6.03.2011

arash azizi and stephen james kerr: inexperienced ndp mps will be just fine

The media has had a jolly old time ragging on the new, young, inexperienced Members of Parliament in the NDP caucus. Even the most casual observer of mainstream Canadian news will note the mocking, smirking stories about the "latest gaffes" by the Jack Layton's "gang of rookies".

By contrast, in the US, inexperience is often a huge selling point for candidates. Non-politicians are often (and often falsely) hailed as "outsiders". Anyone who can claim "outside the Beltway" status - meaning the Washington, DC area, that is, not entrenched in the culture of politics - beats it like a drum and is thought to have an edge on her opponent.

I have mocked this attitude myself, wondering in what other profession one would regard inexperience as a positive quality. Would you seek an "outsider" brain surgeon? An inexperienced lawyer? A carpenter or housepainter who wasn't well-versed in her trade? Likely not. But I'm not worried about the NDP caucus - at least not because they're young. Here's why.

Arash Azizi, a 23-year-old NDP organizer, wrote an Op-Ed in the Toronto Star: "Young NDP caucus will be a strength, not a weakness". It's worth reading, but here's an excerpt.
Today, our Parliament is far closer to being an “exact portrait” in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We have elected MPs from widely diverse ethnic backgrounds, from African Canadians to turbaned Sikh Canadians (the first in the Western World) and several openly gay MPs. And even though we rank 52nd when it comes to female representation in political office, we have just elected a Parliament in which a quarter of the members are female — a record.

Can we then say that we are close to having an “exact portrait” of the Canadian nation on Parliament Hill?

Certainly not.

Far from being “one of us,” Members of Parliament often are lawyers, businesspeople, journalists or experts of one kind or other. Even when they are not, they often adopt lifestyles so widely different from the rest of us that too often they lose their common touch. In short, perhaps to the dismay of Adams, legislatures in Canada, as in other liberal democracies, are in no way an “exact portrait . . . of the people at large.”

That the New Democratic Party has fought to challenge this status quo should come as no surprise. . . .

The mainstream media have raised a hue and cry in targeting the humble origins of all these new NDP Members of Parliament. After all the earlier fuss about low voter turnout, especially among youth, pundits now seem unhappy that young people actually have been elected to Parliament.

Our new MPs in Quebec are under attack every day because of their age, their “inexperience” and their humble origins. Often the $157,731 salary of a MP is mentioned in a condescending way as if they were not talking about our elected representatives but some kid who has just hit the jackpot in a casino!

Young New Democrats in Ontario and around the country welcome this new swath of MPs who are much more of an “exact portrait” of us and the working people of this country.

It is our fervent hope that after the hours of bureaucratic “preparation” they are currently undergoing they will not forget the sense of purpose and guiding principles that led them to join the NDP.
Stephen James Kerr, writing in X-Ray Magazine, looks at the question from a philosophical vantage point. In his analysis, the idea that political judgment is "a specialized skill, given only to a few" is "a steaming heap of bullshit."
The recent spate of hand wringing over the youth and "inexperience" of some of our new Members of Parliament is risible, scripted, and campy.

“They’re young, they’re NDP, they’re MPs and they’re coming this way!” reads the newspaper headline.

“What are we going to do?” screams the panicky pundit.

“Hide the children!”

“But they ARE children…”

For some people, the election of a handful of previously-unknown-to-the-general-public NDP MPs under the age of 30 is “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” scary.

Far scarier are the arguments of their critics, and the lack of conviction shown by some of their defenders.

For their detractors, and even for those who would defend them, these youthful voices in the democratic debate come without much “experience” and hence without much value.

And so they can be mocked. The May 4th edition of the National Post caricatured them as the “Layton Bunch” riffing with the Post’s usual heavy hand on the 70’s Brady Bunch sitcom, featuring Jack as the father, and MPs as kids.

More troublesome however has been the response of some of the MPs’ well-intentioned defenders. It suggests that they are unable to marshal our best arguments in defense of democracy.

These weak defenders often shift the focus of the debate onto the so-called “star” NDP candidates from Quebec; Francoise Boivin, Tyrone Benskin, Romeo Saganash, et al. It’s as if they’re conceding a point to the anti-democratic enemy: not just anybody can govern themselves or others.

. . .

Everyone is missing the point. Their error goes back to the very philosophical foundations of the conflict between democracy and oligarchy.

The fundamental philosophical argument against democracy is that political judgment is a specialized skill, given only to a few.

This is the argument of Socrates and Plato in the Republic: that the Athenians allow simple sailors and tradesmen to lead them, and so are led to ruin. Plato relates how Socrates taught that political skills are analogous to a trade, and so government should be left to “the one who knows.”

Their followers, admirers of anti-democratic Sparta, staged two bloody coups d’├ętat based on this idea. This has been the intellectual last line of defense of every King and of every tyrant since. It’s at the root of the Fuhrerprinzip. But it has also corrupted our own modern notions of democracy, plagued by self-dealing, “indispensable” specialists at every turn.

It’s also a steaming heap of bullshit.
Read it here.

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