Effective Democracy

living democratically with democratic governance

I have long argued that our politics is a wreck and getting to be more of a wreck every day. Why do I say that? Long-ish version: at one time parties worked hard to come up with policies that reflected their underlying respective political philosophies. They might occasionally become a little weak-kneed and decide to modify the philosophy to appeal to a broader section of the voting public just so, you know, they could garner more votes of support at election time. Then along came the predictive polling artists who would test the voting waters to see where the electorate might be headed. Then came the real polling artists/scientists who could target voters with different parts of an electoral platform to, you know, garner more votes. In the buildup to all this, perhaps around the late 1960’s professional commercial marketing teams, a la Madmen, pointed out that branding was important. It worked for cars and chewing gum both of which had nearly indistinguishable performance characteristics. The only real difference was the brand.

Thus it was that cars, chewing gum and political parties deliberately closed the performance gaps between them and worked ever harder to push themselves over the so-called centre in an attempt to go over centre and assume control over the other guy’s slice of the electorate.

Trouble is, in this mad competitive marketing rush they became ever more philosophically baseless. The democratic principles they seemed to so fervently espouse often were not realised in policy post-election and even pre-election. Now the only real difference between them was indeed the brand. As I like to describe the importance of the current brands, they are only as deep and meaningful as the ink that prints the brand on the political literature.

This strategy is widely thought to prevent disaffecting possible supporters to prevent them being confused and voting for the other side. The focus then came to be on only those who would actually go to the polls and vote. Those who were inclined to stay home could be ignored, sort of. Just in case they needed an extra motivation to stay home, political operatives also went out of their way to slag all politicians as at best charlatans. That then spread to slagging journalists and journalism to further make politicking as disgusting as possible. This now includes targeting those who would normally vote for the other side, where the strategy is cause them to become so disgusted in the process and in their party’s candidates, particularly their own leader, to cause them to stay at home and not go to the polls.

Et Voila!! Success!! Sure enough a large slice of the electorate does not vote at all! These non-voters have come to see parties and political operators irrelevant to their daily lives. Thus democratic operatives are steadily succeeding in eroding democracy. An unintended consequence? Perhaps. I certainly hope it was unintended.

Years of hard won political evolution is being brushed aside by the very people we think of as essential practitioners of democracy. I believe we have evolved from feudal supply side government, perhaps even other forms of social governance before that, also supply side. Democracy was supposed to change all that. We, the people, were supposed to be leading the cause of government to make it effective at supporting us in our respective life quests. We the people are supposed to govern the government. The government is supposed to govern the application of resources to support us. The government is not supposed to overstep in that process and govern the people.

Currently, the closest we seem to come to having we the people lead with our interests is having a very few of we the people participate in focus group studies. These exercises are undertaken mostly to see how the rest of us might react to some event of the day or to some “messaging” the party operatives are proposing. This is simply a top-down, supply-side approach.

I recall an advocacy effort for people with a particularly difficult disease. The level of care from place to place within the province’s health system varied greatly. Some saw a limit of under $500 per month from the province while others saw a little over $3,200 per month. Others yet with strong employer based health benefits saw an additional $5,000 per month. When adequate volunteer caregivers were included, this approximately $8,000 per month was about adequate to meet needs. The advocacy effort was well received by the elected officials of the day and each of those people saw their level of care as measured in dollar terms rise significantly, nearly enabling equality of access to resources adequate to meet quality of life needs.

Unfortunately, this did not become a permanent province-wide policy. So while effectiveness of government was realised for a time, that effectiveness was again allowed to slip.

A sage person upon hearing the democratic principle of equity of access to government resources in pursuit of each person’s quality of life remarked that the word “responsibility” came to mind. We the people have a responsibility to express our needs thoughtfully and clearly to enable others to respond adequately. Those we elect to govern our resource applications have a responsibility to hear the people’s concerns and respond adequately. The creation of our needs statements must be done transparently and be accountable to those it represents. The creation and delivery of the response by government must be done transparently and be accountable to those in need.

We the people and those who would represent us must not allow ourselves and themselves to be distracted by any pursuits that keep us all from achieving those goals. As Scott in his opinion piece at the link below points out, why disable good governance by getting into shallow, useless one-up-manship games! We must focus on what’s critically important to our today and our tomorrow.

Mike Klein December 3, 2019