This is day two of my blog, and I’m already in trouble – on Twitter actually. It seems that I’m doing social media all wrong. According to Duncan Kinney: “I think @bmasonndp might want to reconsider this whole social media kick he’s been on. He’s doing it wrong.” It all started off with a snarky welcome from Dave Cornoyer: “After criticizing the @AlbertaParty for focusing on social media, NDP leader Brian Mason has started a blog.”
One thing I’ve learned in two decades in politics is to correct the record if someone misquotes you or misrepresents what you say. And I didn’t criticize the Alberta Party for using social media. I criticized the Alberta Party for what it believes and says. So I set the record straight, and that began a real “twitterfest”. As my friend Lou Arab said a few weeks ago, “Tweeting something bad about the #abp is like throwing a ping pong ball into a room full of mousetraps – tonnes of fun.”
The idea that social media is only intended only for abstract policy discussons is how the Alberta Party folks would like to define it’s use. It’s a notion I want to challenge. This is really just an extension of a broader idea underlying much of the Alberta Party’s approach, which is that politics is essentially bad, and if we could just focus on “best practices”, things would be much better. Indeed, today some AP twitterers criticized me for taking the discussion away from policy.
Policy ideas are critically important in politics and government, no doubt about it. But those who over-emphasise policy, like those who over-emphasise process, are losing sight of some fundamental political realities. Political ideas come from somewhere, and we need to understand where.
Take climate change, for example. There is an overwhelming scientific concensus that climate change threatens coming generations with starvation, disease and inundation by rising sea levels. And yet there has been a rising chorus of climate change sceptics who challenge the scientific evidence and the causal links to human activity. Where does this come from? The links between climate change deniers and the petroleum industry and other corporate interests are well documented. They have funded scientists, politicians and media outlets who deny climate change. We simply can’t understand the climate change debate from a strictly policy-based approach. An understanding of the economic interests and the political relationships behind the debate is crucial.
The health care debate is an other example. While most research indicates that increasing levels of private delivery mean a corresponding increase in overall costs and declining patient care, much government health care policy has favored increased levels of private health care delivery. This has been generally true across Canada, except in provinces with NDP governments. Why? Tens of billions of dollars are spent each year in Canada on health care, most of it going to public services. Private health care corporations, insurance companies and pharmacutical corporations relentlessly lobby governments in Canada to increase private provision of services. They fund organizations like the Fraser Institute to do research and to train people like Danielle Smith to work in media and politics. And they fund political parties that support their cause.
Politics is how we resolve the struggle between competing interests in our society. Attempting to minimize its importance merely tends to obscure the actual interests behind the ideas and policies in the debate. If you can’t understand the politics and economics behind policy ideas, you are helpless. And hopeless.