People like to joke that politicians lie a lot. It’s a stereotype I’ve always found unfair: often politicians spin the truth because they are asked hundreds of questions a day, because they have talking points to get across, because they honestly don’t know an answer or they would get heck from word-parsing reporters if they spoke too bluntly.
Then there are the most sympathetic lies, the ones to make us feel better. When Jack Layton held a press conference last month announcing his leave of absence from politics, claiming that he would fight his cancer now so he could fight for families in the near future, how much were his brave faced words for us, his supporters and well-wishers, and how much were they for himself?
Another word for lies is fiction, and the story of the NDP over the last six months has the dramatic twists and turns of a Victorian melodrama: years of patient and at times-plodding ground work leads to a historic breakthrough for the party, ricocheting to second place to become the Official Opposition, only to have the leader who cleared the path snatched away before getting to fulfill his new position.
And what happens next? With no obvious replacement in the wings with the same mix of Quebec folksiness, Toronto activism and telegenic star quality, many columnists are already pitying the NDP (indeed, even the future of progressivism in Canada) for all its dashed potential. To which I have one thing to say; the NDP has always been underestimated, particularly by reporters. Just give it time.
For the leader of a political party which has been treated at worst patronizingly and with hostility, but often just plain ignored, the overwhelming outpouring of grief is surprising. Facebook profile pictures are awash in orange and the spontaneous memorial at City Hall would even bring a tear to Mayor Ford.
Perhaps its because so many voters, who never supported the NDP before, finally felt like they trusted Jack and believed in his hopeful vision. It’s like becoming good friends with a person you’ve known for years, only to have them snatched a way. The unfairness is cruel.
But let’s not end on that note. Instead, we should take inspiration from everything Jack accomplished. We need to continue to fight for the ideals he held dear, especially with the prospect of Mayor Ford, Prime Minister Harper and (potentially) Premier Hudak at the same time, and with far-right Ayn Rand nut jobs crowding the Republican primaries down in the States.
Government is not evil. Government is where people come together to make things better. As Jack said in his farewell letter, Canada is one of the best countries in the world, but it could be better – “a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.”
I’ll end with the ending of Jack’s letter. It’d be too daunting to write a better one.
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”