Thursday, June 22, 2006

Spare me the Passion: In Defence of Political Reason

(Updated from a previous post - published in The Telegram, June 22/06)

I'm pretty sick of "passion" being the objective ideal of the NL patriot. Frankly, we've had too much passion from elected officials over the years and it’s done the province no good.

Somewhere along the way politicians got the idea that we want them to be passionate. Maybe they’re passionate because they think we want them to be that way, I don't know. Maybe some of them truly are passionate. But even if they are truly passionate, how does that qualify them for the job they hold or the job they're running for?

Look at Peckford. God knows Peckford was passionate. In fact, he was passionate all the time. He never knew how not to be passionate. He was so passionate that he launched one dramatic political jihad after another. Remember when he called on the people of the province to wear black armbands in response to the Supreme Court decision on the offshore? Pure political passion at it’s finest.

And then when he was finally spent and had no passion left, so did he.

Other premiers show a mixed record. Tobin may have been passionate; it was always hard to tell. He was either really passionate or a really good faker. Many accounts hold that the late Frank Moores was very passionate but he seems to have kept it to his private life. Clyde Wells was considered the epitome of rationalism in public life. By and large he was though he was still capable of turning purple when the occasion demanded.

Joey is considered have been very passionate but I don’t think he really was. He was dramatic, for sure, but I think he was far too canny and shrewd to lose himself to passion.

To be truly passionate means you have to lose yourself in it. Let's remember what the word "passion" means. According to, passion means "powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger" or "an abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger."

And it’s bad enough that politicians get passionate in campaigns but now they insist on being passionate once they get elected too.

Mario Cuomo, the remarkable New York State Governor had the wisdom to recognise that, "We campaign in poetry, but we must govern in prose." In other words, there are times when it’s right and proper for politicians to soar above the highest clouds on the wings of eagles. Then there is the responsibility of governing where the things you say and the decisions you make have consequences in the real world for the people you are responsible for.

In poetry lies the passion; in prose, the reason.

I’m not against passion on principle and I’m not saying that government and politicians should be boring or disengaged. Pierre Trudeau’s personal motto was “Reason before Passion”. Yet nobody would look upon his political career (or the life he lived) and conclude he was boring or disengaged.

After all, his motto wasn’t “Reason instead of passion”; he just had the good sense to put things in their proper order.

Passion is no guarantee of exercising good judgment or having sound ideas or having the insight of understanding where the province should go. It means making rash decisions without self-reflection or the real awareness of the costs involved.

As often as not, passion means elevating to a virtue mindlessly flying off the handle at a moment's notice.

I'm tired of it and I want a break.

I’d rather leave passion to the bedroom where it belongs.

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