07.21.2015 08:11 PM

In this week’s Hill Times: a high IQ isn’t everything – but winning is

My Conservative friend (yes, I have some) posted something noteworthy on Facebook. It was a picture of a sign bearing the words: STOP MAKING STUPID PEOPLE FAMOUS. In this week, the Kanye West week, it struck a chord.
 
Most of the stuff one sees elsewhere on Facebook isn’t as noteworthy. There is the footage of the monkey with a machine gun, there is the footage of the cat snuggling with the baby deer, there is footage of people giving free hugs to strangers, there is (of course) footage of the IKEA monkey being the IKEA monkey in a tiny shearling coat.
 
There is a thread running through all of that digital ephemera. All of those videos – and all the other Internet memes – have been seen millions upon millions of times. They are more popular than any politician could ever hope to be. JFK’s inaugural speech? Ronald Reagan demanding that the Berlin wall be torn down? Nixon’s Checkers talk? Trudeau pleading for a “no” in the 1980 referendum? Not so important, anymore.
 
Stuff that is stupid? That’s important, now. That’s popular.
 
Politics, being made up of people, is as susceptible to popular trends as anything else. So, when stupidity triumphed, it was only a matter time before politics succumbed, too. It was inevitable.
 
Ipso facto, a Conservative MP actually likens her government to Christ. A governmental body invites Kanye West – an American, whom the President of the United States has correctly called “a jackass”– to be the headliner at the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremonies. The biggest city in Canada previously electing someone like Rob Ford, and in a landslide, too. And on and on. It is not an era where smarts seem to be dominating the proceedings.
 
Popular culture naturally celebrates anti-intellectual themes. That’s what popular culture is: anti-intellectual. It revels in it, positively rolling around in the muck left in the wake of Donald Trump (who is an asshole) and Justin Bieber (who is the shame of Canada) and Kanye West’s spouse (who is bigger than Jesus).
 
Ronald Reagan is definitive proof that an impressive IQ is not a prerequisite for high political office, either. The commander-in-chief was not the sharpest knife in the presidential drawer. Had he not been constitutionally limited, however, Reagan would have won a third term without breaking into a sweat.
 
His Republican successor, the aforementioned Trump, is now the leading contender in the Republican field. His racist, despicable remarks about Hispanics (and others) haven’t hurt him. They’ve helped him, in fact.
 
What does it all mean? Plenty, and all of it is depressing. Up here in Canuckistan, one gets the sense that Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair still attach some importance to thinking, and ideas, and whatnot. Both men seem to recoil from the show-bizzy aspects of the job. They know their limitations, and they stick with them. (Case in point: Harper modeled a cowboy leather vest at the Calgary Stampede once, was roundly mocked, and hasn’t done anything like it since.)
 
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, however, is different from Harper and Mulcair. He seems to be much closer to the popular culture than the other two guys.
 
That is because he seems to understand the lumpen-Zeitgeist better than Messrs. Harper and Mulcair do. In the lead up to his Liberal leadership win, and thereafter, Trudeau was singularly intent on making the point – over and over – that he was not an intellectual like his father. He is not, he said, “a faithful intellectual disciple of my father.”
 
That’s for sure.
 
On the one hand, it is not difficult to picture Harper or Mulcair debating the minutiae of economic or constitutional theory in a classroom somewhere, wearing corduroy jackets with leather patches at the elbows. It is more difficult to visualize Trudeau doing that.
 
Who is to say, however, that the Liberal leader is a lesser man for all of his populist inclinations? Who is to say what his adversaries consider his weakness is not, in fact, his strength? After all, in an era where Kim Kardashian can be celebrated on the cover of the Rolling Stone, no less, weird things can happen. Seizing the lowest common denominator isn’t ever anything to brag about, but it sure as shit seems to work.
 
There’s a paradox at work, here. In virtually everything they say about him, the Conservative and New Democrat leaders clearly insinuate that Justin Trudeau is not very bright. The Conservative Party of Canada is currently sponsoring a multi-million-dollar anti-Trudeau ad campaign, in fact, that makes that very point – he’s “just not ready” because he’s just not bright.
 
But will Trudeau have the last laugh? If the electorate are capable of electing the likes of Reagan and Ford – expressing genuine affection for both, even after illegal wars and illegal substances – isn’t it possible that they might just prefer Trudeau over Harper and Mulcair?
 
None of this is to say, of course, that Justin Trudeau is a dummy. He decidedly is not. One does not become leader of a national political party if one is stupid.
 
But by the same token, it is clear that Trudeau is not weighted down by complex thoughts. He believes that the people want something else, and he may well be right.
 
Characterizing the era as stupid, then, may be too harsh. Perhaps all that voters are seeking is simplicity. In this part of this Century, their lives have become inarguably complex, and they are receiving too much information all the time. So they naturally gravitate towards the option that is the most easy to understand.
 
Justin Trudeau, above all, is easy to understand. In this way, he may best represent the era – and he may therefore get to be Prime Minister along the way, showing all those pointy-headed intellectuals that they may be smart, but they’re not always right.
 
 

36 Comments

  1. JH says:

    I keep having two thoughts of late. One is that Justin Trudeau and Ben Mulroney could probably change jobs and no one would notice. Which doesn’t say much about them or the electorate these days. The second is that the CPC must surely love the way the Grits and the Dips are going at it on the pundit shows like P&P these days. Stockwell Day was almost gloating this evening and trying hard to control it.

  2. Fan590 says:

    Excellent post, Warren.

    As someone who has met all 3 in person over the years, Justin comes across as truly a nice guy and sharp.

    All the ‘angry political men’ who spend all day on Twitter won’t like this, but the reality is: women go nuts of Justin.

    And Justin and his team have positioned themselves with new citizens who are unhappy with being mistreated (and having their family mistreated) by the Cons.

    Get ready for PM Trudeau, despite his team.

  3. Priyesh says:

    I’ve been looking for a reason to support Trudeau, and get excited about Liberal chances again.

    Sadly, this is one of the most depressing defences of Trudeau I’ve ever read.

    It looks like my riding might be leaning NDP anyway…

    • Warren says:

      It isn’t a defence. It’s an indictment.

      • Priyesh says:

        Yeah, I thought so :/

        I guess I should learn to laugh about the Liberal party now.

        • MC says:

          I would suggest it is both an indictment and a defense. That is, that the best defense for Trudeau’s position and potential as prime minister is the very set of characteristics that indict him. It appears he’s got nothing more than that (so far) to offer.

  4. Peter says:

    He believes that the people want something else, and he may well be right

    He may be wrong too. Didn’t the Liberals choose Justin precisely because of a perceived inchoate yearning for change and the belief he was more in tune with “today’s” Canada, details to follow? The fact that Justin stumbles with every reckless policy announcement and the NDP seems tongue-tied, petrified of screwing up in Quebec or frightening too many people with grand initiatives, indicates to me that years of demonizing Harper with overheated doomsday rhetoric have led many on the left blind as to why, despite his well-earned vulnerabilities, many will vote for him precisely because he represents familiarity, caution and stodge in nervous times. It’s a long way from Facebook to a voting booth. Really, what evidence is there out there that any generation younger than nostalgic Boomers is yearning for transformative political change? I think Mulcair knows this, but it remains to be seen whether he will be hamstrung by his own party. There isn’t much evidence Trudeau sees this at all.

    But if I’m wrong and Canadians want their federal politicians to reflect the cultural zeitgeist, isn’t the obvious solution to replace one Justin with another?

  5. Joe says:

    In a lot of ways Trudeau reminds me of Trump and his appeal is largely the same based on Canadian bigotries. Trudeau has expressed his idea that the PM should only come from Quebec and that sentiment seems to resonate with the Upper and Lower Canada bigots who are against Harper because he is from the realms. He is an interloper. He’s not one of us.

    • Matt says:

      While I’ll never be accused of being a Trudeau fanboy, I believe what he actually said was the best PM’s in Canadian history have come from Quebec, not that PM’s should only be from Quebec.

  6. Lance says:

    Well, Trudeau is going to have to go on what he already has or doesn’t. Seeing as no one cares what is going on in politics right now until everyone comes back in September, there will be no time left to build him up any more. So from this point on for Trudeau, EVERYTHING is going to have to rest on the election campaign. And you know what THAT means – desperation time, which further means something zany, like Martin trying his little gamble with the Notwithstanding Clause.

  7. P. Brenn says:

    interesting take…you are as good as your advisors – given the things (reality shows, celebrity worship, some of things that go viral on net , ) that seem to attract folks interest these days not much is rocket science … politically if you can get on a roll with the masses you dont need a big intellect to win …as did Reagan and Ford and others… in reality Justin has looks, charisma , there is a will out there for change but as documented on other threads here not sure he is being properly advised…we will see

  8. hollinm says:

    Trudeau may not be stupid (that is open to question) but the fact remains he is now faced with a Muclair in the political debates during the campaign. Doing you honestly believe that Trudeau will be able to match the bloviating of Mulcair? I doubt it. Then when they get both Mulcair and Harper going at him in the other debates on specific topics all will be revealed that he has limited knowledge of anything. However, I am sure his hair will be combed for nicely.
    Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal party because of his name. Full stop. There is nothing he has done that would qualify him for the job. In fact his own party didn’t take him seriously enough to give him a senior critics role. That say everything you need to know about the dauphin.

    • davie says:

      I would not bet against JT in the debates. If a guy’s party is in 3rd place, and he is balancing winning the election, with being okay with getting more seats than last time, he just might be more relaxed than the other debaters. I think that a relaxed, alert, prepared competitor can do well.

      • JJ says:

        Exactly.

        Many have underestimated Justin to such depths that they’ve inversely overestimated the performance of the other two individuals in those debate. Which isn’t a good thing if your Tom Mulcair or Stephen Harper. Even the slightest slip-up in the debates can come as a big surprise and overshadow the low-expectation/low-performance of Justin Trudeau.

        Remember, Thomas Mulcair’s exact words were “I’ll wipe the floor with Justin”. Well now that he’s up in the polls he can’t score any easy points by going after a guy who’s behind him in the polls. He’ll look like a vindictive a-hole. Both Stephen and Thomas have the most to lose here and they’ll have to be very careful.

  9. Jim Walsh says:

    “None of this is to say, of course, that Justin Trudeau is a dummy. He decidedly is not. One does not become leader of a national political party if one is stupid.”

    After mentioning Reagan, and Ford? The same argument could be along the lines of “One does not become the nominee to be President if one is stupid.”. These things are as much about the intelligence of the people who loft those people into the roles as it is about them.

    And I don’t think people consider Trudeau to be actually stupid. More like average intelligence. Which is fine, for the most part. But it’s probably below the bar to run a G-8 economy. And yes, yes, in a Parliamentary system, he’d have help, etc..etc..

  10. EB says:

    I am not sure why, Warren, but this article made me think of the 1979 Peter Sellers movie, “Being There”.

  11. Purple Library Guy says:

    Thing about Trudeau is, he’s not substantial, but he’s not really transparent either. Successful dummies tend to have some simple ideology, some basic message which, unlike smarter people, they are willing to repeat over and over again without getting bored. Harper actually has some of this advantage, because although smart, as a robot he is quite capable of reciting the same canned talking points forever.
    Trudeau on the other hand, just seems to say scattered, semi-random stuff. It isn’t clear what he stands for in particular, he has no core message, what if anything is under the pleasant surface is hard to tell. This lets people project onto him what they want, which can be an advantage and I think was for a while, but it isn’t any more–people have started projecting the notion that he’s a foolish narcissist. Trudeau is neither stupid and unimaginative enough nor smart enough. He has a lot of the disadvantages of a really smart person in that he muses about a lot of different things, but not the advantage of really knowing what he’s talking about when he airs those musings. It’s the worst of both worlds.
    All that he really has going for him is that no matter what, he really does seem like a nice, pleasant guy.

  12. SUZANNE says:

    Here’s the problem. The thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t demand their politicians be bright at many things, but they demand that they be shrewd at politics. It makes no difference what your political stripe is. The unconscious thought is: if you can’t handle politics, you can’t handle government.

    That’s why some allegedly dumb people like Rob Ford and George Bush get elected, whereas very bright people often don’t. George Bush and Ford are people who are seen as astute in the political game. Imagine: Rob Ford got caught SMOKING CRACK and people would STILL vote for him. Let that sink in. Why is that? Because he plays the game well. He connects. He knows what his base wants and he’s willing to deliver. Michael Ignatieff was a very bright guy but he couldn’t win the election. He didn’t know how to play the political game.

    It’s not about being connected to the people, or being bright or dumb. It’s how you handle *la chose politique*.

    • JJ says:

      That’s a very incisive assessment.

      You make an excellent point about Ignatieff who was 10x more intelligent than both Harper and Layton in 2011, yet failed to capture the interest or imagination of the electorate. He lost because he’s not a politician; he just doesn’t know how to “play the game”. Which is a rather sad indictment on the Canadian electorate that regardless of political strip, we lack appreciation for intelligence in our politicians and value an aptitude for political shrewdness.

      • aggo says:

        Ignatieff had no understanding or vision for Canada and having him as leader was horrible idea. THAT’S why he was soundly defeated in 2011, not because Canadians are “anti-intellectual”.

        • aggo says:

          Oh, and let’s not forget that Chretien always looked like a gangster and was never considered an intellectual heavyweight, either.

      • Priyesh says:

        Nobody who supported George Bush’s dumb war can be “ten times smarter” than anyone.

        Ignatieff lost because he’s an overeducated idiot.

        Worst Liberal leader ever. He might be the reason we’re in the mess we’re now in 5 years later.

  13. Jeff says:

    Wait a second, Justin Trudeau isn’t easy to understand. The National Post agreed with me a few months ago when they published the headline ‘the Liberal childcare plan as a simple algebraic equation.’ And lets try that list again: George Bush Senior went to Yale; Clinton went to Yale; Bush Jr. went to Yale; and Obama went to Harvard.

    Pointing to the only President in the last 35 years that didn’t go to Yale or Harvard as an example of ‘dumb dumb always wins’ is a bit of a stretch. I don’t entirely disagree with the basic premise Kinsella is making here, but a better example would have been George Bush JR. vs. Al Gore. Or if you insist on saying Gore won in 2001, Bush Vs. Kerry in 2004. In both instances instance you had candidates with the best schools on the planet on their CV, and the (likely) lesser intellectual won handily.

    You hit on one correct point in the last part of your article — the deciding factor in both elections was the ability of the candidates to simplify their messaging, and push it to as many people as humanly possible. Bush didn’t waste half his campaign talking about lock-boxes or trying to explain the details of existing U.S. foreign policy. No, he talked about simple concepts in simple terms like the Axis of Evil and ‘they have bombs and they’re comin’ for you’. Amazing how well that can work. You can call Bush an idiot if you must, but creating effective short messaging lines for a campaign that costs a billion dollars is not something that mere mortals can just slap together at the last second — and Bush get’s some of the credit, since we can remember some of the phrases a full decade later.

    Also, this isn’t a new phenomenon — simplicity in advertising (both political and non-political) has been the norm for like 70 years.

    Coming back to Canada for a second, Trudeau’s campaign has thus far circled around childcare and his repackaging of the current Conservatives plan and electoral reform. Yeah, good luck with that. From the moment he said he was going to change childcare, the Conservatives have been running around saying he’ll raise taxes. I can’t tell you how much anyone is getting from the proposed Liberal plan but I can tell you about the money I got two days ago. And I’m a political nut.

    Find a simple message and a tone, and be as loud and as brief as possible. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama were/are supremely good at messaging, and Trudeau is still talking about changing the first-past-the-post electoral system. He’s gotta find the temperature of the room.

  14. JJ says:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Seems to be a common narrative coalescing around the criticism of Justin Trudeau. “He’s just not ready, he’s not bright and his campaign is devoid of substantive policy”. When he finally starts pumping out policy that is rather impressive and undoubtably better than any other alternative, the same criticisms continue. Then he makes every effort he possibly can to pull the spot light away from himself and distance himself from accusations of vanity and attempts to highlight the remarkable calibre of candidates he’s managed to attract –but he’s still an SOB. Or when he showed a zero tolerance for sexual harassment in his caucus and booted two MP’s and certain individuals still had the audacity to suggest he made a mistake.

    What exactly are these detractors looking for other than some sort of gratification they get from belittling this man simply because of the way he looks?

    Remember, in Canada we elect not Prime Ministers, but Parliaments. You may think you’re voting for leader x,y or z but you are also voting for a collection of individuals that will no doubt be responsible for the governance of Canada. Choose wisely as to which group of individuals you would entrust lead Canadian government.

  15. Rod Croskery says:

    “But by the same token, it is clear that Trudeau is not weighted down by complex thoughts….
    Justin Trudeau, above all, is easy to understand.”

    Nice you’re letting up on Mr. Trudeau a bit, but I can’t agree that JT thinks simple thoughts. He’s tumbling in the polls right now because his position on Bill C-51 is far more complex than those of his opponents. It’s nuanced, and thus hard for people to understand. But it’s also correct. JT insists that Canadians need protection and Bill C-51 provides a measure of that, but it’s a bad bill which he’ll change as soon as possible. Simple? Hardly.

    He draws the line at trolling for votes among separatists, while Mulcair eagerly baits his hook with a greased worm. The eastern pipeline can’t gain approval until the proper social license has been gained, and JT claims that Harper has poisoned the well at the moment. Mulcair’s positions, both of them, are much easier to understand. Pick the one you like.

    Harper has lept on Trudeau’s brighter comments as gaffes: the root causes comment, for example. Every expert on terrorism has echoed JT’s analysis over the last two years, yet Tory talking points still claim it was the wrong thing to say because Harper had said the root cause of terrorism is terrorists. Bumper sticker foreign policy.

    We’ll see who wins in the debates.

  16. Pat Jackson says:

    Some flies in the ointment here.

    “Who cares about winning? We should focus on serving.” – Trudeau

    It’s not a about being unintellectual, but being unserious. Trudeau’s populist, female, “lumpen”, base are hollowing out Trudeau’s chances e.g.: Stephanie Mercier Voyer, of hipster Vice: “his scruffy face reminds me of a young revolutionary leader who’s about to start a love-making war across the country—one that would render the Canadian soil so damp and oh, so wet. The truth is, my sexual impulses don’t give a fuck about his good looks. My pussy quivers for Justin’s profound desire, and failure, to be cool.” Fine if you have the hots for Trudeau. The other 95%? Getting freaked out by the Manson girls I imagine. By contrast, Reagan was going to destroy the “evil empire” and preserve freedom (Trudeau, belittling the Canadian system admires “basic dictatorship”). Rob Ford, the everyman, was going to blow the tracks on the gravy train.

    “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.” -Adolf Hitler. Why some, apparently nostalgically, still attach some “importance to thinking, ideas, and whatnot.”

    Reagan, who almost flamed out early on, was bolstered by Lee Atwater. Compare to Team Trudeau who has vowed never to go negative. Cons. have been negative since day one. The NDP just released their Conservative Willie Tim Horton of various Con. operatives being hauled off to jail. Very cheeky. The only time Trudeau has gone really negative is to position critics of sharia as Nazis – this includes, Salman Rushdie (social democrat), Christopher Hitchens (socialist), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (liberal) – all apparently devoted readers of Mein Kampf. Well played.

    People in Show-Biz are actually pretty bright. Arnold Schwarzenegger has an IQ of 135. Shakira 140, and speaks fluent Spanish, English, and Portuguese as well as some French, Italian, Catalan and Arabic. James Woods, an astounding 184. Quentin Tarantino, 160. All movies are based on scripts, many scripts are based on books. Try as you might, you will not escape the importance of narrative. Them writers has learning. Cue Trudeau on dueling banjos, with Mulcair and Harper as the city slickers? It just doesn’t work.

    Obama and Hillary are real brainiacs, and have simple messages – “hope and change” and “America’s first woman” – but still haven’t got great traction.

    The people are restless because social and economic conditions are in the toilet. A dingy “tear-down” bungalow in Vancouver and Toronto is running a cool million thanks to foreign buyers. Real unemployment and underemployment in around 20%. Youth unemployment far worse. It’s the economy stupid.

  17. Adam says:

    WOW. Ronald Reagan was extremely bright. He didn’t go to a prestigious college because he grew up poor, and in his final term of office suffered from Alzheimer’s. But to call a man who presided over the largest increase in wealth of any population in the history of human kind and who changed economics as we know it stupid, is really unintellectual.

    To compare Reagan to Trudeau is absurd. Trudeau born poor and raised himself up out of poverty; NO. Trudeau held several positions of executive office, or even cabinet before running to be Prime Minister, NO. Trudeau change economics as we know it, and massively increase the wealth of Canadians; I’m thinking NOT likely. I knew people who knew Ronald Reagan and Justin Trudeau is no Ronald Reagan.

    But hey Alzheimer’s can be mistaken for stupidity. Easy Mistake.

  18. Al Maki says:

    Two quibbles. First, stupidity in democracy is not a recent phenomenon, both Aristotle and Machiavelli discussed it. Second, I don’t think it’s accurate to say Harper does not recognize the importance of stupidity in a democracy. Harper’s campaign strategy is to appeal to fear and hate, two emotions usually easily channeled in the stupid.

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