Odd Thoughts: Politics keeps up with ordinary

 

I grew up discussing politics around the house from about as young as I can remember: at the dinner table, in the living room, while loading bales of hay on the trailer, while milking the cows or feeding the chickens.

We talked about federal politics: Diefenbaker and CCF and Pearson and Social Credit and communisim and capitalism and socialism.

We considered the pros and cons of Wacky Bennett’s strange brand of capitalism that included socializing the electrical grid and the woe-begotten ferry system that was our lifeline to the rest of the world (I grew up on Vancouver Island).

But we rarely, if ever, discussed local politics.

Maybe that was because we lived outside of the city, where mayors and aldermen held no sway over the nuts and bolts of our existence.

So while I was fairly well versed in the comings and goings of federal and provincial – and international – affairs from a very young age, I was a blank slate when I attended my first local council meeting at the start of my newspaper career at the Langley Advance nearly 38 years ago.

I went into that first meeting a little awestruck, I’ll admit. Here I was, just a kid from the country, stepping into a position of importance, to report to the rest of my new community the decisions that their (now our) leaders were making.

A number of things struck me about that first meeting.

I went in there expecting to encounter the community’s greatest minds, its most noble members, its wisest participants… and I came out with the realization that that’s not how democracy works, after all.

Because my brushes with politicians up till then had been at a distance – people who rated appearances on the nightly news and the front pages of newspapers – I was unprepared for the ordinariness of the people sitting around the council table.

Indeed, I learned over the years, through personal encounters with MPs and MLAs and an occasional premier or prime minister that the reality of those folks at the Langley Township council table was the reality of politics in general, from Ottawa to Washington, from cities like Vancouver to comfortable villages like Pitt Meadows.

They are ordinary people. Some are ordinarily affable, and some are ordinarily pompous.

A few are more intelligent than the rest of us, a few are less intelligent than the rest of us, but most fall right around the mid-range, like the rest of us.

They have ordinary friends and ordinary acquaintances and ordinary faults.

Most aren’t really leaders. They just follow the pack like the rest of us, and struggle to do the right thing when they can, like the rest of us.

And some are outright jerks.

Indeed, there seem to be more jerks in positions of leadership these days than there used to be.

But then there seem to be more jerks in general than there used to be. 

I seem to recall when being a jerk got you labelled as a “jerk” – and it cost you, socially and economically. If you ran a business like a jerk, you’d lose business. Plain and simple.

Now, it seems, being a jerk can win you admiration, as long as you do it right. 

It used to be that if you did a dirty deal on anyone in the community, the whole community would soon know, and you’d pay the price for taking advantage of “one of us.”

Today, it seems the person who fell for the dirty deal is seen as a “loser” and the guy who did him dirt gets ahead.

Society, community, business, politics – it all boils down to what we accept as ordinary.

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