Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Jack Layton: We've Expected Too Much

It's weird thinking about it now - it's odd how the most obvious things somehow only seem obvious in retrospect. Of course Jack Layton is sick. We've all known that for a while now. Before he bowled us over with that Cinderella story this spring, all the talk around Jack Layton was about his health. That's what the press asked him about the day the writs were dropped. Nobody expected much from him, and his health seemed to be the most noteworthy thing about him at that time.

But God we do love a Cinderella story. it wasn't just the come-from-behind, it was in fact the health battles, the idea that someone can overcome adversities both political and personal and achieve his dreams if he just pushed hard enough. Yes, the cane was a prop. But it was a constant reminder, too, that nothing could stop Jack Layton.

The whole saga has been inspiring, and I'd like to think that even if I wasn't a lifelong NDP supporter I'd still be enchanted by it. It's tough to imagine that the day will never come when we'll say the name 'Layton' with the hushed awe we usually reserve only for the very cream of the Canadian political elite.

The story is so enchanting, so exciting, that we could do nothing but to carry it on to the next level - to sit back with bated breath and watch Layton push that steamroller ahead and redefine the position of Official Opposition while consolidating his party's success in a big push for 2015 when he hit the road one more time to sell his vision to Canada and emerged triumphant at the first NDP Prime Minister in Canadian history.

God, were we stupid to dream that.

Don't think poorly of my usage of the past tense. I have not written the man off yet. But I can't help but feel that even the best-case scenario at this point precludes a Prime Minister Layton come 2015. That's too much to ask. We've been asking too much of Jack Layton for too long now. We've known he's been pushing himself too hard, wasting precious days of his life for the immediate short-term political goal. And we've let him.

Now, I know few people have given themselves over as wholly to the public life as Jack Layton has, and I'm well aware that trading a few years of comfortable retirement for the step forward his engineering has allowed his party to take would be a no-brainer of a decision for him. I am quite sure that he realises his political ambition and drive have if not caused than aided this cancer, and I'm quite sure he has no regrets about that.

But we should. For letting him. For letting our recognition of how much we needed him outweigh the very large number of things he obviously needed. Things he couldn't admit to himself. It is certainly true that the NDP tends to allow the personalities of its leaders to define the party to a perhaps frightening level, but in no small part that is because Jack Layton embodies not merely the spirit of the party but, outside of partisan designation, the passion, the unwavering belief and dedication and the selflessness of public spirit that so many natural NDP allies cherish both within the political arena and outside of it. Jack Laton is exactly what his supporters wish they could be.

And so we project. We put our own dreams and perhaps even disappointments on his shoulders by the millions, and we don't stop even when it becomes painfully obvious he can't bear them.

And yet he gamely tried to. And though I would be honoured to be wrong in saying this, it very well might kill him.

We had no right to expect all this from Jack Layton. He's already done more for the cause of progressivism in Canada than anyone for decades. As much as we would have hated it, and perhaps hated him for it, if he had retired from public office on the third of May, his place in Canadian history, and in the history of the NDP, would already be assured.

If only he'd retired on May 3.

I've spent a few months now dreaming of a Prime Minister Jack Layton in 2015. I no longer wish for that; what I dream of now is merely a healthy Jack Layton in 2015.

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