Let slip the dogs of war: How far can dirty politics go?

“It’s often a popularity contest and the most popular people are not necessarily the best people," Shaun Narine.

In my four years at St. Thomas University, I, like 80 per cent of you, have never voted in a student election. Honestly, I don’t even know what the student government does.

But I do know that Mark Livingstone and Ella Henry don’t get along. I also know that CASA is important – or useless – though, I’m not sure why.

Trying to improve my knowledge, I watched some of the speeches in James Dunn and I’ve been reading the bios and platforms of candidates.

And deep in a political spirit last week, I watched the George Clooney, Ryan Gosling political thriller The Ides of March. Stephen (Gosling), the idealist campaign manager for Democratic candidate Mike Morris (Clooney), believes not only that Morris will win, but that he has to.

“I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it, but I have to believe in the cause,” said Stephen in the first half of the film.

It’s that attitude that makes him so successful. But that changes. Stephen stops believing in the cause when he realizes it’s not all he imagined. In the end, he turns to blackmail and cheap tricks to get his way. Et tu, Ryan Gosling?

It happens out of sight and mind, but we all know dirty deals and shady transactions happen. Politics isn’t pretty, but if it’s got to be done, then it’s got to be done, right?

Still at some point, the ends stop justifying the means and we’ve voted for someone who doesn’t stand for what he stood for at all. Someone who owes.

And this year seems to be in a league of its own. Anyone following the Republican primary? It’s better than any lame MTV reality show going. As Warren Zevon once wrote, send lawyers, guns and money. And keep sending it. Money may corrupt, but in the meantime it buys a lot of ads that make your opponents look like Bible-burning, terrorist-hugging, skirt-chasing communists.

And there are signs that American cut-throat politics has made it across the border. In Ontario last week, 23-year-old Michael Sona resigned after working in a Conservative office for only a week when it was rumoured he had been behind the crank robo-calls made in Guelph during last year’s election.

I spoke with professor Shaun Narine about the rise of petty politics and the increasing role money plays in an election.

“It’s often a popularity contest and the most popular people are not necessarily the best people. And sometimes, even if they are the best people, they have to get into power to act on the fact and may not be entirely honest,” he said.

Obama, although against the Supreme Court ruling allowing super PACs (Political Action Committee), acknowledges that without using them, he won’t be re-elected in November. So he’ll accept millions of dollars from the rich who want him in office and he’ll be held accountable to them.

“We’ve created a political system where politicians know if they want to be re-elected then they have to lie to us. If they’re actually honest with us with what they believe, we won’t elect them,” Narine said.

It’s sort of like selling your soul to the devil. Except the devil is a fat white man in a leisure suit, who hangs out in Vegas and wants you to bust some unions or help drop some bombs, or least allow him to drill for oil in a national park or frack next to an aquifer.

***

I wanted to be student body president in high school. In Grade 11, I filled out the application, got the nomination papers and did the interview with the vice-principals. Then, I was told I couldn’t run.

My political dreams were dashed and I never considered office again.

Though the administration never gave me a reason for their Chinese democracy, looking back, it worked out.

As a journalist, I get to keep my ideals safely in my pocket. I get to stand on my self-satisfied pedestal and watch as the ideals of the idealistic turn foggy in the murk of the democratic process.

Still, it’s a little bit different in student politics. The stakes aren’t quite as high and I haven’t heard of any super PACs or prank calls. But it’s still politics.

During the speeches last week, Liz Fraser nabbed attention with her pipes—bagpipes that is, since the acoustics aren’t the greatest in JDH. Shane Fowler took a different approach and bought a $60 tab at Tim Horton’s. Chairs and tables emptied as students filed into line for free coffee and donuts.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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