Political biography offers cure for U.S. election hangover

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 10, 2016

Andy Marshall considers the positives and negatives of former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes’ tenure in this unauthorized biography, Thin Power. Photo by Warren Harbeck

I’ve long admired Cochrane author Andy Marshall. He typifies the best in journalistic integrity and objectivity. Well acquainted with the halls of political power at all levels in Canada, he refuses to be intimidated by powerful people.

A beautiful example of this is Andy’s just-published book, Thin Power. The unauthorized biography of former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes offers a not-naïve look at the controversial politician who led that city from 1969-1977.

Andy’s analysis is filled with the kinds of well-informed insights that support his reputation as a wise commentator on the impact of politics on society as a whole.

I asked Andy, drawing on his extensive encounters with the former mayor, what he might say to our neighbours to the south for national healing following their just-completed bitterly divisive presidential election.

“The U.S. election hangover has set in,” he responded. “Many yearn for reconciliation and hope. Almost as many, though, pledge to fight on. It’s easy to predict a messy political battle ahead. Kindness, caring and respect will be severely tested.”

One reason Andy wrote about former Calgary mayor Rod Sykes was his understanding of Sykes’ sense of moral outrage, he said. “I appreciated the vehemence with which he attacked adversaries. Rage can be useful to fuel political popularity and social change. It can also be unproductive, alienating, or worse.

“I was taken aback by Sykes’ response when, during his second election campaign, his main opponent was sick and couldn’t attend a forum. Sykes mocked him for his cowardice and said the illness showed he lacked stamina to be mayor.

“That sort of attitude, relatively rare in the 1970s, has become commonplace today. Provoking electoral disenchantment mostly helped Rod Sykes. The jury’s split on the effectiveness of heightened nastiness in the U.S. election.”

Citing the views of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Andy added: “We think we make political judgments after painstaking rational deliberation. Haidt sees a reverse process. We instinctively judge – based on our moral impulses – then reason. He bravely hopes understanding our brain processes will cool political combativeness.

“Politicians’ flaws described in Thin Power certainly seem milder than today’s excesses; finding effective antidotes will challenge us. A start is seeking better insight into our darker, opinion-making processes.”

Andy will be speaking about Thin Power at the Cochrane Public Library at 6:30 PM, Nov. 18. This promises to be a most enlightening evening, not only about the former Calgary mayor, but also about politics and the wellbeing of society in general. See you there.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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