It’s one of two possibilities. One, it’s a candid and honest admission by Justin Trudeau about one of Justin Trudeau’s shortcomings, for which he deserves credit. Or, two, it’s a bit of pre-conditioning – some inoculation – against future verbal gaffes. Which is shrewd, and for which he also deserves credit.
Either way, there’s no downside – and a fair amount of upside – to giving such a year-end interview. He wins either way.
As the cliché suggests, there’s always a but. Mine is this, drawn from one of my books, The War Room:
“To evaluate the effectiveness of a political story or advertisement, I always watch it with the sound off. That way, I’m forced to consider the visual impact for what is a visual medium. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for instance, understand the power of image — he allowed the media to take many pictures of him during his twelve years in the White House, but never wearing the braces that he was forced to wear after being struck with polio. So, too, Ronald Reagan’s former advisor, Michael Deaver, who was obsessed with television images: “I have always believed that impressions are more important than specific acts or issues … I believe TV is a great boon to us in judging our leaders. It lets us see all the dimensions that, in the past, people could only see in person: the body language, the dilation of the eye, the way they perspire. We see them when they are tired, worried, under great crises. If television focuses on somebody every day, it shows all the dimensions.”
I didn’t like Ronald Reagan’s policies, and I didn’t like what Deaver did on Reagan’s behalf. But his observation about “impressions” is a credo I live by. It’s what I tell my clients, too.
When it comes to your public reputation, what matters most isn’t facts. It is impressions – the impressions of you that are built up over time by ongoing media coverage. Some judgments are made on the basis of a single story, to be sure. But, mostly, citizens form judgments after looking at, or reading, a lot of stories over a period of time. No single fact typically sways public opinion (which is why scandal stuff rarely sways public opinion, but that’s a post for another day). Shared impressions acquired over time, however? Those matter.
That’s the risk Justin Trudeau runs, here. Whether he and his team are aware of it or not, they are presently creating impressions about Justin’s suitability to be Prime Minister. Personally, I know he’d be a fine Prime Minister – but I like people who are iconoclasts, and colourful, and who take risks, and who refuse to be J. Alfred Prufrock. It’s how I’ve lived my own life, in fact.
But I’m not running to be Prime Minister. So, Justin and Gerald and Cyrus and a small group of others need to consider this:
What do Canadians want in a Prime Minister? If their near-decade of support for Stephen Harper is any indication, they have lately wanted a Tim Hortons-loving, hockey Dad Everyman. So, ipso facto, are the impressions being created by Team Trudeau going to help Justin Trudeau ultimately become Prime Minister?
Personally, my heart says: Please God, yes. My head says: