Heads up all - I'm about to talk politics here. But I promise to keep it short, if not simple*.
Here's the thing. I was watching President Obama's visit to Canada last week. There was a moment when he arrived on Parliament Hill, greeted PM Harper, and then went back outside and waved at the two thousand or so people who were waiting to see him. I'd been watching the coverage of 'This is where President Obama will land' and 'This is President Obama's motorcade' and 'This is the building where there's a room where President Obama will be meeting with so-and-so,' and was thinking "Geez, we are like 12-year-old girls with a crush on this guy." And then, just for a moment, when he made a point of greeting the people there to see him, I got a little choked up. I, the political cynic, got choked up at an American president waving at people. What is up with that??!!
I've been thinking about it, and I think I have an answer, or at least the beginning of one. Hold on, here comes the theory. One of the first things I learned in pol-sci (political science) class is that politics is all about the allocation of scarce resources - who gets what, and when, and how. It is also about power - who gets to make these decisions about allocation of resources. Now, we usually understand this in a formal way, ie. we vote someone into office, they make up the government, they makes the decisions on our behalf.
But this also happens in a much less formal way, through ideas and influence. For example, people start talking about the how the West kept getting screwed, and the West wanted in, and suddenly the Reform Party had decimated the Progressive Conservative party in Western Canada, the two merged into the Conservative Party, and now the Prime Minister is from Calgary. Trust me on this, ideas matter. But despite all this, people are more cynical than ever about politics and politicians, because whether the West is or is not 'in', things haven't really changed in Ottawa. In fact, there is less cooperation and more bickering and infighting than ever in our capital.
To go back to the idea of allocating resources, we all know that the more scarce a resource, the ore valuable it is. That's why gold is more valuable than say, steel. If you look at that in a political context, one of the most scarce, and therefore valuable resources is hope. We are all so cynical about politics and politicians that we don't even think about it anymore. We don't really expect politicians to keep their election promises, we don't even flinch when they talk about accountability, and we don't even bother watching Question Period, because watching all the posing and posturing just gets tiring. We don't even think anything else is possible anymore.
But Obama has changed this, not only for Americans, but for the rest of the world. His speeches about the audacity of hope made people believe that change in politics is actually possible. And what struck me in watching all the hoopla around his Canadian visit was the respect with which
he treated other people. Not just other politicians, but the press, and the general public. There was none of the usual attitude of 'I'm too important for this shit,' and man, was it refreshing.
Now, I'm not expecting Obama to be perfect. There will be changes and adjustments as he takes office. I would actually be worried if there were no revisions to policies, because, as former PM Mulroney said on The Hour the other night, being in office ain't the same as campaigning for it. Obama and his staff are in the midst of a monumental learning curve, and they have to have room to move. But it really heartened me to see the basic respect with which Obama treated the people around him, and I really think we could use a dose of that in Canadian politics. Respect, hope, and change have been in short supply, but that only makes them more valuable, not less. Here's hoping we can find someone on the Canadian political scene that can harness these scarce resources as well as Obama has, and give us a chance to say it - Yes, We Can. That, my friends, is something to get choked up about.
(*Apparently it's not short either. What can I say, I'm trying to wring every bit out of that mountain of student debt.)