Ca­nine can­di­dates and other won­ders

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL - SHAN­NON GORM­LEY

Though it has not been of­fi­cially con­firmed that Finn the Aus­tralian cat­tle dog can sit, stay or roll over on com­mand, he does per­form a neat lit­tle trick wherein he runs for mayor of St. John’s, N.L.; for this he is ei­ther a very good boy, as var­i­ous global com­men­ta­tors have ob­served, or a very bad one, if you are the sort of per­son who hates cute an­i­mals and hu­mour.

It’s un­con­tro­ver­sial enough to say that hat­ing an­i­mals prob­a­bly makes you an un­pleas­ant sort of per­son. I’d like to go a step fur­ther and sug­gest that if you hate hu­mour, you may be of an au­thor­i­tar­ian bent.

Now I grant you, “hu­mour­less­ness” is not listed among any of the fea­tures thought to char­ac­ter­ize au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tems as de­fined by any of the re­spected ex­perts on the mat­ter, which I as­sure you I am not. These fea­tures in­clude sup­pres­sion of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, and de­riv­ing po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy from emo­tions, such as fear. Nor is hu­mour­less­ness on any known list of at­tributes de­scrib­ing the au­thor­i­tar­ian per­son­al­ity type — or as schol­ars call it, “the jack­ass.”

But so far as I can tell, coun­tries with fake elec­tions tend not to have fake can­di­dates. I think there’s a bit of some­thing to that.

Democ­ra­cies share a healthy con­tin­gent of fake can­di­dates. An­i­mals are al­ways pop­u­lar: In New Zealand, the McGil­licuddy Se­ri­ous Party put for­ward a goat for mayor and un­suc­cess­fully tried for a hedge­hog in Par­lia­ment; a chim­panzee ran for mayor of Rio de Janeiro and for his trou­ble was com­mem­o­rated with a bronze statue, which is more than most may­oral can­di­dates can say for them­selves; a cat named Cat­mando coran Bri­tain’s Rav­ing Mon­ster Loony Party, though be­ing a cat pre­vented him from run­ning the party him­self; and in 1938, a brown mule won a seat in Wash­ing­ton.

Inan­i­mate ob­jects, masked men and nonen­ti­ties fare well in cam­paigns too, or at least ex­ist, which is sur­pris­ing enough, from No­body for Pres­i­dent in the United States, to Ed the Sock in Canada, to Lord Buck­et­head in the United King­dom.

It’s all very weird. It’s stranger still when you con­sider that it’s the real democ­ra­cies with the bo­gus can­di­dates.

The dearth of not-en­tirelysin­cere elec­tion can­di­dates in not-ex­actly-demo­cratic states can be ex­plained, I think, by the fact that a core char­ac­ter­is­tic of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism is that it can’t take a joke.

If you pre­fer lib­eral democ­racy to, say, fas­cism, it’s easy to speak as if its norms and in­sti­tu­tions are sa­cred.

Sa­cred press free­dom, sa­cred vot­ing rights, sa­cred fair elec­tions — for a sys­tem that priv­i­leges sec­u­lar­ism, much is sacro­sanct. What isn’t sacro­sanct are the can­di­dates them­selves, or even the idea of the can­di­date, which is what the fake can­di­date trolls.

It’s the au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem that de­mands its deal­ings be above even light­hearted re­proach — un­less, that is, the leader de­cides it doesn’t like a par­tic­u­lar prac­tice any­more, in which case the prac­tice in ques­tion is an en­emy of the state and must be ex­e­cuted im­me­di­ately, along with its next of kin.

Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, ab­surd in its in­sis­tence that it must at all times be taken se­ri­ously, can­not tol­er­ate any at­tempt to ex­pose its ridicu­lous­ness. It’s too in­se­cure to laugh at it­self or al­low for dis­sent, which of­ten means the same thing.

So Turkey ha­rassed Ger­many into press­ing crim­i­nal charges against a co­me­dian who penned a satir­i­cal poem about Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. China’s cen­sors banned Win­nie the Pooh from so­cial me­dia sites be­cause he bears (ahem) an awk­ward re­sem­blance to Com­mu­nist Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping. And Rus­sia has axed com­edy shows that make Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin their re­luc­tant star.

Demo­cratic elec­tions are messy and fre­quently id­i­otic. We’re lucky that in all their messy id­iocy they grant a dog named Finn the free­dom to run for pub­lic of­fice, even if they do not go quite so far as to al­low him to hold it. Shan­non Gorm­ley is an Ottawa Cit­i­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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