your opinion of the Party you are a member of, you are no longer an "average Canadian." Imagine the same advertisement for McDonald's, with McDonald's employees saying nice things about Big Macs. If the company didn't identify them as McDonald's employees, we would be right to cry foul. This doesn't make them any less "average" in general, but it does make them non-average with respect to McDonald's. Their opinion is tainted by the company that keeps them.

Just like yours is. Of course you're going to say nice things about the Liberals, you have a vested interest in their success. This depends on just how partisan you happen to be, and how affiliated you are with the Party. For instance, you happen to use the Grit logo as part of your header on your blog:

At any rate, Warren Kinsella explains why the letter writing and television ads are problematic in three easy steps: 1. It is dishonest. 2. It is deceptive. And 3. It is dumb. He gives more exegesis on these three points in his post, so you can read that. He's right. And it's obvious that he's right.

Then there's the bit about why young people aren't involved in politics. I guess you think it's because of all the nastiness. But all that nastiness is more likely to entice young people than turn them away. Supporting sports teams is full of nastiness, with Leafs fans yelling at Canadiens fans and vice versa. "Our local area sports team is superior to your local area sports team," says an Onion parody t-shirt. Since nastiness attracts young people to sporting events, why wouldn't it attract young people to politics?

Politics is slimy, Jason. It always has been, and it always will be. And there are much more interesting things for young people to get involved in than politics. Of course I would like more young people to be interested in Philosophy, that would help justify what I'm busy doing, and it would help me feel good about my choices. Of course I think Philosophy is "important," even vitally so. But I don't complain when others don't feel the same, and I don't complain when young people don't give a rat's ass about politics. And I definitely don't think it's obvious that young people getting involved in politics is a good thing. It's what we say, to be sure, and everyone nods approvingly when someone says that they voted. But it takes a certain amount of ignorance of relevant voting literature and economics to think that higher voting totals are a good thing, or that people should be interested in politics. Especially since you are more likely to be hit by a car on your way to the voting booth than have your vote actually make a difference in the election.

James Bowie also stands with Cherniak on this issue. He writes:
As to any problem anyone might have with the letter writing: these people are Canadian Citizens. They're writing letters about subjects that interest them in anticipation of the election. Their partisan affiliation does not dispel their freedom of expression. Lord knows every other party has their writers.

If we have a problem with youth participation in this country is's because young people think they'll be smeared. Thank you Warren for smearing a bunch of young people who got involved and had their say. You are now a brick in the wall.
The first paragraph changes the subject. No one is questioning their right to write letters, or challenging their freedom of expression. At least, near as I can tell, no one has yet called the police, or threatened to put in place a new law suggesting that only non-partisans can write letters. There's a difference between social norms disapproving of something, and the law saying that you can't do something. The latter would fall under the "possible violation of freedom of expression" category, while the former is part and parcel of the whole "freedom of expression" thing. You write something, someone criticizes the fact that you wrote in the first place, but no one calls the police. Everyone would know that if everyone were to take Philosophy courses, but not everyone does, so I'm not too offended that nonsense like this keeps popping up.

As for the smearing, that is as likely to be the culprit with respect to low young people participation in politics as unstylish campaign buttons. Do you really think young people think to themselves: "Hmmm, I'd like to get involved in politics, really I would. But there's all that smearing and nastiness..." No? I didn't think so. They are more likely to think, "Maybe I'll get involved in politics. The trouble is that all these people take themselves so fucking seriously. You're just a partisan blogger in a sea of partisan bloggers, dude, get over yourself." And then there's all that ass-kissing, glad-handing, and acting as though meeting with politicians is a brush with celebrity (I'm guilty of this myself, but I'm pretty certain that for most people this is a turn-off).

So in conclusion, writing a letter or appearing in a television ad for the Liberals when you are a volunteer/organizer/partisan etc. of the Liberal Party makes you unaverage with respect to that. Even if you're average in every other way that counts.


Blogger mostlyfree said...

Have you seen the new CPC ad? It's a huge improvement on the initial ones.

1:14 p.m.  

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