Friday, October 10, 2008

Election madness and the genius of Stephen Leacock

(Note: I had actually written most of this post last week, but my work computer ate it, so I'm re-creating from memory.)

Tomorrow Canadians return to the polls to elect a new federal government. This election is ill conceived from pretty much every angle: No one party stands to gain much here, aside from Elizabeth May and her Green Party. (Though, when you have nothing, there is nowhere to go but up.) We have no hope of anything but minority government, which means it's only a matter of time before we are back at the polls, and broke again.

Last election I got to hang out with Ryan, eating strawberry shortcake, and conversing intelligently as we watched the numbers come in from across the country. No such luck this time, though I will still be watching.

It is at times like this that I am reminded of the awesomeness of Stephen Leacock. Certainly one of the reasons why I'm partial to his work is that he's a hometown boy, so I do identify strongly with the satire that he enacts in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town--a satire that is still relevant 96 years later:

Let me begin at the beginning. Everybody in Mariposa is either a Liberal or a Conservative or else is both. Some of the people are or have been Liberals or Conservatives all their lives and are called dyed-in-the-wool Grits or old-time Tories and things of that sort. These people get from long training such a swift penetrating insight into national issues that they can decide the most complicated question in four seconds: in fact, just as soon as they grab the city papers out of the morning mail, they know the whole solution of any problem you can put to them. There are other people whose aim it is to be broad-minded and judicious and who vote Liberal or Conservative according to their judgment of the questions of the day. If their judgment of these questions tells them that there is something in it for them in voting Liberal, then they do so. But if not, they refuse to be the slaves of a party or the henchmen of any political leader. So that anybody looking for henches has got to keep away from them.

But with all the talk of strategic voting, it's the eleventh chapter of Sunshine Sketches that comes to mind, entitled "The Candidacy of Mr. Smith":

In any case, everybody who has ever seen Mariposa knows just what election day is like. The shops, of course, are, as a matter of custom, all closed, and the bar rooms are all closed by law so that you have to go in by the back way. All the people are in their best clothes and at first they walk up and down the street in a solemn way just as they do on the twelfth of July and on St. Patrick's Day, before the fun begins. Everybody keeps looking in at the different polling places to see if anybody else has voted yet, because, of course, nobody cares to vote first for fear of being fooled after all and voting on the wrong side.

Don't worry about being fooled, gentle reader. Vote for who you think would do the best job. I know it seems like a piss poor choice sometimes, but it is a choice that we have, and that's worth a lot. The system only works if you let it: strategic voting doesn't help anyone here.

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