To paraphrase that old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Barack Obama talks, people listen.
Last week Obama spoke at the University of Illinois. He broke with the tradition of ex-presidents stepping away from the podium to give the new guy a chance to get on with his agenda because these are “pivotal” times.
He was concerned Americans wouldn’t turn out for the November mid-term elections because they’d become cynical, were taking their rights and freedoms for granted and were distracted by “electronic versions of bread and circuses”.
He said their lack of attention to politics had created a void that is being filled by power seekers sowing the politics of fear, resentment, and retrenchment in order to get into power and stay there.
Obama’s message was both disturbing and hopeful. It was tailored to the American experience but is remarkably relevant in the Alberta context.
In a healthy democracy the government does not, in Obama’s view, cut taxes on its wealthiest citizens, unwind regulations, weaken worker protections and shrink the social safety net; because doing so increases inequity, diminishes economic opportunity and increases regional, racial, religious and cultural tension.
Obama says a strong democracy embraces a number of elements. These will be familiar to supporters of Notley’s NDP, the Liberals and the Alberta Party, but not so familiar or welcome in Kenney’s conservative party. They include:
- a free market subject to regulations governing health, safety, and the environment (Kenney’s promise to cut red tape would make the free market paramount),
- recognizing society’s collective responsibility for healthcare (Kenney would shift more of this responsibility to the private sector—those who can afford better care would get it, those who can’t won’t)
- empowering workers through unions (Obama floated the European model of giving workers a seat on corporate boards, Kenney’s head would explode)
- eliminating discrimination against minorities, women, the disabled and the LBGTQ community, (Kenny vowed to repeal legislation protecting kids who join GSAs, he and his caucus boycotted the abortion bubble zone debates and they picked fights with Pride parade organizers),
- standing up to bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists and xenophobes, (the UCP puts them on the ballot and gives them free rein on social media. Check out David Climenhaga’s informative blog on how far the UCP will go to tolerate intolerance).
- increasing disclosure and transparency (Obama is still waiting for Trump’s tax returns, Albertans will wait even longer for Kenney to disclose the complete list of donors who supported his run for the PC leadership)
- not lying about government institutions and programs (Kenney attacks the federal equalization payment scheme, the immigration process and the Liberal’s handling of Trans Mountain but they’re not really creating “western alienation”. Alberta’s long overdue revamp of the school curriculum is not really a conspiracy to turn our children into mini-socialists),
- investing in science, infrastructure and education (Kenney’s promise to cut the deficit ASAP will cripple these investments).
All of these elements are indications of progress.
Obama says progress doesn’t move in a straight line, it moves in fits and starts. Progress stands on the shoulders of people who refuse to be “bystanders to history, ordinary people [who] fought and marched and mobilized and built, and…voted to make history”.
Obama encourages citizens to look for candidates who champion fresh ideas rather than those who recycle stale ideas fluffed up with fear or resentment. He urges citizens to support candidates who are running for something, not candidates who are running against something (like the UCP candidates who promise to bring back the “Alberta Advantage” but can’t tell you what it is and vow to repeal the carbon tax without offering an alternative plan to manage climate change).
So, if you’re worried about where a UCP government would take Alberta if they win in 2019, take Obama’s advice. Get engaged, attend fund raisers, door knock, donate, and talk to your family and friends about the progressive alternative.
Barack Obama says you will generate a “spark of hope”. Hope leads to change and change results in progress.
It’s time to listen.