Boring before banal

Dull; the first word that comes to mind when I ponder this week’s election.

Agonizingly, onerously, wearisomely dull. So dull that visions of bookish Liberal leaders fishing in all-too-obviously staged photo-ops muffled my nightmares, the tone-deaf voices of Australian and Canadian prime ministers singing in unison whispered in my ear and the bland tastes of an NDP kitchen table, ripe with populism and cliché, sat flavourless in my mouth.

Meanwhile, arguably the most exciting and important American election in decades has taken hold of this country too. We shamelessly watched the vice-presidential debate over our national debate, we wear Obama t-shirts, and Tina Fey has garnered a bigger Canadian audience in one month than Rick Mercer has seen in his whole career.

Perhaps this, coupled with myriad other systemic apathetic tendencies, is partly to blame for our country’s internationally disgraceful voter turn-out on Tuesday.

So is the American system better? Should our politics be less elitist and more populist, thereby fostering grassroots engagement? The American system, they say, is more democratic; anyone can be President—just look at Sarah Palin.

In the United States, our political leaders, even Jack Layton, would likely be chastised as snobs, bores and physically unappealing individuals. And dull, overwhelmingly dull.

But is it unreasonable to ask that elections in the most powerful country in the world be more than a tribal council on steroids? Where good work ethic, some nice stubble and an appeal to “Joe” in all of his conceivable manifestations don’t warrant stumbling near to victory without intellectual qualifications?

We have a system that, although perhaps conducive to apathy due to frequent and lacklustre campaigns, ensures that only politically sound, well-educated and experienced individuals can climb to the top of their parties. But elitist as it may be, it’s also practical.

It acknowledges and accepts that the next prime minister must confront issues like the political polarization of Alberta and Quebec, an ongoing war in Afghanistan, climate change, economic recession, renewed relations with an emergent China, poor immigration institutions, our role in ineffective international institutions, weak infrastructure in cities, ethnic conflicts worldwide—the list goes on.

Extraordinarily powerful positions require extraordinary minds. Competence, sadly, may occasionally be forced into association with elitism simply by virtue of its strong emphasis on elite qualifications. This is not to excuse a lack of charisma or connection with our beloved Joe—in this regard, Barack Obama is to be envied—but to justify its absence as a more preferable deficiency than the lack of a convincingly well-educated mind vying for leadership in the United States.

Give me policy writers before pageant queens, professors before actors, businesspeople before body-builders. Dull, yes, but preferably so.

If only they could learn how to smile, and if only we could learn how to listen.

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