The Political Process:
Corruption of Values vs. Social Justice
By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
An address to Faith and Public Life Conference
Queen's University, Kingston
October 19, 1999
Adapted from Senator Roche's new book:
Bread Not Bombs:A Political Agenda for Social Justice
It is futile to blame all the sins of the world on the media, thoughpoliticians are sometimes wont to do this (perhaps to escape some of theheat for their own sins). It is equally futile to blame all the sins of theworld on politicians, though the media frequently feel disposed to do so.Media and the political process together are responsible for a corruption ofthe public policy process that perpetuates the grossest disparities in whichmoney is readily found for war but cannot be produced to enhance humansecurity.
While media and politicians justly deserve rebuke for undermininghuman values, criticism should not stop there. The duplicity thatcharacterizes modern society has its roots in the attitudes and actions ofcitizens themselves. This is particularly true of those who have, eitherthrough diligence or good fortune, reached the commanding heights of theworlds of commerce, education, religion, and the professions and thus areable to control and manipulate the god of public opinion. The media andpoliticians, in turn, defer to public opinion with all the reverence usuallyaccorded citations from the bible.
Thus my criticism of the political hypocrisies that justify apolitical and economic system that spends countless sums on endless wars butcannot feed and put every child in the world into a classroom must strike atsocietal inertia that continues to tolerate such anomalies.
Inevitably, the media's incessant depiction of a culture ofconfrontation and consumerism infuses the political system. Politics hasbecome a marketplace reflecting the win-lose dominance of business thinking.
Most politicians are decent persons, neither more altruistic norvenal than the average person, though their ambition and ego levels aresomewhat higher. They are taught upon entry into the political process, atwhatever level, that power is the only important thing. "If you don't have power, you can't do anything," is the constant refrain. Getting powermeans beating the opposition. Leaving aside the new phenomenon of "attackads," which have lately come to disgrace election campaigns, politicians areconvinced they will get power by promising to bring more benefits to thevoter by making the existing economic and social order work better.
Politicians play to the consumerist appetite in their quest forpower. It is a rare politician who will stand up in an election campaignand declare that the people around him are contributing to the North-Southdivide by demanding even more of the resources of the world and that he/she,if elected, will actually work for a social justice agenda that will moreequitably distribute the world's resources and wealth. It is almost afantasy to consider that the nominee of a major party seeking office wouldso deliberately campaign against the prevailing culture. Someaspirants actually do so, but they represent splinter parties, or onlythemselves, and they are quickly marginalized. I ran and won in fourfederal election campaigns, and the number of times I was asked for my viewson the over-arching themes of disarmament and development could be countedon the fingers of one hand. Foreign policy, as the pundits say, doesn't getinto election campaigns.
The political process is dominated by the powerful elements ofsociety who want, at the very least, to retain their power. Though ceilingsfor campaign donations and disclosure laws may be put in place (thepolitical process wants to keep corruption from becoming absolutecorruption), the bulk of campaign contributions come from corporations andthe upper classes. The galas, the fund-raisers, and the specialsolicitations are all underwritten by business interests that want toinfluence political leaders. Business interests dominate the formulation ofpublic policy. Of that, there is no doubt.
I am concerned by the way of thinking that predominates in thepolitical process, which assumes that peace will come through theapplication of military power and that the vulnerable people in society willbe helped by the overall expansion of the economy, led by the smartest andstrongest. "A rising tide lifts all boats."
The thinking that has predominated through two hundred years of theindustrial age and the rise of modern technologies has produced a cultureoverwhelmingly self-centered. There has always been room for charity and,indeed, spectacular instances of humanitarian aid, whether at the personalor nation-state level, have occurred. But the constant aggressiveness ofbusiness and political interests has been the driving force of progress. There is scantroom for social justice in this agenda.
But the crisis of humanity cries out for a political agenda forsocial justice. The U.N. global conferences have produced a newunderstanding of interrelated issues such as environmental protection, thewell-being of children, human rights and the rights of women, population,unemployment, crime, trade, food security, human settlements, naturaldisasters, and social cohesion. The U.N. has called for a common frameworkto express the linkages between all the security themes. Coherentstrategies have been articulated. A common concept of development, centeredon human beings, their needs, rights, and aspirations, is coming into view.Public grasp of the urgency of this integrated agenda for peace and humansecurity is needed before we can expect governments to promote sustainableeconomic growth and an equitable system of multilateral cooperation.
Policies to solidify the common good express a morality. Why, then,shy away from espousing a social justice agenda based on the moral values ofmutual respect, caring, and equity?
Yet the media and politicians would generally consider this to be"idealistic" at best; they prefer to carry on dealing with the "real world."
Those who have been enriched by the past resent the intrusion of aproblematic future on the comforts of the present. The present, however, isnot sustainable. The political process, the way in which we measure progress, must be changed. Democracy and the commongood must now be fitted together on global terms.
A national -- and global -- debate is necessary to put a spotlighton the survival issues. Academics, religious leaders, women's groups, andthe other leading components of civil society all have a vital role to play in bringing forward information and opinions.We live at the most dynamic moment in world history. We are not prisonersof the past. We are creators of the future.