Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dirty Politics.

One of my pet peeves about modern politics is the way a candidate's past writings and sayings are taken out of context and used to create a furour during a campaign. You know, the way Ignatieff writes a nuanced book about nationalism, but parts are taken out of context and he is denounced as anti-Ukrainian. Anyone who hasn't been talking like a politicians for his/her entire life is deemed unfit for politics. Only those unwavering fools who have held the same political opinions since high school are now eligible to hold higher office.

This week's example of this trend: The way the Ontario Liberals have been going after Cheryl DiNovo, the 56-year-old United Church minister who is running in an Ontario by-election for the NDP. Worried that they're in a tight spot, the Liberals have jumped on comments made by DiNovo -- not during the campaign, but in past sermons like this one.

Here is the "controversial" part:
Now I don’t know about you but I am absolutely appalled by what I see in our newspapers lately so I’m going to rant about it for a moment. Every day we are subject to what I consider a kind of sadistic pornography. Now I know it sells papers but every day we pick up the Star or the National Post or the Globe and we see the picture of Karla Homolka on the front cover. I can only imagine what this does to the families of the victims. I know what it does to me. Here’s what it does to me, trying to follow Christ. What it does is detract from the news on the 8th page in much smaller type and smaller headlines that says things like ‘800 People Have Died Since the Iraqi Elections’ It detracts from headlines on page six that talks about what’s happening in Cuba at the American detention camp in all of our names. It detracts from the news on the fourth page about the horrors of what we have done to our Islamic brothers and sisters. That’s what it does and it allows us to create a scapegoat, remember Jesus was a scapegoat, and just pour all our hatred and frustration on this one woman. How sick is that? What it prevents us from doing mostly is to look in the mirror at our own sinfulness/separateness from God and do something about that.
I did a wedding a couple of weeks back and one of the musicians sat down and told me that a sex offender had just been released from prison and was going to take up residence on her street and she was saying, "I’ve got a twelve year old daughter." And I said to her, "You know that sex offender is probably the least likely person in all of Canada to do anything to your daughter." Karla is the least likely person in all of the world right about now, to do anything to anyone. She going to be dogged by paparazzi everywhere she goes. She’s going to be hunted like a wounded animal. It’s going to be sick. She’s not going to be going anywhere and doin’ nothin’. Who is, meanwhile? The people most likely to abuse children are in the children’s own house, relatives, stepfathers, people they know. The second most likely people to abuse children or to hurt someone are people in positions of respect, that’s right, doctors, priests, ministers, lawyers, people that families turn to and trust. Isn’t it weird that we focus on this one woman’s image and we forget all about that?

"Judge not" said Jesus. He also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." He also said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul." And he also said, "Love your enemies." "Love your enemies." What does that look like? It looks like this, "Love your enemies."
Now, I'm not a religious person, but pretty much agree with the sermon.

What she seems to be saying to me are a few things:

One, our media obsession with Karla Homolka and other high-profile sicko creeps is a distraction from bigger problems and injustices in society. Agreed! Her crimes were terrible, the way she got a reduced sentence is also terrible, but should this be front-page news a decade later? She is a "scapegoat" in so far as we project all of our fears of crime and murder and rape onto this one person. She has come to represent more than the crimes she committed with Bernardo; she has come to represent pure evil.

Two, our obsession with anonymous sex offenders grabbing kids off the street distracts us from the more real dangers facing our children. Agreed! The vast majority of kids who are sexually abused are abused by people they know and trust: family members and people in positions of power, like priests and teachers.

Finally, there is DiNovo's Christian message: Love your enemies, no matter how horrible the acts they have committed. That means all enemies, even the most horrible ones like Homolka. That's too much for me, but I have a certain admiration for the sentiment.

This is my summary of this part of a longer sermon. How have Liberal bloggers/strategists summarized it? Jason Cherniak: DiNovo "[c]ompared Karla Holmolka to Jesus." Warren Kinsella: "Homolka is a Christ-like 'scapegoat'?" and DiNovo "STATED THAT KARLA HOMOLKA HAD BEEN "SCAPEGOATED" LIKE CHRIST."

A little out of context, anybody?

(By the way, you can see how much slicker Kinsella is about these things. Cherniak just expresses outrage in a scattershot way and hopes something will stick. He, for instance, notes in mock outrage that DiNovo "thought it was sick that poor Karla will be 'hunted like a wounded animal.'" So, presumably, Cherniak thinks that it mob justice is a great idea? That hunting down criminals after they are released from prison is not sick? Now that's offensive!)

DiNovo's sermon is not exceptional to me. It is not offensive, at least not in the way. It is at worst inelegantly phrased and, yes, prone to a little reflexive anti-Americanism. ("There are more pressing problems in the world than Homolka -- every single one of them caused by America!") It is certainly not something a politician would ever say, of course. Why? Because they know that what wins votes is "Your children are in danger and I will protect them with the harshest laws allowed! Karla Homolka is the devil incarnate!"

Nuance is not allowed in politics. Perhaps that's not always a bad thing. But to insist that everyone who enters politics speak every word as a politician would BEFORE they enter politics -- well it's a recipe for political dynasties, for a permanent bred-from-birth political class, for undemocracy.

That's why I find it so upsetting.

I hope it does backfire -- as Ian Urquhart in The Star believes -- and that voters are getting wise to these dirty tactics... And I hope that the voters in Parkdale vote for the candidate they think is the best, whoever that may be.

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