Is The Internet Destroying Political Progress?

Hear me out now. I love the Internet, but...

I was thinking about the derailment of TransitCity, the very real possibility that Ottawa isn't going to get light rail because of funding and politics and so on, and the extreme difficulty the democrats had pushing through Health Care Reform in the states... and I kinda had a revelation.

Why do we elect politicians? Their fundamental role, if I'm not mistaken, is to act as representatives of the people who elect them. Voters judge a person based on their opinions and values, and once elected, it's pretty much hands off. I hope my MP doesn't have a massive about-face and that he sticks to the moral compass he articulated during the campaign when it comes to decisions on transit, public housing, sewage, and whatever else comes up. If he doesn't, I'll vote someone else in next time.

The internet is not a "check once every 4 years" kinda medium.

And while I can understand that MPs and MPPs and Councillors have always been available to consult with their constituents, I don't think we've ever seen such pressure from third parties to drive that consultation. We've got talking heads on Fox News insisting that you call your congressman to stop health care reform. We've got signs outside Shoppers Drug Mart to fight for that corporation's right (?) to a bigger slab of taxpayer dollars than they deserve because of the kickbacks generic drug manufacturers throw them. We've got letter writing campaigns and phone call campaigns and email campaigns and...

Hold on. Why do we have government in the first place? My opinion, and I'll admit it's just opinion, is that we created government way back when because it wasn't feasible to have every citizen vote on every decision. With the advent of the internet, we can throw a referendum on anything. And yet, I don't want to be hopping online to vote on every budget measure and proposal. And I especially don't want to cede policy decisions to people with nothing better to do than camp the internet to vote on stuff.

Voting once every few years is not a huge burden. Everyone can do it, even if not everyone does. And the people we elect have to occasionally make big decisions involving billions of dollars. But when politicians let the screaming of the time-rich mob dissuade them from sticking to the principles on which they were elected, out of fear of not getting re-elected? The power stops lying with the people, and begins to lie with the people who have the most time to scream and bitch and moan.

And I don't think that's a step in the right direction for democracy.

I'm not suggesting that politicians shouldn't be insulated from their constituents - indeed, if you believe a politician's leaning on an issue runs counter to the principles on which they were elected, say so! But don't confuse "the principles they ran on" with "my personal best interest". Because too many people do. Given the choice, no one wants to pay more taxes, so when the people you elect on the grounds of "improving the city" decide it's worthwhile to expand and improve the transit system and pay for it by hiking your property taxes, you're inclined to scream about it, and a 24-hour news cycle with only 15 hours of news ensures you'll hear about it. But you don't elect people to do whatever you say. If that's all it came down to, we could fire them all and go to internet referendums.

We elect people to exercise their best judgement, based on the values and opinions they put forth during the campaign. I don't think the current environment acts in the best interests of that system.


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3 comments

  • I don't disagree on any particular point… but what I think we're seeing a migration to is self-interest trumping special interests, at the expense of the commitments a politician makes to special interests during the campaign. I think those commitments are important – they give voters an indication of how the candidate's going to behave in office.

    Whoever we vote for, we vote them in on a mandate to do the things they set out in the campaign. If a guy gets voted in to break unions, I wouldn't expect him to be swayed by protesters, and the opposite is also true. What I'd argue we're seeing today more than at any point in the past, is mobilization on issues not based on any societal imperative, but personal self-interest. Students protesting tuition just want lower debt loads at the expense of taxpayers. People protesting the HST just want to pay less for stuff at the expense of public services. People protesting the phasing out of generics manufacturers giving kickbacks to pharmacies want the convenience of getting pills late at the expense of taxpayers. And while people may not agree with the decisions government makes on these issues, I don't think it's the right call for a politician to pull a 180 on the values they were elected on. Broken promises happen, but when they do it should be because of circumstances outside the politician's control, not because said politician doesn't have the spine to stick to their word.

    • Brian Alkerton
  • I think the difficulty with a democracy like Canada's is that people get a single vote that is supposed to represent their view on several issues. People however do not agree with every issue that a candidate represents so while they may like a candidate who is fiscally conservative they may not like his socially conservative views or vice versa. I think it's fair for people to protest those areas where they think the candidate is doing a poor job even if they may have voted for him, because you only get one vote and it likely doesn't go to a candidate who completely represents your views.

    That's one of the main reasons that I prefer the principle of subsidiarity, that is the responsibility in question should be given to the lowest level of government possible, including the individual. That way there is the greatest accountability to the actual will of the people.

    • Brian
  • I don't mean to burst your bubble, but as long as there have been elections there has been pandering to special interests to gain votes. You may be more aware of it now thanks to 24 hour media but I doubt you can say that there is more pandering to special interests now than there has been. It's just easier to see. It's what happens when you give a government the authority to redistribute wealth; people will clamour to ensure that it gets redistributed into their own hands rather than somebody else's.

    • Brian