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Fool me once: N.L. anti-politics

By: | August 6, 2015

Is there any point asking public figures to be responsible for what they say or do?

Jon Parsons
Power and Dissent offers a critical take on culture, society and politics in Newfoundland and Labrador

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Randy Simms. City of Mount Pearl photo.

Randy Simms, the mayor of Mount Pearl and a former VOCM talk show host, held a rally and press conference earlier this week to announce his candidacy for the Liberals in the upcoming provincial election.

During the media scrum, Simms responded to a question about some of his statements while working as a radio host, specifically with regard to the controversy over discussions with Innu First Nation chief Simeon Tshakapesh (video below) that saw Simms resign from the broadcaster.

He said:

One should never think that what you’re saying when you’re on a talk show, and the host of a talk show, is anything other than provocation for the purposes of creating a debate and creating the program. And that’s what I did for over eleven years.

What Simms is saying is that we should have never believed a word he said on the air. And if we happened to have some misplaced belief that he was anything more than a blowhard, it’s our own fault for being so naïve.

But I’m not really here to talk just about Randy Simms. The broader point I want to get at is that it’s apparently OK for public figures, whether in media, politics, captains of industry, union bosses, etc. — all those folks responsible for shaping the political landscape — to turn around and say “I didn’t mean what I said.”

“I was just kidding.”

“Psych.”

Politicians do this all the time, and not just when they are in office. After they retire or go on to other jobs, they will often say they did what they did or said what they said because it was necessary at the time, or because it was just politics, or some such thing, even if whatever they said or did resulted in a crisis or disaster or harmed loads of people.

It all boils down to the same attitude: “I’m not responsible for my past words and actions, and you should never have believed me in the first place.”

It’s actually ridiculous, if you think about it for a moment, for public figures to shirk responsibility like this, because what it indicates is that they believe ethics have a shelf life, or that the public has no right to know the truth (or couldn’t possibly handle it), or that the integrity of social or political institutions is only important as long as it is convenient for them.

What perplexes me most is that so many public figures—so many of these people who are supposedly our leaders and pillars of society—are apparently so bad at being self-critical of the role they play and the potential to do harm. It’s human to feel bad about a few things or to have some regrets, so wouldn’t it be just as well to admit it and try to do better?

I can’t speak for anyone else, and I’m certainly not presenting myself as some paragon of virtue, but I ask myself all the time if I am doing harm, whether that’s to do with my work in the university or even these humble musings in the Indy. And the answer I come up with is yes, I am doing some harm, and I’m willing to talk about that with other people in the university, or with my students, or with you, dear reader, in the comments on this article.

I’m not blameless and not without fault, and I wouldn’t have the gall to turn around and say, “Sure, b’y, I didn’t mean any of that anyways.”

I’d be laughed out of the university if that’s how I responded to criticism of a paper I wrote.

Now, the bar is admittedly quite low with respect to ethics and values among the so-called leaders of this province, and heaven forbid we have any sort of moral revolution and expect of them the same things we teach and expect of children.

But sometimes, just sometimes, maybe it’s OK to say, “My bad… I learned from my mistake and am better for it.”

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