Many Canadians are thinking about Jack Layton today; I know I am. The press conference held by the leader of her majesty's loyal opposition yesterday was jarring—less so from the news itself, than from the visual and audio evidence of the effects that cancer is having on Mr. Layton's body.
The newspapers are already starting to fill up with commentary on the implications of Mr. Layton's illness. Chris Selley's in the Post is among the best, as it focuses on the complex relationship between a private illness and a public identity:
Looking back on the day, my dominant thought is: Wow. So that's what it's like to be a high-profile public figure and get cancer. Bad enough your component cells are conspiring to murder you, now you've got a pack of hounds dissecting your every utterance and demanding to know your most intimate medical details. It's awful. And yet, it matters. Mr. Layton and his party matter, far more now than ever before. Canada needs its leader of the opposition. And the NDP doesn't just need a leader—it needs Mr. Layton.
There is no doubt that Selley is right. The NDP managed to grow strong in this past election, largely because many Canadians felt that Jack was their friend; that he was on their side. His demeanour and attitude during the campaign—even alongside the sharp barbs he threw at his opponents—exuded good will. Many people in politics underestimate the strength of this, but they shouldn't.
They shouldn't, because the feeling of good will is a key to friendship. And friendship among citizens, according to Aristotle, is one of the highest ends of politics, and one of the strongest social glues.
It is interesting, now that Mr. Layton has taken a turn for the worse, to witness the outpouring of good will from all Canadians to Mr. Layton. That this good will extends also from the person who finds himself at least two sword lengths apart from Mr. Layton in the House of Commons says a great deal about the health of our political culture. We are, despite the dissensus which marks our politics and culture, still a nation of friends.
And this display of friendship says a great deal about how Canadians view politics. We take it very seriously, but we know that at the end of the day, politics has its limits and its purpose. Politics won't cure Jack Layton, nor will even his indefatiguable optimism. Perhaps medicine will. Perhaps a miracle will. Perhaps they won't.
But we—and I pray that he also—can take comfort in the fact that politics has led to friendship. It's my hope that Jack can take comfort in knowing that he has friends across the country that are praying for his return to health.