THE BLOG

New Rage Over Old Forum Posts Make Politicians Look Irrelevant

05/11/2013 01:29 EDT | Updated 07/10/2013 05:12 EDT
Shutterstock
computer keyboard

I don't want to overstate the extent to which B.C. provincial politics, an insane collection of unsuitable weirdos like a political Japan World Cup, are representative of larger social trends, but there's something interesting happening in the lead-up to the election. Already there have been several high-profile firings and disqualifications, and they've all left the attackers looking like irrelevant old-timers, relics of an era when it might have been possible to complain about forum posts and retain some shred of dignity.

First up is B.C. Liberal candidate Mary Polak, (who may or may not be a time-travelling Christy Clark), who wrote a particularly wince-inducing letter telling her political rivals that they "MUST immediately fire" an NDP candidate named Dayleen Van Ryswyk. Her crime? A couple of forum posts in which she expressed the views of a sizable chunk of B.C. residents - a distaste for compulsory bilingualism and a belief that the reserve system is fundamentally unjust. Even leaving aside the fact that nowhere outside of government offices are these shockingly controversial ideas, Ms. Polak comes off here like a self-important forum warrior screaming in all-caps for a ban - almost, dare I say it, a noob.

Bear in mind that people say these sort of thing all the time - attack the ethics of the Native industry in Canada - and those people are generally right-leaning B.C. Liberal voters. The implication seems to be that this comment was all the more scandalous for having been found in an online forum, that this was some dirty window into backdoor philosophizing.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins also fired a candidate this week, referred to a number of outdated tweets as "downright shameful" in justification of his turfing of candidate Ian Tootill. The most controversy-stirring of Tootill's tweets is a question posed during a wanky intellectual exchange: "Who is really to blame, Hitler or the people who acted on his words?"

But the most striking example on offer this week is that of NDP candidate Jane Shin, who is apparently important enough to earn some basic human understanding from her bosses. The NDP has sort-of defended her by saying that she's, you know, not that stupid anymore. Her comment - made 11 years ago on an online gaming forum - is hilariously blunt in its illustration of the Internet zeitgeist: she called Chinese people "chinkasauruses." Could there possibly be a more obvious illustration of just how silly it is to damn people for their offhand thoughts than a soft-spoken Asian girl saying "Chinkasaurus" to a bunch of gamers?

Yet looking around, we see the vitriol flowing freely. One feels the need to shield the face from the shame people like Ms. Polak ought to feel after such displays of childish foot-stamping. Some have described this as an "intense" election full of "genuine enmities." It'd have to be to inspire such whining over forum posts, let alone to such embarrassing, spittle-spraying indignation.

This is fundamentally a generational issue - not that I want to downplay the extent to which it is also everyday cynical opportunism. The mere fact that this kind of pouncing on bits of internet color is seen as a viable strategy speaks to an increasingly out-dated view of discourse. These recently booted candidates are among the first to be nailed for the truly trivial, the sorts of crimes your mom has been warning you about for years. "Watch your Facebook, dear, employers will see it!" she told you, and you moaned back, "Uuuuuugh, mom, it's no big deeeeeeal!"

And you were right.

Some people like their politicians to be quiet and incurious, adherents of Joan of Arc's school of birth-to-death certainty. These politicians are bulletproof, the antithesis of flip-floppers, people who did not need to arrive at the truth because they were born there, and who never had the curiosity to go travelling. I find even the idea of being governed by such irredeemable bores repulsive.

You don't have to agree with my voting philosophy to be increasingly governed by it, however. There is a quickly advancing front of voters who have never known a time when it was possible to be so woefully ignorant of the full spectrum of human expression, when it might have been acceptable to be such a rhetorical pansy that you feel genuine distress over a Hitler reference.

This quickly maturing generation is acutely aware of the differences between types of discourse, and grew up watching Prime Ministers who swore and Presidents who used cocaine and had oral sex.

Ryswyk has moved on rather gracefully, adopting Native issues as a central part of her independent platform, and Tootill has flat-out refused to apologize for his intellectual curiosity or for his sense of humour, which instantly transmutes him into my favourite provincial politician. Encouragingly, Jane Shin still has a job, which means the BC NDP only jumps to abandon their own about half of the time - not bad in the modern context.

It speaks to a growing distaste for the pageantry of politics, that increasingly difficult and time consuming quest to keep up appearances. People want effective government, not plastic-faced sociopaths who have gone through life walking on eggshells, calculating, always mindful of the record.

Our attitudes toward government were first designed at a time when a man like Abe Lincoln could claim to never tell a lie and darn it people believed him. The last major revision to Canadian philosophy of politics was led by Pierre Trudeau, a man who became Prime Minister in spite of a lifetime of energetic radicalism. Would any of our favourite politicians from history have made the cut if they'd lived their entire lives under today's level of scrutiny? To this day, we lionize a man who held séances; I think the answer is pretty clear.

It won't be long before people simply cannot be mindful enough as they grow up, before literally every candidate carries with them a shameful public record filled with youthful immaturity and off-hand comments on the issue of the month. They will tweet mildly insensitive comments in the wake of foreign disasters, records of their snarky email chains will go viral. Once the Internet has forced us into the mudslinging equivalent of a nuclear standoff and mutually assured destruction has brought a continued ceasefire, perhaps then we can dispense with the winging and get on with the business of government.