Andrew Coyne: ‘Bozo eruptions’ or no, let voters decide if candidates are idiots

We are up to, what, two candidates a day now, from all parties, forced to drop out of the race over some “bozo eruption” or another? This candidate posted some offensive material on Facebook five years ago. That candidate holds some peculiar view or other. Boom, out they go, by order of the leader.

Indeed, the item doesn’t even have to be all that offensive or peculiar. All that matters, increasingly, is that it is possible to construe it that way — or rather, that it is possible for other parties’ war rooms, they who unearthed it in the first place, to construe it that way, with sufficient fake umbrage to burn up a news cycle. Even in a 78-day race, parties feel they can’t afford it. The candidates? They’re expendable. It’s the leader that matters.

Interestingly, the reverse does not apply. Leaders can make whatever boneheaded remarks they like, to far more devastating effect on their candidates’ chances, without the same penalty applying. But in our system, the leader is all. Protect the leader, at all costs. Everything else — principles, candidates, local democracy — can rot.

Or rather, not our system, but the demented, leader-obsessed version of it to which we have too willingly surrendered.

We seem determined to miss this point. To the extent these accelerating daily executions of the erratic provoke comment, it is from premises that are unfailingly leader-centric.

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Here or there, some express the concern that this increased intolerance for human frailty, coupled with the increased capacity, for those so inclined, to display it — not just in private among friends, but for all the world to see, in perpetuity — will make it harder to attract people into politics. Young people considering a political career are advised to be careful what they post online, for fear of its later implications.

Others, looking at it from the party’s view, cluck that parties have not been sufficiently diligent in screening out such potential electoral liabilities. But all accept — no, it does not get even that far: it does not occur to them that it needs accepting — that it is the leader’s prerogative to dispatch any candidates who prove displeasing to him, with barely a nod.

Whether their sympathies lie with the leader or the candidate, all of them look at it from the perspective of: what does this mean to the leader? How does this affect the leader’s brand? After all, that off-colour remark by a future candidate at her high-school prom in 2007 might taint the leader by association. That unpopular or off-message policy view, no matter how clearly stated as the candidate’s opinion, might nevertheless be attributed to the leader. This is what we have persuaded ourselves to believe.

Me, I’m inclined to look at it from the perspective of the people who chose the unfortunate candidate to represent them: the members of his riding association. What is extinguished when a candidate is discarded is not only his political career, but the wishes of all those people who came out to their local nomination meetings to vote for him — or indeed those outside the party, who might wish to vote for him in the general election, who will no longer have the opportunity.

People should, of course, be accountable for their behaviour. I can imagine there might be statements or actions, past or present, that were so outrageous, so utterly beyond the pale, as to disqualify a candidate from consideration. But that is surely for the riding association to decide — since they are the ones, at least in principle, who selected him, and since it is their judgment, and their good name, that would be otherwise impugned.

People should, of course, be accountable for their behaviour. I can imagine there might be statements or actions, past or present, that were so outrageous, so utterly beyond the pale, as to disqualify a candidate from consideration

The only reason we accept that a leader should have the power to “fire” the duly-nominated representative of the riding association of Someplace-Whereveritis is that we have also accepted he must be held personally accountable for every slip of the lip or peccadillo committed by every candidate for his party in every riding in the country.

And the only reason we accept that is that we have previously accepted that no one in his party may breathe a word or move a muscle without his authority; any stray utterance or ill-judged twitch, therefore, if not personally authorized by him, is at least his responsibility to deal with after the fact. If he does not punish it — and there is only one penalty that is acceptable — it must mean he condones it.

And so on round the circle. The kind of candidates who will submit themselves to such indignity, I suggest, are also the kind most susceptible to getting themselves in trouble in the first place: for the same basic lack of self-respect that makes them so easily bent to the leader’s will is as likely to impel them to do something stupid or impulsive.

This is madness. The leader is not, and should not be considered, accountable for every sparrow that falls in his party. A candidate proves to be an insufferable embarrassment? Fine, let the riding association deal with him. A candidate holds views on some issue that diverge from those of the party? That’s a good thing: shows independence of mind. Or at any rate, it is not the leader’s job to stamp it out.

If we want more good people in politics — more grownups, as it were — we have to stop treating them like children.

About Andrew Coyne