Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Politics and Power



I did not begin this blog with a plan to comment extensively on current events. Nevertheless, a news item from the CBC stirred up some thoughts about the relationship between politics, power, and democracy. The background story can be found at the link below:


The story concerns the current election cycle in Canada. The Conservative minority government recently fell to a vote of no-confidence, so Canadians head to polls on May 2 to elect a new government. The Conservatives have been in power for a few years now, and early polls show that the New Democratic Party, traditionally one of the more marginal of the major parties, is leading on the other parties. As a result, the leaders of the other parties have launched attacks on the NDP, their leaders and their campaign promises and platforms. Now, you might not find this overly surprising if you're not familiar with the Canadian political landscape.

For those not in the know about our neighbors to the North, Canadian Parliament has been dominated by three parties, the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the NDP. Other parties, such as the Bloc Quebecois, have occasionally formed important support voting blocs. The Liberals are often considered left-leaning centrists; the Conservatives, of course, make up the right, and the New Democratic Party takes up the far left. In the past, the NDP have often stood with the Liberals to support Liberal minority governments, and in general, NDP platforms are more consonant with Liberal agendas. In this very campaign, both the Liberals and the NDP have proposed ending corporate tax havens, but in the above story, the Liberals have criticized the NDP proposal.

Now, particular issues aside, these kinds of power games bring to my mind the ugly side of politics. In a political race, I would think that what matters are the party's position. Nevertheless, the actions of the parties, turning on the dark horse when it looks like he'll pull ahead, speak to the importance of power for its own sake, not the goals one wishes to achieve. If the Liberals were committed to their position, there would be little reason to attack the NDP because they agree to at least a large extent. Certainly, the Liberals would be expected to argue that the NDP wants to go too far or that their proposals are too radical, but to call out the NDP on a promise that they themselves have made indicates that what matters is being in charge.

If politicians are seeking office for the sake of realizing what they honestly think is the good of people, such petty squabbles would be set aside. Where two candidates agree, they should argue for the superiority of these views. Where two candidates agree, they will still debate over who would do the best job, but they would not be expected to attack one another's views. That such debates have occurred in the current Canadian campaign, and have occurred in other contexts, shows that something else is at stake. In particular, it seems that what is at stake is power, the right to rule. At that rate, it seems difficult to believe that such characters have the best interest of the people in mind. To the contrary, it seems that the core of interest is being in control. I suppose the further question is what is so desirable about being in power, another way of asking the old question “Cui bono?