Politics: where C-minus students become D-minus people

Originally published (slightly expurgated) as “Politics: Intelligent people need not apply” in the “Power and Politics” issue of Rhubarb MagazineIssue 34, Spring 2014.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. — Aldous Huxley

I wanted this column to be funny, truly I did. What could be easier, I thought, than making fun of politics? I could put together an article made up entirely of idiotic things politicians said that day. Hell, books have been published on the ruminations of Sarah Palin, a politician so inconceivably dim-witted she considers herself an expert on Russia because she can see it from her house.

You think about that. She said this, out loud, in public, and sizable amounts of people still take her seriously.

Yet I wanted this column to be fair. I didn’t want to choose sides; I wanted to be an equal opportunity offender. Many people have pointed to this tendency of mine as a failing, as in, “Dammit, quit seeing both sides of the issue and just agree with me!”

I desired to point out the foibles of our elected officials with gentle good humour. I yearned to craft witticisms of astonishing craftsmanship and devastating hilarity, something along the lines of Mark Twain’s “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

And there’s some fine inadvertent humour out there. There’s Jean Chretien’s glorious, “A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.” Brilliant comedy, that. It belongs in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or a Dr. Seuss book. Or George W. Bush’s gut-bustingly hilarious, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

Both sides of the aisle have come up with some howlers over the years. I wanted to concentrate on that. I wanted to be fair.

But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the keyboard. Well, not so much funny as soul-crushingly disturbing. While mulling over topics with myself, I listened to a national radio interview with two elected Canadian “representatives.” The duo spoke of recent scientific evidence and clinical trials and proven facts. They weren’t in favour of them. They claimed that their common sense was a better barometer of truth.

Once, for the purpose of this very joke, I didn’t bother doing any research on a presentation. I used my common sense, and came up with a hypothesis, facts, and conclusions that, to me, sounded rational. I presented my “findings” to the class. I was told that I clearly had no idea what I was talking about, earned a F-minus, and was then forced to do the research I should have done initially.

And I discovered my mistakes. And I corrected them. And I learned from them.

That’s not a true story. But no one in his or her right mind would say that its moral doesn’t make sense. If you don’t understand what you are talking about, do the research. Do the homework. Do the math.

This is what we teach our children. To learn. To think. To problem-solve. We tell them this as if it’s important somehow. I had naively assumed such basic techniques of learned intelligence would carry me through life.

Until I heard the interview, and learned a new lesson: When you become a politician, learning is optional.

And so I thought: Screw fairness. And screw them.

Because politics is hard work, and what’s more, it should be hard work. If you are elected to represent the people, you should work your goddamned ass off making sure every little thing you say is backed up by sober thought and verifiable research. We are taught this as kids, and when we graduate from high school, we are not then told just kidding.

So, two elected officials — and let’s not dance around it, they were conservative; so conservative you could hear their anuses clench shut when they had to discuss facts and data and *shudder* science — this pair sat there, behind their microphones, and said not only that they didn’t do their homework, but they didn’t even need to, because evidence only confuses the issue. Yes, there is nothing more damaging to an argument than evidence, so do all you can to ignore it. Evidence is scary, anyway. Makes your insides feel all frowny-face.

This isn’t politics. This isn’t good governance. This is dangerous, ignorant, and downright evil. And to play the old-man-yelling-at-kids-to-get-off-the-lawn card, my taxes pay their salaries.

So, again, screw fairness. I feel no need to be fair. If you’re a politician that refuses to learn, you deserve every ounce of scorn and humiliation heaped upon you. And all parties are guilty of this, yes, but you know what? Right-wing ignorance outpaces all other parties by a ratio of 72:1.

And that’s a fact. I looked it up.

Or, really, it isn’t, but it sure feels true, doesn’t it?

And if you disagree with this? Screw you too.

I am angry. I’m angry that people elected to positions of authority can’t be bothered to learn. I’m angry that I live in a country where this is not only allowed to happen, but encouraged.

Most of all, I’m angry that I worked my ass off to get good grades when all I had to do was pass. I could then run for office and coast along for the rest of my life on ignorance while people listened to me as if I had a clue.

And if that isn’t funny, I don’t know what is.

[UPDATE: I didn’t bother mentioning the walking punchline that is Rob Ford in this piece, because in terms of comedy, it’s too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. In a drunken stupor, of course.]