To watch the proceedings in Congress or the House of Commons, to follow the campaigns of those seeking the Presidential nomination or a seat in Parliament, to listen to media reports of political rallies, one might think that politics is simply war by other means.

Politicians are a bad lot. They sing their own praises while describing their opponents as nothing short of devils. Their followers are rabid – casting insults at anyone who might dare to question the wisdom of the leader’s policies. Not that policy seems to play much a role in elections.

Yet, all that is on the surface. Politics ultimately is not a sport; it is certainly not a horse race. Although there are plenty who would have you believe otherwise, politics is a collaborative process. The writers of the American constitution certainly understood that which is why they so carefully divided powers so that, if things went awry, politicians would still have to work together to get things done.

As Harry Truman said after he became President: My biggest surprise was when I gave an order and nothing happened. The President has a lot of power but over some things he is virtually powerless and has to work with members of Congress and state governments to accomplish much of what he does. This was by design – though like all designs it seldom works as well in practice as it does in theory.

Parliamentary democracies were less designed than evolved. Pieces were added or removed, adjustments were made and politicians muddled through as best they could. In recent years the power of the party leaders has become more concentrated but in most countries the absolute power of the Prime Minister is under constant challenge – from opposition politicians, from the public or more often than not from within their own parties.

And this is a good thing. Public governance, especially in a democracy, must always be fashioned on two basic premises: the public good is greater than the good of any particular segment and those who have power today will see it stripped away tomorrow. No matter how ingrained a party may be in the political culture of a state, it will always come to an end. If people in Alberta were shocked to see the Progressive Conservatives turfed after 43 years in power, think of how the Mexican people felt to see the PRI fall from grace after ruling the place for nearly 70 years.

Unfortunately, while politicians either know or soon learn after taking office that collaboration, negotiation and compromise are at the heart of a stable democracy, not all people elected to office – and especially not those who surround them as advisors or as partisan party activists – are actually politicians; they are merely political people. Partisans can never see that their ideas might be flawed or incomplete, can never truly question their leaders, can never see the opposition as other than enemies. They are little more than soccer hooligans, better dressed perhaps but no more capable of running a country than the hooligans are capable of playing in the world cup.

Partisans have a purpose in the electoral process but when politicians are nothing more than partisans, they are less than useless.

And that’s ten minutes.


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