"It was a perfectly beautiful night, as fall nights are in Washington. I walked out of the president's Oval Office, and as I walked out, I thought I might never live to see another Saturday night." - Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, recalling the Cuban Missile Crisis
Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War will recall that what kept us from melting the planet with nuclear weapons was the knowledge that regardless of who fired first, the missiles fired back would assure that neither side would win – the idea of mutually assured destruction.
While we know that there can be no winner in such a conflagration, according to my former father-in-law (Colonel – USAF and Strategic Air Command, now deceased) we came a lot closer to disaster than the general public will ever know.
It took the courage and insanity of Ronal Reagan to break the cycle of madness that the world was engaged in when he called upon Gorbachev to come back to the negotiating table. Whether or not the resulting disarmament (and I use the term very lightly) has actually saved us or postponed the inevitable is another matter.
Meanwhile back in Alberta ….
As I watch the current media buzz over former Premier Redford being spotted in Palm Springs while claiming that she deserves full pay for reasons usually reserved for illness or bereavement, I am reminded of how mutually assured destruction in politics works.
A number of insiders, including MLAs on both side of the Legislature, have privately shared stories that are amazing and disgusting and include not only salacious stories of a personal matter that would make a Penthouse editor blush but which also include tales of inappropriate spending that have not seen the light of day.
And I’m not talking about former Premier Redford.
But no one dares make them public.
One party knows that to come totally clean in admission of their sins opens up Pandora’s box and the resulting firestorm will wipe them out in the next election.
The other party knows that to expose someone’s “dirt” invites the other party to reveal “dirt” about them in return and their hopes of winning the next election are next to zero, either because of the nature of the information exposed or because the party that fired the first shot would be crucified for having taken “the low road”.
And so we are left with political detente.
Meanwhile, the media feeds the public with tidbits and tasty morsels of gossip that in the grand scheme of things mean nothing but which incite citizens to anger and indignation while the complexities of the truth remain unseen. In addition, those who are not without sins themselves seem to cry out in indignation the most.
As in the Cold War, the public dialog and the private dialog are miles apart. And as with the Cold War, if the citizens actually knew what was going on, they would be angry and afraid simultaneously.
However, if they removed their lens of judgement, they would discover that even they might not have been able to do any better. We all have our weaknesses, our frailties and our price, no matter how pure and perfect we believe ourselves to be.
The Hazards of Public Service
Political detente creates a lot of complexity. The good politicians (and there are some) are left second-guessing a lot of things, including how their values, morals and character fit into such a system while at the same time, their call to service compels them to continue participating. They know that if they speak out too loudly, citizens will question why they remain while party members will feel betrayed and in both situations, their position becomes difficult to defend.
The almost-good politicians, the ones who are doing their best but who have a few skeletons in their closet, are upset with the ongoing trials and tribulations of former Premier Redford but commiserate with her at the same time knowing that they are not perfect. They also know that if they speak out, their own skeletons will be revealed and their sins, once put behind them, will be put front and center for public analysis (aka public hanging).
And then you have the other politicians who know that this is how the game is played and that when the game is played well, there are many rewards available. For those who play the game poorly and get skewered in public … well … that is the nature of any high risk / high reward game, isn’t it?
Is it any wonder so many good people won’t step into politics? How many of us would willingly step into such a world?
The Bottom Line
In many situations of detente, one side or the other occasionally thinks they have discovered the perfect offense or defense and that a first strike will assure them of victory. However, every time they are ready to push the button, they uncover a new piece of knowledge at the last minute and they pause, realizing how close to the brink they actually came to destroying themselves.
Unfortunately, this fear of mutual detente partially paralyzes all parties involved and they spend more time managing the detente or looking for a weakness in the other side than they do taking care of more important things for the people that they represent.
I wonder if one of these days, “the button” will be pushed before cooler heads prevail or might be pushed “by accident” and then we will have a problem that makes our current media morsels pale in comparison.
This is a disconcerting thought that we need to pay more attention to.
Wait …. I am referring to global affairs.
What did you think I was referring to?
In service and servanthood,
PS All of this being said, the PC Party of Alberta must still publicly and substantively address the matter of former Premier Redford, both for the sake of transparency and for the sake of strong strategy (defining its own message rather than having one be defined for them by Ms. Redford, the media or others). Silence on their part is not healthy as I noted in the blog post PC Party of Alberta–Free Optics Management Advice. While it is possible that she is holding down her seat until Jim Prentice makes his decision, she is holding out for a judge appointment, etc., continued silence wounds the PC Party more than it helps them.
In the meantime, people on social media should remain calm and not appear as the locals do in this famous Monty Python skit.