04.22.2013 09:11 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: passion before reason

Following tragedy, offering one’s “thoughts and prayers” on social media is commonplace. People now do it in a ritualized fashion whenever bad things happen.

After the murders in Boston last week, average folks felt compelled to offer their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, allegedly of the Tsarnaev brothers, on platforms like Twitter. And, after the Boston Marathon murders — after 9/11, after Newtown, after any number of other calamities — politicians offered up their thoughts and prayers, too. Most of what they had to say is as banal as it is meaningless.

But the media and their critics carefully scrutinize their words, to ensure that it carefully aligns with the mood of the moment.

Justin Trudeau learned this lesson the hard way last week. A couple hours after the Boston bombings, when emotions could not be higher, Trudeau sat down to a scheduled interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. The Liberal MP had won his party’s leadership the day before, so making the rounds with the TV networks was de rigueur. But, in Boston’s immediate aftermath, the encounter was fraught with peril.

Mansbridge’s first question about the attacks was as predictable as it was fair. As prime minister, “what do you do?”

Trudeau’s answer, as is now well known, was an unmitigated disaster: “First thing, you offer support and sympathy and condolences and, you know, can we send down, you know, EMTs or, I mean, as we contributed after 9/11? I mean, is there any material immediate support we have we can offer?”

That was uncontroversial, if communicated poorly (in all, Trudeau said “you know” nine times in a single answer). Then Trudeau got himself into big trouble. Instead of expressing outrage about the terrorist attacks and sympathy for the many victims, Trudeau chose instead to play amateur sociologist.

“At the same time, you know, over the coming days, we have to look at the root causes,” he said.

“… There is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society. And our approach has to be, OK, where do those tensions come from?”

Trudeau similarly went on for another 126 words, but the damage had been done.

Stephen Harper immediately seized on the Liberal leader’s words, as did much of the conservative-dominated commentariat, deploring Trudeau’s response as insufficiently tough and too bleeding heart.

It did not matter that Harper himself had said there is indeed a need to determine the root causes of terrorism.

As Maclean’s Paul Wells revealed, in 2011 Harper had given a speech on the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism, pledging to find out “as much as we can about terrorists, their tactics, and the best solutions to protect people.”

That isn’t all that different from what Trudeau said, of course. But, much like his father would have done, Trudeau put reason ahead of passion. These days, in the social media era, passion always precedes reason.

Trudeau may not approve of that, but — having won his party’s leadership riding the crest of a social media wave — he should have known better.

He is unlikely to make that mistake again.


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    kitt says:

    Ya god forbid that we have a politician that thinks outside the box the media determines is proper. What kind of nation have we become???????

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    Ottawa civil servant says:

    I disagree: I think he’ll make that mistake over and over again.

    The LPC did itself no favours by having only gentle ‘debates’ which failed to test their candidates. Now the training wheels are off and every utterance is being recorded, every question becomes a landmine, every microphone an opportunity to soar or sink.

    Considering his 80% approval by the party, and his current public popularity, where else can he go but down? And I expect the Tories and NDP and Bloc have all mapped strategies to allow Justin to demonstrate his frailties.

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      Y. Mouse says:

      Would it have been suicidal for the LPC to let Trudeau mature a bit longer before pushing him into this role? It seems like he’s been set up to fail.

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      Nic says:

      I predict that Justin will be PM of Canada in 2019, unless he’s dethroned before 2015 after demonstrating he has risen to his level of incompetence, if not exceeded it..

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    Cecil B de Mille says:

    Why does there have to be this dichotomy between passion and reason? Surely the ideal is to passionately express rational, sound ideas? If JT was more rational (he admits this btw: “[My father] was an intellectual; me, I’m a bit less intellectual), he would have instantly understood the “root causes” – that terrorists are deranged fanatics, broken by hatred, whose pseudo ideology/theology has the same effect as a heavy c@caine habit – paranoia, delusions of grandeur, total loss of impulse control. Why? Freud, while generally wrong, was right about the death wish. There is an elemental drive in humans to destroy, kill, torture as an end in itself.

    It would have then been instantly easy to say something like: “as Prime Minister I would use every resource to bring these dangerous terrorists to justice.” If it were me, I would have made JT visualize Atticus Finch shooting the rabid dog – as a drama guy, he doesn’t seem to be well versed in method techniques – his team and advisors should put things in a language, paradigm that plays to his strengths, not his weaknesses. Is this really so complicated? Take five, then we’ll take it from the top. “We’re going to smoke ‘em out!” Yah! That’s a wrap!

    “The mood of the moment” – that is very well stated and is the supreme challenge of modern communications isn’t it? It’s like trying to lay hold of greased pigs, 24/7.

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    Swervin' Merv says:

    Good points, Warren. While passion won Justin the leadership, he assumed that Mansbridge (on behalf of Canadians) was looking for something beyond the standard “banal” (thoughts and prayers) response. Not surprising, given the desire to rise above the “no-think” Harperite era we have endured.

    Juggling passion and reason (as in “Just watch me!”) also got his father into trouble: too passionate for some voters, too intellectual for others. Tough to demonstrate a proper balance, which requires sustained attention, in an instant-reaction social media world.

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    the salamander says:

    Unfortunately for Stephen Harper, but fortunately for Canada, our Prime Minister cannot think on his feet or speak coherently.
    As well, he needs a researcher at his side to coach him on previous quotes, programs, pogroms, deceits and fables.
    Larding his pronunciations with multiple usage of ‘in fact’ .. ‘the facts are clear’ .. ‘as a matter of fact’ is typical HarperSpeak
    when in fact there is little or no fact or evidence related to his pontifications, evasions, ruminations and outright distortions.

    Paul Wells skewers our Prime Minister for his grave senior moment.. and credits Kady O’Malley
    You didn’t mention, Harper’s speech was to announce an actual program and spend dollars to understand terrorism
    ‘the Kanishka Project, a five-year, $10 million program to “invest in research on pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism.”
    Jason Kenney and Vic Taze are fried on the BBQ along with Das Stevie .. reading the entire article is extremely useful

    Regarding comments about the Boston bombings, its easy to spot how our Prime Minister also ridicules President Obama
    who’s perspectives on terrorist motivations match those of Justin Trudeau or anyone who understands evidence based processes.

    President Barack Obama declared Friday night that the capture of a second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings “closed an important chapter in this tragedy.”
    But he acknowledged that many unanswered questions remain about the motivations of the two men accused of perpetrating the attacks that unnerved the nation.

    “The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers,” said Obama, who branded the suspects “terrorists.” (Associated Press)

    Its not clear what ‘help’ the Prime Minister was offering Obama and the USA after the bombers were identified.
    Would he send a Sea King or two, loaded with Mounties, or blockade the border to repel the surviving 19 year old alleged murderer
    who would no doubt magically appear at the Buffalo border or arrive at Pearson International.

    Don’t keep threatening that Justin Trudeau’s possible answers to future questions will sink his ship. its fear mongering.
    Its doing exactly what the Harper Party and Harper Government are doing by using the ‘Boogey Man’ phenomena in their propaganda.

    Why not deal with facts.. Why not point out that there is no penalty for spouting absolutely ridiculous nonsense in public.
    Here’s an example.. (and the Chinese judge awarded Harper 9 out of 10 style points for using the work ‘paramountcy’)
    Harper defends closing the busiest Coast Guard station in Canada and taking those boats and jobs out of the water permanently.
    Has anyone sought the documentation re ‘based on the advice we have received’ or is that just typical Harper ass covering?

    ‘on Friday, Mr. Harper said his government is allocating its resources in a way that is best for the public.’ (Globe & Mail)

    “The paramountcy of government resources in this area is on public safety and the government is allocating its resources in a way that we believe,
    based on the advice we have received from the coast guard, that is best in terms of public safety,” the Prime Minister said.
    “That is to put as many of the resources as we can into actually having rescue boats in the water. That’s where we put our investments going forward.”

    Keep in mind that nobody has skewered Joe Oliver for his mendacious ass covering lawyerly public quote regarding the Northern Gateway pipeline
    “I, personally, have not said that this pipeline should go through.” Say what !!! ???

    Why doesn’t Justin just say what he wants.. and deny it tomorrow ….
    After all that’s what our big boys in short pants do ..

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    ok says:

    Is that possible someone put Kate Mcmillan to jail for all hate speech against muslim she said in her blog of SMALLDEADANIMALS.com

    she is f… b… woman…

    she try in any events take fish from muddy river to generized every crime to revenge ALL Muslim in Canada.

    Justin T is right about need to know cause of action some one must do we have enough passion for killing but how to stop it
    if in last year we had more 1500 accident in world this is orginzed crime either by use of Islam to do crime or may some nonmuslim can be behind it to defame all Muslim in world. We never has that much violance in past 15 years in all muslim countries is weired need to some one study cause of action of it.

    I will vote for Justin T as future PM for Canada. he is not emotional to go to war like Harper and his stupid blog fan like Kate Mcmillan smalldead animals to war ALL msulim as show passion that is not passion that is emotinal break down not match Canadian man charcters.
    STOP f…. ing b…. Kate McMillan or we will shut him down by law… by suing her and her anti muslim blog…

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    Eric says:

    It is an interesting article and also interesting to think how the elder Trudeau would have managed in the social media era. Would the videos of him pirouetting or shooting air pistols have increased or decreased his popularity as the bounced around the internet?

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      Interesting! I suspect he would be an even more polarizing figure than he was. EVERYBODY had an opinion about Trudeau. But his intelligence and biting sarcasm would not translate well in tweets. With the passing of broadsheet journalism, his nuance, and provocative style would not go down as well either, or so I suspect. I cannot think of anybody on the Political scene for a decade who comes across as a true intellectual. I am sure that there are many out there, that is just not part of their ‘public’ personna.

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    J.W. says:

    I’m surprised Peter Mansbridge has escaped all criticism. No other leader or opposition leader in the world had to answer questions on this two hours after the event with NO information available. And to make it more unfair, his answer would not be aired for 24 more hours. OK so if Trudeau was more astute he would dodged the question and given a spin control Harper PMO style non answer. But Mansbridge’s usual self satisfied gloating over this was sickening.
    But more interesting, the US has now entered into a full scale national debate on the root causes of this terrorist act, and how could seemingly American style boys go in this direction. The Ottawa punditry can’t admit it now, but Trudeau, just 2 hours after the event, predicted exactly how it would unfold and why.
    I never cease to be amazed at how most of the Ottawa media class have lost the ability to think clearly and independently on an event and issue like this.

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      Man Groupie says:

      that mellow smokey voice washes over you like a fine scotch …
      resistance is futile

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    Kaplan says:

    Sorry, while I agree that of course we need to examine root causes (how else to more effectively police and safeguard our society), JT’s answer was so poorly phrased that he all but begged for the arse-kicking he’s gotten.

    Harper’s thoughtless attack machine drives me to drink, but JT earned it in this case. Talking about “someone who feels excluded” in the wake of a terrorist bombing of civilians on American soil? What was he thinking? Truth is, seems he wasn’t thinking. As Warren notes, his stumbling answer reveals that he’s either given this little to no thought, or isn’t quite as quick on his feet as Liberals might hope.

    Either way, so not good.

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    JH says:

    Trudeau senior also said, when asked how far he would go with terrorists, ‘just watch me’ and to another CBC (Tim Ralfe) type at that. Don’t think he was looking for root causes, although I will agree once the crisis is over – then’s the time to think about doing that, as is the case here.

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      J.W. says:

      I guess you didn’t hear about the repatriation of the constitution. I think elder Trudeau spent a lot of time concerned with the root causes of Quebec separatism or alienation from the rest of Canada. Obviously like Justin he condemned terrorism but you can’t say he wasn’t a deep thinker on the issues he faced before and after the FLQ problems.

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    Mike Lesperance says:

    It took you a week, but you nailed it.

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    Ted H says:

    We have this multi-billon dollar security industry in the Western World, the biggest make work project ever undertaken and a bottomless pit sucking money from most other government programs.

    I guess the proper response from a politician isn’t a reasoned one, good heavens no, it must be a response that blindly justifies this industry and maintains it’s dubious necessity in the public mind.

    After all, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

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