While I rarely make overtly political comments in this blog, I have to say that as a Canadian, one of the phrases that irks me to no end is, “I support our troops,” whether uttered by the individual or found on the bumper sticker of the still-ubiquitous SUV. The irony of that statement, as it pertains to democracy, is profound.
What does it mean to express support for the troops? In practice, it invariably means, and demands, an unquestioning acceptance of their presence, their mission, and, sadly, their deaths in Afghanistan. To support the troops by advocating an end to their Afghani operation has been seen as tantamount to some kind of betrayal of them. Certainly this is much evident in the way the Harper Government has used the phrase to stifle discussion about the mission, a warning to those who oppose it to keep their mouths shut at the risk of being labeled unpatriotic.
A couple of years ago, before the Liberal Opposition cravenly acquiesced in yet another extension of the Canadian operation to 2011, (on the specious grounds that they didn’t want to divide the nation), the ever-political, ever-manipulative and ever-morally- blunted Prime Minister Harper labeled those politicians who dared question the validity of our troops being in Afghanistan as ‘Taliban sympathizers,’ working a Macarthesque rhetoric into his usual practice of division and demoralization. Sadly, very little spirited defense was mounted for freedom of thought, opinion, and expression, foundational freedoms that are the putative reasons for trying to “bring democracy’ to the Afghanis. Somehow, the Harper concept of democracy applies only to those views in accord with his own.
And yet perhaps Harper is only a sad symptom of our own weaknesses as human beings. While we rarely consciously acknowledge the hypocrisy, our notions of informed and spirited discourse frequently seem to fall far short of anything approaching a meaningful exchange of ideas. One can’t help but feel that perhaps civilized and respectful discussion is only an ideal, never to be truly realized.
But then, of course, there is the possibility of a renewal of public discussion in the United States with the election of Barack Obama. One of the most encouraging signs emerging south of the border is the fact that unlike Prime Minister Harper, who has surrounded himself with sycophants and policy clones, Mr. Obama seems intent on having a diversity of views in his Cabinet, suggesting he wants the best policy options emerging from the cauldron of heated discussions that inevitably ensue when you place people of diverse perspectives together. Kind of like the classroom I remember so well when things were really working and the kids were really thinking.
Will this mark a turning point in what has become a sad parody of political process as evidenced under the disaster of the Bush presidency? If so, will it have any impact on the poisoned Canadian political process? Perhaps we will begin to get the answer to those questions in 2009.
Happy New Year.