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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Memory of Jack Layton

Jack Layton, 1950-2011.
Jack Layton was only a man.  That is clear.  But he was a very rare sort of man, and a very rare sort of politician.  He was sincere in a way that few in his profession ever are.  He was optimistic and forward-looking.  He was a man who garnered the respect of his political opponents in a way that would be nearly unfathomable in America.  (Indeed, it was nearly unfathomable in Canada.)

But sadly, he was indeed only a man.  Mortal.  His death on Monday may not have been a shock in light of his long-running battle with cancer, but it was depressing nonetheless.  And now we are left to reflect on what is missing from the world as a result.

What Mr. Layton accomplished in his last eight years was stunning.  Here was a mind that was able to manage political acumen of the highest order without sacrificing personal warmth and kindness.  And indeed, much of his politics was shaped by that basic human decency that so many members of his profession lack.  His politics were simple: do what you can to make the country, and the world, a better place for people to be in.  And really, who can't admire that?

But yes - the accomplishments.  Elected to head the NDP in 2003, few could have predicted the party's meteoric rise under his leadership.  Yet now - thanks in large part to Mr. Layton - the NDP stands as the official opposition, with more seats in the Canadian Parliament than ever before.  Jack Layton's time as party leader was nothing short of an absolutely monumental success.

There is more to take from Mr. Layton's career than just that, though.  American and Canadian politics aren't too different, after all.  And the NDP is a party much like what many American liberals think the Democratic Party should be.  Progressive keystone policies like universal healthcare, union support, progressive taxation, minority rights, environmental protections: Layton's NDP went to bat for these things time and again, with vigor and without fear.

In America, many Democratic politicians would fear a backlash at the polls were they to campaign like that.  And yet the NDP was instead rewarded with its largest share of the Commons ever.  This isn't an accident.  People genuinely do like these sorts of policies.  There's plenty of polling to suggest that.  But while our "left-wing" politicians cower and hide from their own platforms, Mr. Layton was a fearless and tireless advocate for Canadians.

Sadly, even that sort of political bravery and acumen could not stave off cancer.  No sunny disposition or basic decency can cure the sick by itself.  A man who was always fighting hard for the people who counted on him, in the end lost his own fight.  Thus we are deprived of one of the few truly reasonable and good political figures of our time.  

Canada, and the world, will miss Jack Layton.  That goes without saying.  But I hope, at least, that his passing causes liberals and progressives outside Canada to reflect on what they can do to make the world a better place.  And just maybe, we'll learn to fight just as hard as Jack.

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