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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Bread and Circuses: Democracy at a Distance

Do campaigns matter?  Absolutely they do.  A well-funded campaign has the ability to puncture the data fog and place tailored, appealing messages in the inboxes of voters.  It can equally place tailored, opposition-undermining ads in front of massive audiences.

The in-person stuff is often designed just to fuel this sort of big-picture outreach.  A whistle-stop is no longer meant for the audience present, but the audience available through media.

Election campaigns are complex exercises that can demonstrate the discipline and fighting capability of a given Party's ground forces.  But that's largely what elections have become - the domestic equivalent to military exercises on the borders of the Ukraine.

We know that politics is a blood sport; like any engaged sport, it can be a lot of fun.  You get your elbows up, you feel the exhilaration of a race to the finish line, you have the chance to play, test yourself against opponents and invariably, get free food, booze and exposure to important people.  

Play your cards right, you can also get useful references for work - or maybe a job itself.

It's no wonder political strategists are so adamant that elections are crucial to democracy and bully those who suggest there may be more to democratic engagement than campaigns and a vote every four years.  They love the competition and make money doing so - elections are good for them.

But elections aren't supposed to be exercises in message superiority, job-hunt opportunities or profitable ventures.  They're not meant to be opportunities to beat down people you have grudges against, either.  

That is, however, what happens when we allow our democracy to turn into a blood sport.  It becomes bread and circuses, gladiatorial combat fought by aggressive War Roomers seeking to appeal to the lesser angels of the voting audience.

Lost in this process is healthy debate, an exploration of the issues and actual civic engagement.

If we're content to watch our democracy roll out from the cheap seats, I guess that's our choice - but this is a movie we've seen before.  We should know by now the ending sucks.

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