Which Outcome? What Decides – Pride or Wisdom?

Even the CBC morning show host didn’t quite know what to make of it all. The normally unflappable Anthony Germain had to admit, at the end of his show, that he was somewhat in shock. Let’s hope that the provincial New Democratic Party does figure it out, though, before too much damage is done. This is bigger than they may realize.

On Monday of this week the CBC broke a story emanating from an email that was sent, on behalf of four of the elected NDP members to the fifth, their leader. There’s some expressed confusion about the intent of the letter but in either case it calls for the present leader to step down and make room for some sort of leadership review. The leader was taken by surprise. She had, in fact been out of the country—a personal matter—when the events leading up to this happened.

The reaction to the news of the letter was generally negative. The leader was clearly hurt by being informed in such a public way and the general public mostly supported her, seeing the remaining four in a generally negative light as a result.

On Wednesday morning, one of the four, M, spoke to the media, expressing deep regret over the decision to sign the letter, along with the others. Germain, who was clearly fairly comfortable with M asked several frank questions including: whether M saw the actions as gutless; how he felt about the current leader; and who, exactly was behind it. M, to his credit did not put out any of the bluster popular stereotypes have led us to expect from politicians when asked difficult questions. No, he admitted to his own frailties and, more than anything else, made it clear that the events were weighing heavily on his conscience. He indicated that it had not been his idea, but, maybe, that of K, another of the four. He also indicated that he wanted to wash himself of the whole thing. Whether he outright stated it or whether Germain’s relentless questions led the generally-trusting M to that conclusion is a matter of debate. At any rate the listener was left thinking it was likely that K was the instigator.

Shortly after, and during the same show, K called in to state his side of the story. Unlike M, K did not try and absolve himself of responsibility for the letter but he did indicate that at least some of the impetus for writing it in the first place came not from him, but from M. He went on to say that the leader was not handling it well and should instead call an emergency meeting. The phone-in lasted a few minutes but did get a bit intense when Germain asked, several times, why K, the person Germain figured who  started the mess, was so worried about the leader now doing the right thing.

It seems that quite a few listened intently to the story. Our province’s current political climate is, as usual, tense. Politics here is the provincial pastime; a full contact no-holds-barred sport. The PC party, currently in power, has not been doing well at the poles of late. The Liberal party (#2) has been making strides at the expense of the PCs. The NDP (#3) were, also, for the first time, a credible alternative. With eyes on an election in 2015 it was, in all likelihood, too close to call.

Now the confusion. Let’s start with the obvious: the NDP, despite having a fair bit of public support, has never enjoyed luck at the polls. The last election, even though they had a higher proportion of the popular vote than did the Liberals, they only won 5 of the 48 seats, only good enough for 3rd place. This, though, was their best showing ever. In some minds this was an indication that the party was on the rise. With the PCs popularity on the wane, maybe they could even secure the majority next time round. This series of events, though, jeopardizes all that. With the obvious dissent among the members—after all, with two of the four blaming each other it’s not just about the leader any more—the other two parties are obviously hoping for a meltdown.

But, you know what, that’s not what really concerns me. I am not a member of that party, after all. Two other things are, perhaps, even more disturbing.

The first is the nature of the outcry from the general public. As always, there are many opinions but the aggregate can only be classified as confusing. Consider two cases.

M chose to let down his guard and to show remorse. One would think that’s something to admire, right? Not if you judge based on the many written comments you see on the website and on social media. Apparently, therefore, he’s weak and incompetent (not my opinion). Based on reaction to M, the public wants its politicians to be strong, to make the hard decisions, to stick the knife in any which way and then to feel no remorse.

K, instead, chose to wear it. While he does not accept sole responsibility for the letter he does wish to stand by the essential message: the party needs a leadership review. Apparently, therefore, he’s a back-stabbing Judas (not my opinion). Based on the reaction to K, the public wants its politicians to be kind to one another; to seek compromise and to try first to talk things out before summarily ousting opponents.

Polar opposites; irreconcilable! Is it possible that much of the outcry and criticism is not really about the actions of the four at all? As previously mentioned, politics in NL is blood sport and clearly there’s an appetite for some general mayhem right now. The real reasons? OK, outrage at what certainly seems an injustice—you can have that one BUT, let’s add a few. How about: (1) partisan stuff—some of this is just mudslinging on behalf of those who support one of the other two parties (2) sadism—try as we might, civilization just can’t seem to get past its fascination with watching others suffer. All five are on the ropes now and there are some who just want to watch while it continues.

Whatever others do is, of course, their own business but you can’t help but think that merely criticizing politicians regardless of what they do, in the end, helps nobody. It instead drags the conversation down to the lowest levels—places where nobody takes anything seriously; where nothing really ever changes for the better.

It’s particularly scary to think that public opinion and policy may just be affected by those mostly noxious, thoughtless and incongruent thoughts, isn’t it?

There’s another thing that’s equally bothersome: the way the party handles this may set the tone for other, future, conflicts. Politics tends to have a nasty element in it. Rather than do better deeds or present better ideas many would much rather destroy. While learning to run faster is one good way to win a race, crippling your opponents is an equally effective strategy; one that is becoming increasingly popular–witness the rise of attack ads in recent elections.

Helped along, perhaps,by the intervention of the media significant exchanges related to the letter have taken place in public and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Yes, increased government transparency is something we all want but THIS is not it. It is not a public matter at all but, rather, one confined to the NDP. It is one that should be settled within the environs of the party and not out there for all to see. By allowing the exchanges to be so public: (a) the credibility of the whole party is suffering (b) egos are being dragged in unnecessarily and doing irreparable damage to relationships (c) worst of all people are getting the incorrect message that this is how it should happen. That hurts us all. Public affairs are messy enough as it is and the desired end goal of “Civil Conversations” will never happen if society expects that every single internal matter is to become a public spectacle.

Do you know what’s saddest about all of this? All five involved are good people; skillful, hard workers with solid track records of public service. There should be no doubt that all of them acted in what they thought was in the best interest of the party. Ironic, I suppose.

For the past several days this story has dwarfed all others in the province of NL. No doubt it is a time that will be referred to frequently in future political science and history publications. One wonders will the story be about the time the NDP fell to ego and pride then subsequently self-destructed or about the time it decided to rely on wisdom, patience and trust and, in the end, emerged stronger than ever.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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15 Responses to Which Outcome? What Decides – Pride or Wisdom?

  1. jennypellett says:

    Sounds like our politics here: mudslinging goes with the territory, I reckon – and they all thrive on it!

    • Many do seem to love a good scrap. I have no problem with that. Passion and perseverance are admirable qualities. The problem starts when people forget to leave their egos at the door before they fight 🙂

  2. It’s difficult to comment for a total outsider, but from your analysis, I understand that there’s been a public kickboxing match with resultant blood on the carpet. It’s sad if that becomes the way internal matters are handled in politics.

  3. prsachs says:

    Is is any wonder, as I was just saying to a friend yesterday, why many good people, potential good leaders, choose to stay out of politics?

  4. Well written and well considered Maurice – as always. I echo ‘Tiny Lessons’ however … in that it is difficult for those of us who are on the outside to comment on the particulars of the situation. That being said, your post highlights issues which are larger than the incident itself. The world of politics is a muddle (boy … there’s an understatement for you) … and this view of mine has been in no little way influenced by what goes on here in the U.S.. I’m sure, given your professional interests, that you’ve heard about the recent complaints concerning the computer networks setup by the Obama administration to allow folks to sign on to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ( = Obamacare). There are many links to the issue … here’s just one … http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/10/09/3-million-obamacare-website-may-face-months-glitches-experts-warn/ (forgive the source however!). So … the story boils down to one which is very much like yours. Here’s an issue which is, let’s agree, unfortunate. Rather than making it an internal matter … rather than solving what is a technical matter quietly and professionally … to the benefit of all, certain people have decided that this ‘chink’ in the proverbial ‘armor’ is an opportunity to gain political footing – political advantage. What’s wrong with this people? [That was a rhetorical question Maurice … no answer expected!]. Here we have a well-meaning groups of folks trying to do a good thing … and another group of folks who spend an inordinate amount of time just waiting for the first groups of folks to slip up. And don’t kid yourself, A will jump on B just as quickly as B will jump on A. I throw my hands up! No … I can’t do that … I bought into this democratic system of ours. I’ll keep voting and do my part. But, boy is it frustrating. D

    • One of the ways I deal with all of this is to resign myself to the idea that the wisdom is in neither the question, nor the answers. It is, rather in the exchange and tension between the two. Questions, especially political ones, generally have two parts – the overt part and the hidden one. The hidden one is generally a trap, of course. Answers, then are often designed not to illuminate the answer but, rather to either dodge the trap or to pursue self-interest. If change and/or improvement is the desired end-goal then both parties need to lengthen the exchange so that points of common interest and, hence, trust can be found.

      Nowhere is that more true than in health care. We Canadians are (mostly) proud of our publicly-funded health care. Thanks to it, essential services are available to all here. We are reasonably well-cared for as a result. What’s more, you don’t see Canadians going broke because of an unexpected severe or long – term illness.
      — Team One: Because of this you generally see US proponents of universal health care holding up our system as the ideal.
      — Team Two: And you tend to see the US opponents responding that this will lessen overall quality and, over time, ruin the economy.
      One wonders where the truth is in all of this. What SHOULD it be, private or public? The debate continues, of course. Here’s my $0.02. (A) neither team one nor team two is correct and (B) most US citizens are quite aware of that.

      Here’s how I see it in my country: MCP (that’s what we refer to out system as) does look after Canadians, despite frequent complaints about inefficiencies and long wait times. If you are sick you will be looked after. It works. It’s also very expensive and often wasteful. Physicians live in fear of court action and often prescribe procedures and drugs that they know are probably unnecessary but they really do not want to take the chance and, besides, their practice will not suffer as a result so why not?

      In the end, here, what I REALLY think: Essential services should be provided for all residents and we should not be out of pocket as a result. Elective procedures (most vanity-driven plastic surgery and and orthodontics–I can justify it–fall in that category). Her’s the BIG issue: Yes, we have a ‘black’ and a ‘white’ but we also have a huge grey area consisting of services and treatments that are not clearly one or the other. Consider, for example, the type of plastic surgery that needs to happen when someone who was morbidly obese engages in a weight loss program and successfully attains a healthy weight. The loose skin–it is a major problem now–who should pay for the surgery to remove it. Two arguments (1) patient because, after all it was their decision to both gain and lose weight (2) MCP because patient is, in the end, saving the system a huge amount of $$$ by becoming healthy. I do not have the answer–it is really for the medical community, the government and the general public to decide. I do, however, see that the real good comes from all three standing up, arguing it out, and in the end coming to a decision. …and doing it again, and again, as needed.

      My point is this: most things are very complex and messy and we need to accept that and deal with each issue (and here’s my tagline) one rock at a time.

  5. elkement says:

    This is very interesting although a bit hard to follow from the perspective of an outsider 😉 Focusing on the general message I have a particular question – it is related to the role technology and ‘modern communication’s has in politics. I am still impressed – not sure if in a positive way – by the catalyzing and amplifying function of social media in Austria’s most recent elections.
    Tech enthusiasts would argue that technology just makes communication faster or whatever, not necessarily different.
    Skeptics – and I tend to agree with them currently – believe that technology makes our interactions fundamentally and qualitatively different. I am really not sure, but I cannot help but being worried about cascades of events being automated and amplified. Would have a plain old letter on paper had the same effect as an e-mail that can be forwarded so easily? And does that instant-responder-style (Twitter, nobody reads farther than the first paragraph in e-mails,…) probably spill over to real life? People signing letters in the same rushed way they sent e-mails they regret afterwards? Would the same humans have behaved fundamentally different without e-mail and TV?

    • Elke you are, as always, far too modest. 🙂 Once again you have hit and illuminated a very important point that I’d like to confirm and elaborate:
      The speed of the communications: dead on. K indicated that the letter was emailed because legal advice indicated that it was the most reliable way of ensuring it was received by the intended party. M indicated that, perhaps, he had not read the letter carefully before signing it. And, absolutely, yes, the email meant that it got passed around far too quickly.
      This just plain invited system one (intuitive) responses. They were the ones that did all of the damage.
      Too bad because now, a couple of days later, we are seeing a flurry of responses that clearly involved system two (logical, analytic) thinking. Far better and healthy responses, I might add. So, yes, upon reflection I consider myself in total agreement with you on the thought about how social media is not helping out here at all.

      • elkement says:

        Inviting intuitive responses – yes, spot-on! An anecdote, about a colleague working with me in culture fostering interventionism, ‘doing something’, better responding immediately than later – regardless of content. This colleague moved to another country and was most pleased about a working culture that appreciates thinking before you speak. He said: Back them it was so embarrassing if there was a millisecond of silence in a discussion before somebody replied. Here it is normal – *relief*!

  6. johnlmalone says:

    we’ve had similar ugly political machinations which should have stayed in-house made public in Australia too; it diminishes everyone

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