Last night, Michael Den Tandt wrote an Op-Ed piece for The National Post on 19 year-old Sam Oosterhoff who recently crushed his political opponents in a November by-election for Ontario’s Niagara West-Glanbrook riding. Oosterhoff is a Progressive Conservative and he won by a landslide, taking over former PC leader Tim Hudak’s seat. With nine candidates in the running, Oosterhoff accumulated 54% of the vote; his closest rival wasn’t even able to attract 25% of the votes. Tandt’s disappointing thesis: Oosterhoff’s “political career is already doomed” because the young man is a social conservative and an orthodox Christian. Oh, the horror! And, so far, the media hasn’t been nice to the young upstart from wine country.
It should be expected that the climate in which politicians operate is one of distrust and intrigue. No politician gets a free-pass and no one should expect to put their political hat in the ring without notching a few cuts and bruises, maybe even a black-eye, along the way. In a word, politics is brutal: reserved for only those with leather for skin and a stomach cast in iron. In many ways, practical, pragmatic, and pliable politicians have brought this fate upon the entire group. Unfortunately, that includes their younger, untested colleagues. And those that make their living holding politicians to account – reporters – are always searching for the next scoop, slip-up, or scandal from the political class: a ten-second soundbite that will solidify the masses misconceived and contrived notions about those in power, especially if they openly associate or identify with a particular group. Just ask black, Muslim, or lesbian politicians – some of the traditional groups that are cast aside as the “other” in electoral ridings throughout the western world.
In this particular case, reporters were baiting Oosterhoff to say something off-putting about homosexuals, marriage, gender issues, or anything else that could be construed as yet another Christian being hateful, bigoted, elitist, or otherwise offensive. To his credit, Oosterhoff handled himself very well in those political scrums, easily deflecting tough questions and wisely refusing to answer others, as though his personal beliefs should be available for mass consumption. To the chagrin of reporters, Oosterhoff has demonstrated a high-degree of political and social acuity. If that deftness is more than just luck and circumstance (which it appears to be), Oosterhoff could make politics his career.
Tandt the Defeatist, however, wants his readers to believe the opposite to be true. Tandt is projecting his own attitudes, biases, and conjecture upon Oosterhoff. Tandt finds the media’s treatment of this young member of the provincial parliament to be over-the-line, yet he fails to point to any specific questions that were problematic, only noting the “contempt” shown by reporters. It’s unclear how Oosterhoff’s treatment differs from that of elected leaders across the country during political scrums. Reporters can be vicious and nasty, saddled with the cumbersome baggage of their own biases and past experiences. Tandt sees contempt where others see opportunity – a young, untested politician that can be flustered into saying something foolish. It appears that Tandt is really establishing a self-fulfilling procephy for his own I-told-you-so moment: Oosterhoff is a Christian and “liberal Ontario” will never accept him because of his views.
Perhaps this comes as a surprise, Mr. Tandt, but voters that consider themselves socially liberal are also Christians. In the real world, as opposed to the one Tandt is attempting to create, there is no monolithic Christian (or non-religious) viewpoint: there is an array – a spectrum, if you will – of political viewpoints that are entirely accepting of Oosterhoff who will hopefully continue to usher in a more progressive conservative viewpoint than his predecessor. Unlike other professionals, Oosterhoff already knows when to share his thoughts, and when it’s wise to keep them to himself.
Tandt then turns to how Oosterhoff has been treated by social media followers, as though this carries the same weight of a reporter or columnist. If Tandt is truly concerned about the way in which politicians are treated in social media, that conversation is an important and relevant one. However, to bring this into the discussion about “Poor Sam Oosterhoff” is to treat the young adult with kid-gloves: Oosterhoff chose to run in politics (a seemingly brilliant choice); he chose to enter an arena where anyone with an internet connection and an app think that their views and opinions have inherent worth and value (they do not); and he chose not to scurry out the back door when faced with an unpleasant, unsavoury, and unfavourable political scrum (deserved or not).
If anything, Mr. Tandt, your viewpoint is dismissive of Oosterhoff and only drags him down into your abyss – a world where Christians are the “other” and are socially and politically handicapped by their belief system. Perhaps the young, charismatic Oosterhoff will change people’s minds about Christians or change the way in which religion is understood by Ontarians. Maybe not. But don’t count-out the “kid from Ontario wine country” just yet: allow him the opportunity to refine his voice and stand his ground as a politician, as an elected official to represent his constituency in the provincial legislature. There is more to Oosterhoff than his identity as a Christian and social conservative.