I think that there’s a common thread that’s underlying at least North American politics, and maybe Western politics itself. I also think it’s a very bad one, and it’s exemplified by this article.
The article is talking about the standard complaint in Canadian politics these days, that the Conservatives keep winning election because the “Left” or the “progressives” are split between two parties, the Liberals — who used to totally dominate Canadian federal politics — and the NDP. Thus, the Conservatives get the benefits of solid conservative support, while the other parties split the remaining votes giving the Conservatives the edge. What is needed is for those parties to do what the Consevatives and Reform/Alliance party did and merge, and then we’ll have a party of the right and a party of the left and so we can all vote based on that, as each party will pander to their left or right-wing base. An awful lot like it is in the United States currently; the reason, it seems to me, that Republicans pander so much to conservative and right-wing interests in their nomination process is that that’s who they see as being their base.
This is, of course, all completely and totally wrong-headed.
I’m not old enough to be put out to pasture yet — I recently remarked that if I kept at this job for 15 years that would still be early retirement for me — but I am old enough to remember when the Liberals dominated federal politics in Canada. It wasn’t by being left-wing. It was by being centrist. The only time in recent years that the Canadian deficit was eliminated was done not by the Conservatives under Mulroney or Campbell, but under Chretien and Martin. This necessitated massive cuts in spending, things that left-wingers hate, and the NDP — if I’m recalling correctly — did indeed hate. I’m also old enough to remember when Mike Harris won in Ontario, and while his Conservatives were, well, conservative, a lot of the push behind his victory was a response from an electorate that was basically fed-up with how far left Ontario was, and wanted it moved back to a more central position.
The whole problem for the Liberals in Canada has been, in my opinion, that they moved too far to the left. During Stephane Dion’s attempt at leading the party in an election, their environmental policy was further left than the NDP’s. That sort of thing is not what gave the Liberals their dominance in Canadian federal politics. No, what gave them their dominance was that they were able to present themselves as the party of the centre, and the party of the moderates, as opposed to the party of the extremes. As they moved far enough left to actually be considered in the same “grouping” as the NDP, voters trickled away as they weren’t really interested in a far-left party. If that was what they’d wanted, they’d have just voted NDP … which, it seems, a lot more of those who wanted a left-wing party did in this past election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are positioning themselves to try to occupy the centrist position once owned by the Liberals, which I think is one reason why they won a majority this time out. Considering that the Conservative name was always more centrist than, say, the Alliance was or you’d get by using the term “Republican”, even that choice seems aimed at trying to ensure that they aren’t seen as just being another right-wing party.
But what we’re seeing in these sorts of articles and complaints is, in fact, a lauding of the extremes at the expense of the middle. Parties are appealing to their solid base, the base that they can mostly predict and the base that has strong opinions, and likes to rant a lot. Unfortunately for these parties — and for society in general — most people are far more moderate and centrist than that. As parties focus more and more on the extreme ends, they represent less and less the majority of people, and so lose voters. The response is to become even more clearly and solidly non-centrist to ensure that you pick up what is seen as your base, which leaves even more people behind. In cases like the U.S. where there are only two options, this leaves voters with the choice to either hold their nose and vote for the extreme non-centrist party that best represents them and their interests even though they really don’t like some of the things they want, or to alternatively not vote. I think that part of the low voter turnout in recent Canadian elections is indeed caused by people saying “None of these represent me and all want to do things I think are really, really, really bad ideas. Screw it; I’ll vote for none of them”.
So, if you feel tempted to ask why people fall for the extreme right or left-wing rants of a party, remember that they may not be choosing the party that represents their actual concerns, but the party that’s the least of multiple evils. And wonder why parties aren’t trying to appeal to moderates and centrists instead of the loud extremists.