There is much musing about public anger at politicians these days.
It’s the partisanship, say pundits.
It’s the acrimony and abuse hurled in the house, they say.
It’s the lack of rules, they say.
Of course, it’s really not any of those things. They are common excuses, but not the root of the problem.
The media pays attention to the goings on in the legislature, but the general public is way too busy to hang on our elected representatives’ orations. And why would they?
There was a time when speeches in the legislature were animated and, at times, amusing. Books and other props would be brandished, the rhetoric would be passionate and sharp and quick-witted.
Once, a politician danced a jig. Often, pointed questions would be asked, clarifying the issues.
Today, such rigour is often ruled out of order.
Under Speaker Ted Staffen’s heavyhanded rules of order, goings on in the house have become so joyless and rigid that there’s really no reason for the public to tune in. Fewer people pay close attention.
But it goes far beyond that.
At the core of this public frustration with politics is the fact our politicians are our leaders. And they are letting us down.
The public wants to be led to better times. And they want to be led well.
They want to know where we’re going as a society, especially in the face of widespread economic problems.
And, more importantly, at such times they want to be led by people they respect.
Lately, there’s been a shortage of candidates.
When politicians fail to conduct themselves with poise and intelligence and integrity and passion, public confidence in their abilities wavers and drops.
When they hole up, dither, and consider their own political interests before those of society, people see it. They understand. They lose respect.
When elected representatives change their principles more often than their socks, people begrudge their vote. They feel betrayed and they lose confidence in the system.
When politicians sneak around and monkey with public assets without explaining themselves, people get suspicious and anxious. They wonder what, exactly, is going on.
When politicians get defensive and start playing word games, focusing on minutiae instead of dealing with the substantive issues, people understand the manipulation. They realize something isn’t above board.
Voters are not idiots.
Politics is just interpersonal relationships writ large – the electorate picks up on the dodgy vibe as clearly as if they were dealing with a less-than-honest salesman.
They may not take the time to cut through the blather. In fact, they are likely to tune out, walk away and mutter something derogatory about politics and politicians.
And when that happens, our society atrophies just a little bit more. Another possible contributor tunes out and leaves the system. And it grows a little more weak. A little easier to manipulate. A little less representative.
Our leaders are to blame. They set the tone.
Lately, in the territory it has been oppressive, withdrawn and angry.
People don’t respond well to that groove.
Our politicians have not laid out a clear agenda. In fact, they haven’t said where they are taking us at all.
Of course, they’ve cut an awful lot of cheques.
For quite some time now, it has felt as if the territory is being run as a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s sucked everyone in.
But money only gets you so far. Eventually it runs out, and that new reality is beginning to seep into our consciousness.
When that happens, you want a decent leader at the helm, somebody capable of taking you through the lean times.
People are casting around, looking for that figure. They can’t see one.
That gets a bit unnerving.
So, if the citizenry is a tad cranky, you can be damn sure partisan politics isn’t the root of the problem.
It’s not that old crutch: acrimony in the legislative assembly.
It’s not a lack of rules in the house.
That’s all process. The anger is something deeper.
A better bet is that people are unsettled and nervous. They feel out of the loop and they have little confidence in their elected leaders.
Look at the shenanigans of the last eight months.
Who can blame them?