06.07.2016 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: personal is personal

George Clooney, of all people, said it best: “I don’t like to share my personal life. It wouldn’t be personal if I shared it.”

Personally, I’d have to agree with that.

Now, pithy, quotable quotes like George’s always prompt a response. For many, the response is: “What’s George got to hide? Who is he sleeping with? Why isn’t it me?” For others: “Have truer words ever been spoken? Why isn’t George sleeping with me?” (For me: “The woman I live with repeatedly says she plans to leave me for George.”) But he gets us thinking, George does.

Up here in Trudeaustan, with which George may be only passingly familiar, delineating what is personal and what is public has again become the stuff of newspaper opinion columns and Ottawa water cooler chit-chat. The case at hand: the abrupt resignation from cabinet, and the Liberal caucus, by MP Hunter Tootoo.

Before the Liberals’ Winnipeg policy convention, Tootoo was Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. He was a pretty powerful guy, and well-liked, too. After the convention, he was out of cabinet, out of caucus, and straight into rehab. PMO issued a terse statement that conspicuously lacked the usual felicitations and good wishes: “Effective immediately, the Honourable Hunter Tootoo has resigned from his position as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. He will also be leaving the Liberal caucus. Mr. Tootoo will be taking time to seek treatment for addiction issues.”

And that was that. Trudeau refused to take any questions on the matter. Accordingly, the Ottawa gossip engine immediately kicked into high gear. Twitter was ablaze with indignation. Resign from cabinet, sure, tweeted the tweeters. But why caucus? What’s that all about? We demand answers, in 140 characters or less!

Um, personally, I’m not so sure about that. Personally, my advice to the social media mob was this: if you have an allegation to make, make it. But it’s not particularly fair to condemn a guy for the fact that you have yet to unearth evidence he did something wrong. It was akin to this, I thought: “Hey! We think there might be some damaging shit about you, and we demand you offer it up, because we’re convinced it exists.”

But Trudeau didn’t, and Tootoo didn’t, either. And that’s right and proper, because – per the Clooney Muse, above – personal means personal.

There are exceptions, yes. Back when he was making one of his many quixotic runs at the presidency, the mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger named Pat Buchanna started promoting the Trumpist “America First” tagline everywhere. Hire only Americans, buy only American, pay attention only to Americans. It was manifest destiny, except on steroids.

So the advisors to George H. W. Bush (the smarter father, not the dumber son) discovered a key factoid about Buchanan’s “America First” private life: he personally drove a Mercedes, made in far-away Germany. They passed along that little revelation out to the media hordes, and that was the end of Pat.

Another example: Democrat Gary Hart. Back in 1987, when the family-friendly Senator was making his second run at the top job, rumours were rampant he was following his little soldier into battle a bit too frequently. Gary was indignant about this scurrilous assault on his personal life. Said he: “Follow me around. I don’t care. They’ll be bored.”

The media followed him around. They weren’t bored. Gary – thereafter photographed with model Donna Rice balanced on his senatorial knee – ended up caring, quite a bit. And that was the end of Gary.

Final example, from up here in the Great White North: Stock Day. For months, those of us in the Liberal war room had known all about Day’s religious views. He was a creationist, and believed that the world was just a few thousand years old, and that dinosaurs cavorted with humans. Good. Fine. Those views, however wacky they were, were constitutionally-protected and personal. We said nothing.

But then Stock gave an interview. In May 2000, he said this: “It is not possible to demand that the convictions I express on Sunday should have nothing to do with the way I live my life the other six days of the week.” As Day, soon to be competing for the highest office in the land, also made clear: his personal religious views influence, and would influence, his public duties. “Ah-ha,” said the Liberal war room. “Gotcha.”

I won’t bother recounting what happened next. Barney the Dinosaur, Flintstones, unhelpful CBC documentaries. That was the end of Stock. Chretien crushed him.’

The above-noted case studies are the three clear exemptions to the Clooney-esque “personal is personal” rule. One: don’t be a hypocrite – the Pat Buchanan Rule. Two: don’t invite people to take a look at your personal life, and then be upset when they do – the Gary Hart Rule. Three: don’t say your private, personal views influence your public duties, and expect people not to care – the Stock Day Rule.

Ottawa, of course, is undeterred. There’s always something “personal” that folks want to push and pull over the line into the “public.” There’s been unseen affidavits allegedly floating around about one party leader, filled with allegedly sordid details. There’s been allegations about an alleged hotel room and a police officer and another party leader, allegedly. There’s been – full disclosure – a former member of the Press Gallery circulating copies of my divorce pleadings, and a senior (and still there!) Liberal staffer doing his utmost to simultaneously cause pain. That’s not alleged – it all happened.

Anyway: that’s Ottawa, that’s D.C. Capitals operate that way. Outside the Beltway, South of the Queensway, however, real folks think like George Clooney does. That is, in the absence of (a) rank hypocrisy, (b) reckless dares or (c) on-the-record confirmations, the personal should always remain one way.

Personal.

12 Comments

  1. Peter says:

    South of the Queensway, however, real folks think like George Clooney does

    How about north of the tree line? As repugnant as the scandal-mongering press and rumour-mongering social media can be, I’m not sure all this can or should be hidden behind a wall of “the personal” on principle. This is not a case where the Minister and PM used that argument to resist calls for his resignation from the Cabinet on the basis that whatever happened was irrelevant to his public responsibilities. Nor is it a case where he retired from politics to avoid any further public accounting and cleared the way for someone else to represent his riding. Clearly something serious enough to have him “resign” from both the Cabinet and caucus occurred, so how can it be said to be a personal matter and nobody’s business if he keeps his seat? We don’t need to wallow in sordid details, but for a minister to effectively say “I’ve quit the Cabinet and caucus but not my seat in the House, so you’re stuck with me until the next election and it’s none of your business why” strikes me as stretching the concept of the personal pretty far.

    With due respect to Mr. Clooney, he hasn’t been entrusted with a popular mandate to speak for and represent the public, even if he sometimes talks as if he has.

  2. the salamander hordes says:

    .. hard to believe you received no comments.. a very interesting piece..

  3. Joe says:

    Personally I think that if we should ridicule Stock Day for believing the world is 6000 years old then we should ridicule Catholics for believing in transubstantiation. You see I am safe from this because I don’t believe either. Coming at this from a slightly different angle. If what the latest reposte out of Winnipeg says is true then Hunter shows a severe lack of judgement that lack of judgement needs to be made public.

  4. CuJoYYC says:

    No need to publish.
    “Democrat Gary Hart. Back in 1987, when the family-friendly Senator was making his second [run/shot/stab …] at the top job …”

  5. davie says:

    Rule #4, as Prime Minister, try not to refer to ‘a difficult situation,’ then walk away without some clarification, or you will be inviting rumours, speculation, and even discovery of whatever that ‘difficult situation’ was.

  6. Montréalaise says:

    Not sure if we should apply George Clooney’s statement to politicians. Clooney makes movies; politicians make decisions which have real impact on other people’s lives. If Clooney makes questionable choices or behaves badly in his personal life, how exactly does that affect us, the movie-going public? On the other hand, a Cabinet minister is forced to resign from caucus because he shows bad judgment or behaves badly, then at the least, his constituents deserve to know, since this person is representing them in Parliament.

    • e.a.f. says:

      I haven’t seen anything which says Tootoo was “forced to resign”. Now there maybe rumours but it comes back to its personal. Tootoo said so, the P.M. said so. He has resigned his position in Cabinet and as a member of the Liberal party and I’m not interested, its his personal life.

      Some ought to respect that. Its far different than some one who takes their religion and inserts some of their religious beliefs into their official position running a country. that may not be consistent with speration of state and church. It can also have dramatic effects on how education is deal with, medical care, etc.

      No need to know.

  7. Francis says:

    This particular tweet sums up the issue with the coverage that followed the resignation:

    “We’re in the phase where some folks expect a politician to provide info that would hurt him, ’cause they couldn’t find it on their own.” – ‏@kinsellawarren

    I think it was Paul Wells who said (I’m paraphrasing), “if you haven’t found anything substantive 36 hours after the fact, then you’re likely not going to find anything in the next 36 hours”.

    Sometimes in life, shit happens and there is no congruity in the evolution of sequential events. Sometimes, things happen suddenly and there’s nothing catastrophically controversial about their exit other than the culmination of a series of personal struggles. Call it the unwillingness to accept this reality, but this is where the media — in my opinion — stumbled all over themselves in trying to indulge their thirst for a scandalous story versus uncovering tangible evidence of withheld information. Imagination evidently over shadowed inquiry which lead to some pretty far fetched insinuations of wrong doing.

    If we believe in holding up politicians to high standards of integrity then we should also expect the same from the media. Both massively influence the lives of Canadians and should behave in a way that is responsible and measured.

  8. Wayne says:

    Compare and contrast the present situation with Tootoo to that of Rob Ford. The Lefties didn’t seem too bothered by the media’s incessant hounding of the Toronto mayor though his trials and tribulations. But Rob was fair game, right?

    • Kaspar Juul says:

      Wayne, do you remember the old Sesame Street segment “One of these things is not like the other”?

      • Kaspar Juul says:

        Oh I forgot you had a box of Hunter Tootoo bobbleheads and fridge magnets.

        Always ahead of the curve Wayne.

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