For publication in the Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008
Maybe we should all take a break from feeling disgusted by the way our federal politicians have been acting, and look at ourselves.
We’re not much better than they are. In fact, it could be argued they’re simply a reflection of us, and vice versa. Think about some of the language we’ve been using in the debate over Harper vs. the Coalition and you’ll see what I mean.
The national debate on the “constitutional crisis” has everybody’s shirt in a knot, and the rhetoric is over the top. We as citizens have worked ourselves into a full-suds lather, with overblown sarcasm and demonization to match.
Quite honestly, I’m offended when somebody refers to the leaders of the three opposition parties as “the Three Amigos” or as “the Three Stooges” or as “Larry, Curly and Moe.”
Please. Is that the best we can do? Must we resort to characterizing the other side as “losers,” as “evil,” even? The prospect of a coalition government — a perfectly legal constitutional option — is a “coup d’etat.” It’s “treason.”
Admittedly, our politicians aren’t great role models.
In Parliament, NDP leader Jack Layton was called a “traitor” by the government side the other day. Liberal leader Stephane Dion called Stephen Harper a liar. Liberal Denis Coderre called the government “pathetic.”
Dignity? Decorum? These people have never heard of such words. Reading Hansard these days is entertaining, but it’s definitely not enlightening.
This is nothing new. Question Period has been a bare knuckle cage brawl for a long time. It’s easy to find examples to make the point. A couple of years ago Peter McKay of the Tories allegedly referred to his ex-girlfriend Belinda Stronach, a Liberal, as a “dog.”
Then-immigration minister Joe Volpe once called Conservative MP John Reynolds “a sleazebag.”
John Diefenbaker once commented that Flora MacDonald was “the finest woman ever to walk the streets of Kingston.” Ray Hnatyshyn routinely call John Nunziata, a member of the so-called “rat pack” of Liberal MPs, “the honourable member from Snakeville.”
As far as then-prime minister Brian Mulroney was concerned, Liberal MP David Walker was “a f—– bastard.”
Tory backbencher William Kempling called Sheila Copps a “slut” in 1991, but he was outdone by John Crosbie, who uttered the famous words, “Pass the tequila, Sheila, lay down and love me again.”
The House has even come close to fisticuffs on occasion, as when Reform MP Darryl Stinson rolled up his sleeves during Question Period in February 1997 and dared “son of a bitch” Liberal MP John Cannis to cross the floor and fight.
Maybe the rest of us have been listening to our politicians for so long they’ve rubbed off on us. Too often, when a letter writer disagrees with Premier Gordon Campbell, he becomes “Gordo.” When Kevin Krueger is in hot water, suddenly he’s sarcastically nicknamed “Kev,” or “Potato Head.”
Civil servants aren’t exempt from insult, either. City parks, recreation and culture director Byron McCorkell has been dubbed “Byron McDorkell” by local blogger and former mayoral candidate Brian Alexander.
He and anyone else who resorts to insult-by-nickname detracts from the credibility of his argument because it’s no longer based on logic or political belief — it becomes personal, and I for one don’t much care about your personal hangups.
There’s nothing wrong with nicknames, per se. Hockey players give them to each other out of camaraderie. If a guy’s name is John Jones, he becomes Jonesy. If it’s Bob Hanrahan, he’s gonna be Hands.
(Oh, sure, there are exceptions to the camaraderie code, such as Dallas Stars player Sean Avery’s — “Aves” to his buds — unkind reference a few days ago to his ex-girlfriend who is now dating another player.)
When I was a kid, my nickname was Snerd. I was fine with that, though less so with “Rotten Hamburger.”
Even our past mayor was affectionately nicknamed the Red-Crested Media Whore by one of his colleagues. I’m not at all sure, though, that calling two members of council The Fat Boys, as I heard in private conversation one day, was appropriate, no matter how jokingly intended.
Indeed, I’m holding on to a letter to the editor as we speak that complains of a former member of council referring to some lower-echelon members of a local organization as “peasants.” As far as I can tell, the writer is having second thoughts about outing the offender, since the latter has privately offered assurances the reference was intended as a good-natured joke.
Debate, even civilized debate, requires some clever wit and a little good-natured repartee. During election-night coverage, ol’ Carrot Top himself, Mayor Terry Lake — always quick with a comeback line — and I were exchanging opposing views on the length of terms for council members.
“My Lord!” I exclaimed, “if a councillor can’t learn the ropes in a year why would we want him around for even three more years, let alone four.”
“I keep telling you, it’s not necessary to call me ‘My Lord,’” Lake coolly replied. To which I had no comeback, until Jim Harrison asked Lake the next question, after which I said, “My Lord is absolutely correct on that point.”
Insults are vulgar unless accompanied by wit. If you’re going to insult someone, do it right, as the Earl of Sandwich did when John Wilkes declared, “Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.”
“That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”
Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from our forefathers about civilized debate.