Our poor overlords

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It appears that the problem with our democracy is not the character of our representation; it is our own wicked inclination to denigrate those who repeatedly disappoint us, even for good reason. Apparently, we’re in danger of electing only those people who can’t take a rhetorical poke from time to time.

Or, at least, so intimates New Brunswick Ombudsman Charles Murray in a recent commentary for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. Here the good fellow waxes poetic: “Governments, departments and agencies will always be made up of human beings. That guarantees mistakes will be made. The Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, reminded us that ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.’ Putting mice and men on the same level gets to the heart of it. Perhaps we might do well to pat ourselves on the back a little less when things are going well, and kick ourselves a little less when things have not worked out as we hoped.”

In other words, we should stop castigating politicians in power for changing their minds, lest we run the risk of “getting a government that’s less flexible, that’s more ideologically closed in, that’s less likely to listen, share information and be open. . .Please give us a government wise enough to know there is always more to learn and brave enough to change when change is needed.”

It’s good advice, as a far as it goes. The blame game in politics is as old as mugging for the camera and kissing babies on the campaign trail. But left to its own devices, the caustic fallout can be truly nauseating. For proof, look no further than the United States where any backtracking on any issue, no matter how ludicrous, is a surefire recipe for career suicide.

According a recent piece in the Huffington Post, “It turns out there are some gun control proposals that Republicans and Democrats actually agree on. New findings from the Pew Research Center (show that) fully 85 per cent of Americans – including 88 per cent of Democrats and 79 per cent of Republicans – believe people should have to pass a background check before purchasing guns in private sales or at gun shows. Currently, only licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks. A majority of Americans (79 percent) also back laws to prevent those with mental illness from purchasing guns. There is a greater divide between the parties on other gun issues. Seventy percent of respondents support the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales, including 85 percent of Democrats but just 55 percent of Republicans. A more narrow majority (57 percent) would like to ban assault-style weapons. That proposal draws support from 70 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans.”

But those Republicans who have reversed their stand on any aspect of gun control have been more furiously vilified by the right-wing press than any Democrat in recent years.

There are, of course, instances where a politician who reverses himself ought to be criticized, especially when his decision is clearly not in the best interest of the people he represents or, indeed, the society he his sworn to protect and preserve. In general, though, a healthy democracy depends on the degree to which we welcome critical thinking in public office. And this necessarily embraces the concept of sober second thought. In fact, this cuts to the heart of the Senate of Canada’s signature mandate.

Do we want cohorts of yes men and women cluttering our assemblies? Lamentably, this is, all to often, our current predicament.

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