It is election season, on both sides of the border. As I sit here typing this, I am looking at a McLean's magazine, with a picture of Stephen Harper(1) holding a baby, and CBC is promising me wall to wall election coverage for the next 30 odd days, and my local NDP candidate(2) is calling wanting to know if they can have my volunteer hours, give me a lawn sign, have my vote, and please, more than anything, send money(3). And I read a really interesting article in Time Magazine about your man Barack.

Anyway. So, I'm thinking about the West Wing. Which I have been watching as I knit for the Parish Priest's children. And specifically I'm thinking about a quote from Toby Zeigler.

"Make this election about smart, and stupid. Engaged and not. Qualified and not."

And I stood up and cheered. I stood up, and I honest-to-goodness pumped my fist, and said "YES!!".

Because it's true. Read it again. I say over and over, we get the politicians we deserve.

There are big problems on our continent. Both sides of the border. Our world is heating up. We are in wars in the Middle East. America is in a recession, and when the US sneezes, Canada catches a cold. China owns 1/3 of US Debt. Alberta has no debt, but we have Tar Sands, dead ducks and all. The US has huge racial problems. We are killing each other in our streets, and your young African and Latino men are dying at disproportionately high rates, in Iraq. And lest we in Canada become smug, the life expectancy of a white man is 71.1. It's 63 if you are an aboriginal man. Canada ranks number one on the UN index of places to live, unless you live on a Federal reserve, in which case it ranks 63, smack dab in the middle of third world countries. The Hobema reserve and Bangladesh. Your women and children are dying in hospital emergency rooms, because they have no health insurance. 10% of our population lives below the low income cut off line(4). 12% of Americans do so.

These are big problems. Big. And we need smart people to solve them. And there is this tendency in modern politics - Toby Zeigler hit it on the head. We, the voting populace demand that our politicians are just like us. They have to be the guy (or girl) next door. We would want to have a beer with them. Pound them on the back at a football game. They need to be the common guy. The ordinary guy. We don't make our elections about smart, qualified and engaged. We make them about hairdo's and the religious right and abortion and homosexuality and embryonic stem cells and welfare. We make them about who went to church where, and what their pastor might have said, and if their daughter is pregnant.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm looking at my neighbours. And they are nice people, good people. I'm looking at me. I'm smart (mostly), but I don't know what the hell we should do about global warming and racial tensions and how to fix the reserve system or war in the middle east or somehow get all Americans health care, that they can afford. I don't know. And my neighbours, they don't know either. But I do know this, there are smart people who know. And maybe we should elect them to office. Let's stop making elections about popularity contests, and start making them about smart people who can fix our problems. People that we can send to Ottawa and Washington, and let them make a difference. I don't care about your family, your religious affiliation, your work history, but can I see an IQ test please.

I have watched Sarah Palin with interest. Fascination and horror. In some sense, I'm excited to see a woman run for high constitutional office. (We've already had one.) I'd rather have seen one for President.

And then she opened her mouth. She was the first woman to be Governor of Alaska, and the youngest governor. A two term councillor and a 1 term mayor. (and in case you are wondering, city politics are the most brutal out there. The most vicious form of retail politics there is). But she didn't talk about what she did, or how smart she was or the ideas she has. I watched the speech, and I left with a sick feeling in my mouth. Who was this woman?

I don't like her politics. But I'll stand up and say that she's worked hard and she's had a few good ideas. Yet, all she could tell us about herself was that she was a hockey mom. She defaults to harmless, stupid hockey mum. You got yourself a crossing guard with a spiffy uniform and a new hair-do.(5) Seemingly no ideas, no thoughts, no plans. A lovely family. A hockey mum who doesn't think ideas are important is campaigning to run your country. She spent more time insulting the other guy, than she did talking about herself. The news cycle is more consumed with wedding plans for a 15 year old child, than they are about recessions and welfare and health care.

Now, whether you like Sarah Palin or not, whether you think you might vote for her or not, think about how we characterize our candidates. Perhaps more than that - think about how they characterize themselves.

We all have to go to the polls soon enough.

Make the election about smart. And not.
And engaged, and not.
And qualified, and not.

(1) Our present (sigh) Prime Minister.
(2) New Democratic Party. I'm not sure how you go from being a red tory to being an NDP-er. I blame Kuri. Totally.
(3) I do donate to candidates. Women Candidates. My volunteer hours are non gender specific. One of these days I'll write a blog all about how women face specific barriers to running for office.
(4) The LICO is a different measure than the poverty line, actually higher than the poverty line, so Canada has a higher level of "poor" just because we say you are still poor at a higher income than most countries.
(5) You have no idea how badly I would like to take this name for myself. Alas, I must give credit to Heather Mallick