Saturday, June 26, 2004

Martin the listener 

Rick Salutin's column Ideas on election ideas sums up a lot of my own thoughts. He quotes Jack Layton saying "Elections should be about ideas" and then continues "Uh, I think that's a bad idea. Undergraduate education should be about ideas. You get great reading lists, inspiring profs, you yak in the dorm late at night. But elections? They should be about what happens to ideas put into practice. . . . Elections are also about judging leaders' capacity for judgment, since mostly what they deal with in power is unexpected crises, such as SARS or 9/11, that you can't have ready-made ideas for."
So on the basis of judgment, whose should I trust, Martin's or Harper's? Clearly, as far as I am concerned, its Martin by a landslide.
Over the course of this campaign, Harper has shown himself to be not-ready-for-prime-time -- he cannot even manage the continuing gay-bashing, abortion-bashing blather from his own caucus. And clearly, he has an agenda about which he does not want to talk. Salutin writes "For a real ideologue, you have to turn to Stephen Harper. He doesn't spew ideas, he takes a few and muses on how he got them, honed them, stuck to them . . . These ideas are clearly a deep part of his sense of self. Or should I say, this idea. The sign of ideology is the conviction that one idea, or a tight, related set, can be successfully applied to any topic or situation. Everything follows reasonably, except the monomaniacal premise it starts from."
Martin's mistakes, on the other hand, have been more personal -- he doesn't have Chretien's ready wit or ability to lunge for the quick ripose; he comes across looking clumsy, stuttering. But his heart is in the right place -- in the CBC interview on Wednesday night, the audience warmed to him when he demonstrated how responsive he is toward this country and the people who live in it. He wants to do, not what he thinks is best for us, but what we think is best for ourselves. As Salutin says, this makes Martin appear to be waffling:
"I know people who say Paul Martin's real agenda is to serve the rich and the corporate elite. But after watching a lot of TV for the past six weeks, I've come to the conclusion that his real problem is that he has no agenda. (He may not realize this, but what difference does that make?) And maybe it's not a problem. Maybe for the next 10 years, he could get as excited about building a vibrant health-care system as he was about erasing the deficit -- come hell, high water or sick people -- during the past decade."
Salutin continues " He's like Groucho Marx, who barked, "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." Principles can be overrated when dealing with reality. Even V. I. Lenin, whom you'd normally consider a total Marxist ideologue, after seizing power in a devastated Russia, decided: What this country needs is a little capitalism. That showed genius."
Basically, what I like about Martin is that he takes his cue from us -- if we say that defeating the deficit is what we want, then he does it. If we say health care is our top priority -- as poll after poll has shown -- then it becomes Martin's top priority too. He listens to us. That's the kind of man I want as Prime Minister.

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