I was just responding to a comment that my cousin Cameron left a few entires down (if you haven’t read it, go check it out; it’s well worth reading, and at least 50% more articulate than most of the political crap I’ve written here), and I realized something: I genuinely hate the major candidates in this year’s election. The debate on Monday night reaffirmed my belief that Canadians are being short-changed. We’ve got a talent pool of thirty million people in which to find three suitable candidates; instead, we’ve decided on a robot, a lunatic and a guy who looks like the Monopoly Man. You’re telling me we couldn’t have found anybody better? Was Tie Domi unavailable or something?
So why should I bother voting?
Tuesday morning, I read a stunningly arrogant article in Macleans which argued in favour of raising the voting age to twenty-one; in case you missed the point, the magazine’s editors dropped a picture of that black guy on top of the burning car from the Queen’s homecoming debacle. The notion that eighteen year olds are somehow incapable of forming rational political ideas is assinine. By that rationale, only persons twenty-one years of age or older are capable of democratic citizenship; by that same rationale, as soon as you turn twenty-one years of age you’re magically transformed into an individual who’s capable of rational thought, even though I’m pretty sure we can each think of at least five adults who shouldn’t be allowed to vote. (My father, for instance, should have his franchise revoked; the man has been known to draw diagrams of train suspension systems on his ballots.) If you haven’t read the aricle, it’s right here. If you’re like me, you’re probably surprised a magazine like Macleans would devote any ink to an issue that’s as seemingly cut-and-dry as youth apathy: in short, young people don’t vote because national politicians don’t have a clue about them. If that sounds like a threadbare liberal cliche, then so be it–but it’s true.
Politicians seem dumbfounded at how to cure youth apathy. In last year’s American presidential election, John Kerry had a bunch of famous musicians–including Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen–backing him on the Vote for Change Tour. Bush-bashing was so prevalent it became cliched; “Vote or Die” shirts were ubiquitous. It didn’t work: the youth demographic, which prior to the election had been viewed as a potentially course-altering vote, barely caused a ripple. In Canada, there were similar movements; I’m reminded of a certain Queen’s/MacMaster football game in which the Mudmen and Not By Choice encouraged a non-existent audience to “Make Some Noise” in the political arena, which was strange considering an election wasn’t anywhere on the horizon. The point: it takes more than a few power chords to turn on a generation that’s so profoundly alienated.
The Canadian electoral system isn’t helping matters. As it is, the “first past the post” system repudiates this idea that the individual voter actually matters. I don’t know if wholesale electoral reform is the answer or not; I’m at least intrigued enough by Jack Layton’s championing of proportional representation that I can overlook his physical resemblance to the Monopoly Man. But even if a p.r. system is more sensitive to individual votes, it probably isn’t enough to cure youth apathy. Since one vote doesn’t really matter, I think we have to resort to–gasp!–liberal democratic theory to explain the importance of voting: basically, we vote because we live in a democratic society, and if we want to foster a liberal democracy then the very least we can do is turn out to vote every few years, all the while keeping abreast of relevant political issues so that our ballot is cast with at least an iota of political knowledge. (I could get into a whole bunch of issues here, including why it’s important for cleavages between competing ideologies…but since at least two people who read this blog were students of POLS 250 I’ll spare them, and by extension everybody else, a lecture.) But you can’t really explain this idea to your average eighteen year-old; they’d probably look at you funny and go, “Whatever.”
Which leads me back to my original gripe: that the men responsible for this foolheardy excursion to the polls are a bunch of tools. Maybe, just maybe, if we found a few politicians who seemed at least somewhat in tune with the real world, then maybe, just maybe, we’d encourage a few more people to show up at the polling stations on election day. I’m not arguing in favour of finding charismatic leaders; Hitler, after all, was a charismatic leader, and we all know how that turned out. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for leaders with at least a semblance of a pulse–or, in the case of Jack Layton, a pulse and an ability to self-censor. If it felt like we had a genuine choice, rather than a choice between lesser evils, I think more Canadians would care about politicals. Not everybody can churn out theoretical justifications to vote; to the average person, they need something much more concrete to be convinced that it’s worth their bother. As it is, stuffing the House of Commons full of self-absorbed, self-interested buffoons for whom political dialogue is usually a variation of “me! me! me!” isn’t going to get the job done.