02.24.2014 08:01 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: when has saying dumb stuff ever been an impediment to political office?

Funny story: back when Adlai Stevenson was running to be president, a woman came up to the Democratic nominee.

“Every thinking person will be voting for you,” she gushed. Stevenson, who would go on to an impressive loss against Dwight Eisenhower, was unfazed. “Madam,” he said, “that is not enough. I need a majority.”

It’s an anecdote worth remembering. In politics, as is well-known, intelligence and power are often mutually inconsistent concepts. Case in point: Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

It is not enough to say that Ford never seems to be troubled by deep thoughts. It’s even more than that: Mayor Crackhead positively revels in the fact that he belongs in the same shed where the other tools are kept. The ones that aren’t, you know, sharp.

If the pointy-headed downtown intellectuals are against him, Ford couldn’t be happier. “I side with the poor people,” wheezes Rob, the son of a multi-millionaire.

Ronald Reagan used to be called dumb, too, but he did alright, didn’t he? Handily won the presidency twice, and he remains revered by conservatives as the greatest-ever communicator.

Back in the early Eighties, before airports would be named after them, Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan privately got along well enough. Trudeau regarded Reagan as gracious, and often remarked to his circle that the US president was a genuinely kind and pleasant man.

To his critics, however, Reagan was not bright. Then and now, they saw Reagan as a fool. A dummy.

Watching Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son give a convention speech on Saturday, I thought – as I often do – about Ronald Reagan. Their respective ideologies could not be more dissimilar, of course. But in other respects, Reagan and the younger Trudeau sometimes seem cut from the same cloth.

Reagan was a Hollywood actor; Trudeau was a drama teacher. Like Reagan, Trudeau has a fondness for the dramatic and (occasionally) melodramatic. Too much flair, too much theatre, can be dangerous in politics. It can leave voters wondering about your authenticity.

But for both Reagan and Trudeau, the dramatic flourishes attracts many more voters than it repels.

The Republican leader and the Liberal leader have an affinity for a slightly hokey style of politics, too, one that always favours pictures to the written word. It’s a style that is steeped in the power of symbolism.

So, there is Reagan joking with his doctors – as John Wayne would – after he is shot by a would-be assassin. There is Trudeau, pummeling Patrick Brazeau in the boxing ring, and shrugging his Wayne-like assessment afterwards: “He didn’t know that I could take it and keep going.”

Mostly, however, Reagan and Trudeau share this: they do not profess to be intellectuals. Trudeau has gone out of his way to suggest that he isn’t one.

Perhaps recalling what happens when his party has recently sought out an intellectual as a leader – eg., Dion, Ignatieff – Trudeau, like Reagan, seems amused that he is regularly dismissed as an intellectual lightweight.

The bad news, for the likes of Reagan and Trudeau, is regularly being mocked for being a bit dim-witted.

The good news, of course, is being underestimated by one’s opponents. ‘Cause it’s the ones doing the underestimating who usually end up doing this:





  1. Sean says:

    Comparing Trudeau with Reagan is hardly parallel-Dan Quayle would be more apropo

    • Swervin' Merv says:

      Why is Trudeau the only Canadian who can’t get credit for a hockey reference? “The lady (Cons and NDP) doth protest too much, methinks.” The fear factor has gone up since recent polls and the fact that Justin looked very confident (and thus electable) in his Saturday keynote speech. Good growth in the last year, especially in handling media questions.

    • Cameron Prymak says:

      I see you couldn’t be bothered to get to the last sentence in the article.

    • Robin says:

      Haha, Sean, expressed like a true Harper Conservative – he scares you, doesn’t he? Don’t fret, Prime Minister Trudeau will be good for Canada, all Canadians, not just the wedges.

  2. MississaugaPeter says:

    There is no doubt that JT is charismatic. He even makes middle aged men like Curran gush over him.

    If an election were held today, and he had not endorsed the legalization of marijuana, he would win in a landslide.

    The question is: Will JT or the folks around him mess it up in the next 18 months?

    It would be silly to bet against him, since he has won every time.

    P.S. Older Canadians (the ones who actually vote) are sick of hypocritical Harper. Many of them would join the JT bandwagon if it was not for the marijuana issue. They will sit out the next election unless the Conservatives replace Harper. If they do not vote, JT in a cakewalk.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      We ALWAYS vote. 🙂

    • Cynical says:

      Wrong on that generational thing.

      I’m part of that generation and the pot stuff is big “who gives a shit?”. I really don’t care about legalization. I do care about decriminalization, pragmatically. My neighbour the RCMP guy just wants an unambiguous law so he knows who to arrest. He does not give a shit either, really, as he is under no illusion that smoking marijuana is some great moral failing.

      I won’t vote for JT to get pot legalized. I’ll vote for him to get rid of Harper.

      • Robin says:

        Cynical, well said. I support legalization, as Ralph Klein was fond of saying: “You can leap a canyon in two jumps!” Legalization is good for the economy, it brings a thriving underground and untaxed or regulated industry into the mainstream. It’s smart policy and smart politics. As far as generational, the Baby Boomers will align with Trudeau, older Canadians smoke pot or their grandchildren do and they don’t want their grandchildren getting a criminal record for smoking a plant when alcohol does more harm. The elderly aren’t the same as my grandparents, we are becoming the elderly and, frankly, they grew up in the 60s. Think about it. The 1960s redux with Trudeau II – beautiful.

        • Robin says:

          That should read: You CANNOT leap a canyon in two jumps! In other words, if you’re eventually going to go there, just do it!

      • MississaugaPeter says:

        Cynical, the marijuana issue is what keeps many older folks from joining the JT bandwagon.

        Obviously it is not 100% of older folks (many of whom have got on board).

        The point is that it would be JT in a cakewalk if the marijuana issue had just been kept under wraps.

        I am sure polling is revealing that this is Trudeau’s real Achille’s heel, since the Conservatives are now persistently advertising this point.

  3. Matt says:

    There’s dim-witted comments and then there’s downright stupid comments.

    Trudeau’s appearance on Sunday night’s Tout Le Monde en Parle featured the latter, when he tried to make a joke out of the murder of innocent protestors in Ukraine.

    “President Yanukovych has been made illegitimate. It’s very worrying, especially because Russia lost in hockey, they’ll be in a bad mood. We fear Russia’s involvement in Ukraine,” Trudeau said.

    “Just because of hockey?” asked Guy Lepage, the show’s host.
    “No. That’s trying to bring a light view in a situation that’s extremely serious,” Trudeau said.


    • MississaugaPeter says:

      Matt, it may support the Conservative narrative, but there is just too much anti-Harper sentiment out there that it will not hurt JT.

      For every JT misquote/error, the Liberals should just highlight another Conservative lie.

      The feeling in the trenches towards Harper is the same as it was towards Mulroney at the tail end of his second term. And if Harper doesn’t get Keystone, as it seems will be the case, Harper may even have folks within his party demanding his departure.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:


        This is the CPC. No one ever gets to demand anything of Harper least of all replacing him with MacKay as a recent poll suggests. Harper is in total control — until he decides he no longer wants to be.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      Has Harper ever been on that program? Just curious but some how I doubt it.

      • Matt says:

        So, if I understand you, your defence of Trudeau’s ridiculous attempt to make a joke out of the killing of innocent people by government forces in Ukraine is to say ‘Oh well at least he goes on this show unlike Harper’


        You must be a full fledged member of the Cult of Justin if you can’t even admit to yourself his statement was stupid.

    • smelter rat says:

      Really Matt? The story of the day is some Con named Butt lying not once, but twice in the HOC, and the apparent no consequence from the CPC. Not to mention he’s one of the fartcatchers currently re-writing our election laws. So, JT’s comments, taken out of context? Who fucking cares?

    • GPAlta says:

      Putin is an egomaniac psycho who forced Ukraine into violence in the first place. He is obsessed with propaganda and with the Olympics. Ukrainian protesters deliberately escalated their anti-Russian protests to coincide with Putin’s Olympics for maximum effect. All of Russia is united against the US for cheating in hockey. These things are related, like it or not. Russia’s bad mood is the real issue.

  4. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I prefer to keep my dumb stuff short and sweet: Kathleen wins, both Pauline and Stephen lose. Over and out.

  5. Ridiculosity says:

    Trudeau isn’t Reagan. But he does have the charisma of Clinton. No question there.

    On the other side, we have Harper – who has all of the charisma of Putin. The same stony face. And the same approach to governing.

  6. Terry says:

    Harper governs like Putin? Yeah. Fershure, eh? Hey! I just noticed a bunch of Harper’s snipers on the rooftop across from my apartment bldg., and a couple of them were horsewhipping a few pussyriot wannabe’s.

  7. PeggyW says:

    Trudeau occasionally puts his foot in his mouth, as all politicians do, and the Conservatives and media gleefully pounce. At least he is smart enough to surround himself with smart people, a true sign of good leadership. Harper, on the other hand, has a poor track record in this regard yet seems to suffer under the delusion that his decisions are infallible.

  8. Paul says:

    that is the most ridiculous comparison I have ever heard

    Reagan was a governor of the largest state in the country for two terms.

    The problem with Trudeau isn’t just glaring intellectual emptiness … it’s total lack of any qualification. It’s so embarrassing for Canada that this man is considered a serious candidate.

    You are right, however, that the electorate does not always care about smarts.

    When I talk to supporters about Trudeau they say things like ‘he has a heart’ and Harper is a ‘milky white robot’ … I mean, does it matter if the PM is a nice guy? It makes one very cynical about politics

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      I think it’s adorable how all the JT groupies defend him to the point that obvious errors are celebrated as symbols of his commonality, genuineness and freshness. Sadly, this isn’t Justin Beiber, and he will need to stand in front of cameras long before the election and answer real, unscripted questions without dashing out a back door surrounded by security guards.

      In a ll seriousness, how will you sell his (hidden) agenda, during the election, when he will be defending comments about China’s dictatorship, marijuana, supporting Québec leaving a “Harper Canada,” knowing why the Boston bombings happened (before the suspects were known), ….? Just from a campaign distraction perspective, it reminds me of Harper’s “Firewall” comment that stayed with him for 10 years.

  9. Terry says:

    Thanks Warren. Your last two post: right on, on both counts.

  10. Ryan Spinney says:

    Reagan never had to face Tom Mulcair. I once saw Tom debating Ralph Goodale and by the end Ralph was foaming at the mouth (metaphirically).

    And I’m not a fan of defending dumb people being in office. Yes dumb people get elected, but guess what, its a disaster every single time. Name one dumb person who has ever governed well.

    Also not all the ones who won were rightwingers, the left has no tolerence for twits, whereas rightwingers hate government and don’t mind sabotaging it with twits. The only chance Justin has of winning is to run to the right, to suck up Harpers votes, but that means scarificing his left flank to Tom.

  11. frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

    I am a fan of M. Trudeau……anyone who can bring the LPOC to a level of support to rid Canada of the autocrat, is fine by me…….but I winced when I read about the Ukrainian joke……
    I agree with Mr. Kinsella that M. Trudeau should have apologized.
    I hope that this is just another small hiccup, because I would like to think the man is growing in the job…..

    • Les Voix says:

      “small hiccup”? More like a nasty burp, and since when is political leadership an on-the-job training exercise? Justin most definitely “in over his (empty) head”.

  12. Marc-Andre Chiasson says:

    James Moore and Jason Kenney who first tweeted about this have absolutely no understanding of the context. “Tout le monde en parle” is a special kind of show that looks at issues through the combined lenses of comedy and reality, all from the Quebec perspective. That’s what all the guests and hosts do. Can’t think of any comparable show on English Canadian TV. Some late night American shows would be the closest. Watch the video of the show. Justin did also address the serious side of the issue. CPC luminaries and apologists should take lessons in developing a balanced sense of humour. Perhaps they could seek advice from The Preston Manning School of Chuckles. Sorry Warren but I don’t think Trudeau should apologize. I watch the show faithfully and that’s the way it always rolls, both with serious and less serious issues. I doubt if many on this web site have ever watched the show.

    • Interesting, but be that as it may, Moore and Kenney do not need to understand context, they merely need to point to the actual words. There is a reason why sarcasm is a dangerous luxury for politicians. Because tone does not matter on a written transcript. I am not terribly bothered about the mis-step, but it was a mis-step.

  13. steve says:

    The bootlicking con press keeps repeating the big lie that Trudeau admires communist China. But the little left wing is not as vocal defending him. Its obvious Harper wants to muzzle and bland down Justin, make him afraid to speak human. Look at Harper and you can see the projection, yet no one takes him to task for his statements. For example him going all Bob and Doug over winning beer from Obama, yet he said recently he does not drink. MAJOR GAFFE ALERT should go off. Justin needs to inoculate himself a bet more. Keep saying I am who I am, maybe every statement I make will not be robotic and i do nuance, I know Conservative do not do nuance and that will be there downfall because nothing defines Canadians like their love of nuance.

  14. Sean says:

    Justin has apologized, which is exactly the right thing to do.

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