The political creed of the left

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The start of a New Year is a time of hope. And, for those on the political left, hope is the nearest thing we have to a creed.

A better world, who could argue with that? Actually, a lot of influential people spend time trying to convince us to prefer the status quo to transformative change. They use fear to do it.

Hope is something you give, and it is usually returned in kind. That should encourage people to share it with others.

Fear is a pretty good motivator as well. While fear spreads fear, hope is a good antidote.

People hope something can be done to alleviate damage from the great natural tragedy of the era: the tsunami. Canadians were way ahead of the Liberal government in demanding action.

Humanitarian donations are neither left nor right politics. If anything the act of charitable giving is part of the conservative creed: looking out for the less fortunate is a duty you have as a favoured individual.

Political liberals wish all to share the risks of a natural disaster by providing for early warning systems, and implementing multilateral cooperation schemes, complete with assistance to relief agencies, and equitable national contributions.

The political left wants to talk about more than humanitarian aid, and government relief actions. The left sees the outpouring of concern for the victims and has its own idea about what this means. Human beings are part of the same extended family. In times of horror this is recognized more clearly.

People are dying because of insufficient inattention to their human needs. Natural disaster wipes out the very infrastructure of society that has been built in the hope of improving people's lives. Collective action built what was lost, more will be needed to replace and improve public services.

Not all collective projects make sense. It is self-evident to many that money spent on the war in Iraq is wasted. American military expenditure represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of humanity. It would be nice to hear that said out loud from the front benches of parliaments around the world, starting with Ottawa.

Left politics is about ideals, the common good, for example. From debate and discussion — the public conversation — emerges the agenda for change, or for doing nothing. What got the Liberals to increase the national contribution to tsunami aid from the initial $1 million to $4 million, then to $40 million, and on to the current figure of $80 million was public reaction to the human tragedy. The government did not expect it.

Reaching an understanding about what purposeful actions are needed is what makes a democracy democratic. The political context is often dominated by fears; it also needs injections of hope. Things can be made better for more people.

As the tsunami relief action moves ahead much will be written about failure and incompetence. What need not be lost from sight is the need to try, to do the best that can be done, and then do more.

“All we have to fear is fear itself,” said U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when looking at the impact of the depression on his country.

As this New Year begins, badly, we still have hope. Help is on the way to Asia. The people of the world are coming together, acting individually, and pushing for collective action. Relief and assistance will make a difference.

People are offering more than best wishes, and Canadians are letting their governments know they expect action. This New Year confirms what Plato thought: a moral sense of what is right, and what is wrong, is innate to the human race.

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