04.05.2016 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the secret of immortality

Children, someone once observed, are the only known form of immortality.

That rarely deters the makers of monuments, the curers of disease, the inventors and discoverers, the authors of books and songs and art: all valiantly attempt, in some small measure, to defy death. But we cannot ever hold mortality’s strong hand (per The Bard). The “undiscover’d country” awaits us all.

Politicians, and political folk, remain mulishly undeterred. They do not ever embrace politics to achieve riches: unless one is a crook, and also very lucky, there really aren’t any riches to be had. They do not do so to be loved: for many, all that lies ahead is hate mail, and the insults of strangers at baggage carousels. They don’t do it for their health, either: plenty of them start drinking too much, exercising too little, and – in a small minority of cases – even smoking crack.

Finally, they don’t succumb to the political life because it will bring them closer to their family. For a disproportionately-large number, politics routinely ends in divorce, and alienated offspring. It is, indeed, an unspeakably lonely life (per Kim Campbell).

So why does any sensible person do it?

Politicos are adrenalin junkies, to be sure. They love to skitter near the razor’s edge that divides exultant victory and crushing defeat. They also are drawn to The Life because it provides a kind of existential clarity: this one won, so he or she is a “hero.” This one lost, so he or she is a “zero.” There is accordingly a zero-sum moral simplicity to election night. Just as there is in, say, sports.

Mostly, however, political people are political because they crave immortality. It is how they think they will be remembered. There is no other rational explanation for their membership in a vocation that too often leaves their finances, their families, and their frame of mind in ruin.

All of this became pertinent the past few days. In the early part of 2016, a lot of music stars seemed to be dying: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Phife Dawg, Lemmy, Vanity, Paul Kantner, George Martin, Frank Sinatra Jr. Lately, though, it seems to be political stars: Nancy Reagan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Don Getty, Marie-Claire Kirkland, Leon Korbee, Jim Hillyer – and, notably, Rob Ford and Jean Lapierre.

All of those sad passings produced a huge outpouring of condolences and remembrances: Getty in Alberta, Hillyer on the Hill, Ford in Toronto, Lapierre in Quebec – and, for some of us, Leon Korbee (because he was such a legitimately wonderful man, and because he is one who truly deserves to be remembered, as both a journalist and a political advisor). Political people were genuinely, deeply upset. To cite just one example, Ford’s death – along with the many other deaths in Brussels – was big enough to completely eclipse the Liberals’ first budget in more than a decade.

The untimely demise of Rob Ford and Jean Lapierre, then, were undeniably momentous events. Despite the fact that both men were imperfect politicians, both are now being universally remembered as exceptional, as giants. No shining adjective has been spared. Ford was provided with the civic equivalent of a state a funeral, and some here in Toronto want to name a park after him. Among other things, Lapierre was being lauded by one Liberal MP as a politician who “loved Canada,” quote unquote.

Except, well, this: Rob Ford behaved badly as mayor of Canada’s largest city. He drove drunk, he slurred minorities, he cavorted with gangsters, he trampled on ethics laws, and – most infamously – he smoked crack while in office.

Lapierre, meanwhile, was probably not someone who “loved Canada,” quote unquote. He quit the Liberal Party in 1990 when Jean Chretien became its leader – and he went on to form the separatist Bloc Quebecois in the House of Commons. He later became a Liberal, under Paul Martin, and proceeded to (a) call the Clarity Act “useless;” (b) recruit a half-dozen separatists to run under the Liberal banner; (c) illegally fire former Chretien chief of staff Jean Pelletier, a federalist, while Pelletier was dying of cancer; and (d) oversee the collapse of the Liberal Party in Quebec.

One shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, as every Irish Catholic knows. But Messrs. Ford and Lapierre would probably agree that, as politicians, they weren’t nearly as terrific as many are now saying that they were. Both men, if they could do it over again, might have stuck to coaching football and broadcast journalism. Because both were truly great at those things.

Why the chorus of acclaim, then, from politicos who already know the unvarnished truth? Because the political choir also knows it is imperfect, of course. And the choir still desperately, desperately want to be immortal, their own many blemishes notwithstanding.

So they loudly sing the praises of the immortals, in the hope that someone will sing about them, too, when their time comes.

3 Comments

  1. Peter says:

    In days of yore, it was common to eulogize the deceased by saying what a good Christian he was, which led to many a snicker in the back pews. Today, it’s striking how many obituaries will mention the departed’s deep commitment to human rights or the environment.

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I was told the following: that in the wake of Meech’s failure, that Jean Lapierre was unsure whether to agree to cofound the Bloc with Lucien Bouchard.

    But then he got the big push — from Robert Bourassa.

  3. The Doctor says:

    It’s interesting how Lapierre’s tendency to be a political chameleon can be spun as either a mark or virtue (as many of his eulogizers are now doing) or proof that the man had no real political principles. Also, I think a lot of Anglo-Canadians will never be able to fully understand how so many Quebeckers can slide from federalist to separatist and back with such ease.

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