MaltaToday: What’s left and what’s right?
OPINION | Sunday, 20 January 2008

What’s left and what’s right?


“New ways of looking at the world are emerging, but the language of talking about them and what they mean hasn’t caught up” says American professor Anne Fausto-Sterling.
There are politicians like Barack Obama and Tony Blair who help in our quest to find the language to describe the new world that is emerging, and to help us develop the mindset and behaviour that we need to face the challenges created by this new world.
Two weeks ago Obama spoke of his intention: “To end the political strategy that’s been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.”
Yesterday week in Paris, Tony Blair talked about how globalisation is making the concept of left-wing and right-wing politics a thing of the past. He did not need to press this point too much given that he, a former Labour leader and Prime Minister of one of the most successful left of centre governments in the UK, was addressing a meeting of 2,000 supporters of President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he advised on his rise to power in France and now runs a cabinet of ministers chosen from the left and right of French politics.
Blair stressed that globalisation was eradicating traditional party lines and class distinctions and rendering old political remedies obsolete. “It’s about today versus yesterday. Less about politics and more about a state of mind; open as opposed to closed.”
Blair went on to say: “Terrorism, security, immigration, organised crime, energy, the environment, science, biotechnology and higher education. In all these areas and others, we are much stronger and able to deliver what our citizens expect from us if we are part of a strong and united Europe… Europe is not a question of left or right, but a question of the future or the past, of strength or weakness.”
Kirk Johnson, analysing the US presidential campaign in The New York Times, observes that so far, “change” is a constant theme of both Republican and Democrat candidates. All of them are promising change. Johnson says that changes in science, the economy, the American culture and society are pushing American politics to change and “many of the social issues that divide Americans are shifting and evolving – perhaps even in some instances into a new consensus, or at least a reframing of the old debates.”
Johnson observes that 46 years ago, President John F. Kennedy had already realised that many of the great debates that had fired American politics till his time had become a bit redundant: “Most of us are conditioned for many years to have a political viewpoint – Republican or Democratic, liberal, conservative or moderate. But most problems have become technical problems, administrative problems; they are very sophisticated judgements which do not lend themselves to the great sort of passionate movements which have stirred this country so often in the past.”
Many persons around the world, even in Malta, still prefer the divisions and the categories of the past where they could identify themselves more easily and knew what they stood for and what they were against. Some even think that this blurring of divisions means the death of politics and a betrayal of traditional roots.
The main contribution that Alfred Sant has made to the Labour Party and to Maltese politics is his hard work to change local traditional tribal politics, make politics less of a religion and more of a problem-solving commitment, less passionate, more reasonable, instead of politics as a war, politics as a wide and deep conversation within the party and Maltese society where everybody is invited to join in and take part. The old language of many of his critics has still not caught up with his new way of doing politics. His flexibility and his willingness to change his position are taken as unprincipled pragmatism and opportunism.
Philosophy professor Martin Bunzl, who works on climate change and energy issues (two areas where old political ideas are totally obsolete), says that the quieting of a controversy can speak louder than the clamour of the fight itself. “There is much more change going on than we realize. And one way it expresses itself is how all of a sudden we realize that what was an issue no longer matters.”
More than 40 years ago Chinese Communist statesman Deng Xiaoping had already grasped that what mattered for people was not whether their politicians belonged to the orthodoxies of the left or of the right. What really mattered was whether the politicians came up with practical solutions for the everyday problems they met in their lives and whether they were able to bring about the changes that were needed to make things better.
Deng said: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

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