Politics vs. Principles: “Why can’t we do both?”

24 Nov

“Why can’t we do both?”

The question was asked, in an early episode of the late, lamented program The West Wing, by fictional President Jed Bartlett. He was responding to a question from his dour speechwriter Toby Ziegler, who wanted to know whether a particular speech was motivated by conviction or by the knowledge that it would win the president some votes in the U.S. heartland.

No doubt many politicians ponder that very question, as they balance their own principles with the demands of electoral reality. This can create some interesting contradictions.

Two recent real-world examples from our own Prime Minister:

This week, Stephen Harper surprised the country with a resolution in the House of Commons recognizing Quebec as a nation within a united Canada. To some observers, it was a principled move to bolster the federalist cause in Quebec. To others, it was a cynical move, designed for short-term political gain, that only hurts the country in the long run.

And last weekend, at an APEC meeting in Vietnam, Harper talked tough with China – principled said some. Not so much, said others.

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