Good politicians don’t need imaginary friends

11 August 2011 Politics
Photo by Mike Barber.

Photo by Mike Barber.

The term “silent majority” is often used as a cop-out by politicians that don’t want to address the concerns of those opposed to them. It’s an illegitimate tool used to artificially inflate the importance of one’s ideology. Inflated, in fact, by nothing more than hot air.

Wikipedia tells me the phrase was popularized by Nixon to justify his support of the Vietnam War in the face of immense opposition from the American people. It’s such a convenient term to use, because this “silent majority” cannot be identified, questioned, or verified. And yet, it lends such weight to empty arguments.

There’s a reason that the majority of people are publicly silent on most issues. Simply, they don’t care. At least, not as much as those who make their opinions known. What gives politicians the right to appropriate these peoples’ value systems for their own, like some maladroit conquistador?

If politicians can’t count on the support of the “silent majority” to bolster their unpopular policies, then are they reduced to mere mouthpieces of the most vocal citizens? Heavens no. All I ask is that they take ownership and responsibility for their ideas. Visionary leadership often runs counter to popular opinion; but that’s no reason to hide behind the veil of the “silent majority”. Politicians should not be afraid to go to uncomfortable lengths if it’s for a cause they believe to be for the common good. As Trudeau said, “Just watch me.”

It is with frustration, then, that I read Giorgio Mammoliti’s reaction to the hundreds of delegates who came to city hall to speak against the City of Toronto’s proposed service cuts. According to him, their concerns aren’t valid because a “silent majority” of people who support the cuts were too busy working to attend. Regardless of your political convictions, it’s a gutless, cowardly move by Mammoliti. If he had said, “Despite the opposition, these service cuts are essential for the City to be fiscally stable and I intend to pursue them,” I’d have more respect for the man. But he chose instead to deflect responsibility.

The term “silent majority” used to have a different meaning. It was used in the 19th century to refer to those who had died, and, euphemistically, “joined the silent majority”. It’s about time we brought that meaning back and laid the silent majority to rest.

Sam Nabi

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