Elections, Media, Canada and USA

I didn’t watch the McCain-Obama debate last night, and have been ducking a lot of the coverage of both American and Canadian national elections. This has little to do with the apathy attributed to many voters on both sides of the line, and much to do with the coverage of elections in general all over the world. Increasingly, media coverage is focused on trivia, personalities, polls and the stumbles and peccadilloes dredged up from candidates’ pasts, and bypasses voting records, legislation proposed and enacted, and the general direction of government. Issues, in the infrequent instances where they come to the fore, are treated in isolation and generally with a minimum of analysis as to the implications of a pro or counter stance. In reality, most of the issues are closely tied to each other as part of an overall direction of government, but this doesn’t ever seem to enter into the media consciousness, hence it evades the general public consciousness.

In effect, we see that there are polls that show that health care is of primary importance to Canadians, replaced shortly afterward by polls that show that leadership is the big issue, then, when the banking system heads for Hades, the economy takes over. The war on terror is never too far from a mention, but we can put it to bed with an announcement that our mission in Afghanistan will definitely end in 2011. There is much discussion of whether one party’s leader is likely to fritter away our hard-earned freedom from deficits, or another leader is likely to sit on his hands as the environment degrades to the point where the planet will no longer be habitable, but little real discussion of the real state of affairs and what really needs to be done about it. The epitome of this bafflegab was committed by the CBC last week when, in a segment from a gimmick called Assign Us, a reader asked why it was that there was so little substance in the media coverage relating to issues and solutions, and so much discussion of personalities and tabloid-style stories. The questioner’s intent seemed clear: deliver us some real coverage. Instead, we got a long and involved, mostly CBC-centric, litany of how ever it has been thus without any hint of remediation, in other words, more of same, dodge the question, keep the entertainment value high, avoid the real and pressing underlying issues.

The issues are mostly closely intertwined: the environment is in sad shape because we’ve been so focused on growth that we forgot that we live in a finite environment and that we have clearly overstepped the bounds of good stewardship. In the course of the search for growth in an abstraction, the economy, we have allowed, or caused, the creation of an economy that embodies inequity that denies our stated belief in some form of equality, and from this inequity stems the crisis in health care, where those most endowed by the machinery of the economy take so much out of the commonweal that there isn’t sufficient remaining to tend to the needs of those who are the least beneficiaries. A part of the transfer of wealth from the general population to the investor class happens through the cultivation of war and police industries, policies to which the country is led to subscribe through fear of crime and through the idea that we are fighting terrorists overseas so that we don’t have to fight them here, hence our extended, expensive and futile mission in Afghanistan, our cooperation with the U.S. establishment in the war on terror and the war on drugs, and our reinvigorated expenditures on expensive military hardware. These expenditures divert taxpayer money from social programs, from health care, from education, from research, from consumer protection and inspection functions, from substance abuse remediation and social housing.

It can be difficult to develop much enthusiasm about an election when the outcome seems to promise little in the way of meaningful constructive direction, where politicians are no keener on educating the electorate than are the general run of the media, and where the electorate is generally content to live with the hollowed-out appearance of debate that characterizes our current political and social discourse. We each have to ask ourselves what we already know and what we need to know to face the unprecedented challenges that are upon us even as our leaders continue to play the same game in the likely vain hope that they will be able to keep themselves in office long enough to do some good while they perpetuate the processes that created the unprecedented challenges in the first place.

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