, 04.20.2020 08:17 PM

My latest: keep underestimating them. See what happens next.

The familiar voice at the other end of the line laughed, a bit.

“They’re making fun of the way I look and sound, again,” he says, sounding not at all upset.  “I love it when they underestimate me.”

The voice belonged to the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, naturally, and the call had come in early Fall of 2000.

For the ruling Liberal Party, it was an uncertain time.  Rumours were circulating that finance minister Paul Martin was not going to run again.  Newspaper baron Conrad Black was threatening to use his newspaper chain to punish Chretien for denying him a knighthood.  Meanwhile, the nascent Canadian Alliance was surging in the polls, and some of the Grit caucus members were grumbling that Chretien should resign.

But Chretien was unfazed.  For nearly 40 years, his opponents had mocked his looks, his language skills, and his mental acuity.  For years, he had been wallpapering his home with his political obituaries.  And, for years, he kept winning.

It happened again in 2000, too – when Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day had dared him to call an election.

So, he did.  He captured many more seats than he did in the previous election, in 1997.

Surveying the political landscape Down South, during a devastating pandemic some 20 years later, I’m reminded of that “chit chat,” as Chretien refers to his telephone calls to friends.

And I’m reminded of it, particularly, when I hear what Trumpkins – on both sides of the border – have to say about Joe Biden.  Namely: that he has dementia.  That he’s senile.  That he acts inappropriately.  That he has too many scandals.  That he’s yesterday’s man.

Because that’s exactly what Conservatives used to say about Jean Chretien.  Word for word.

The attacks on Biden will be as ineffective as the attacks were against Chretien, for the same reason: both men are cut from the same cloth.

Joe Biden kicked off his winning campaign in a comparatively low-key way: he released a video on YouTube.  He said he was running to beat Donald Trump, because he was the only candidate who could.  And, in the interim, successive polls have shown that Americans know who Joe is, they like who he is, and they like him way more than Trump.

He’s competitive with multiple demographics: African-Americans, older Democrats, Independents, the true working class.

Joe Biden has what it takes to win, mainly because he never forgot his roots.  He never stopped boasting about his hardscrabble Scranton, Pa. youth.  He grew up in a big, poor Irish Catholic family in Scranton – in a crowded apartment, not a gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment – and the Bidens were forced to move to Delaware when Joe was ten, where his father secured a job as a used car salesman.

He got into law school only because he got a scholarship.  He participated in anti-segregation sit-ins.  He struggled for everything he got.

Joe Biden isn’t just like Jean Chretien: some days, he seems like he is Jean Chretien.

They’ll keep underestimating him, however, just like they did Chretien.

Like Chretien, Biden didn’t win the top job the first time he ran for it.  But he won it – and is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee – at precisely the right time.  When his country is hurting, and when it desperately needs healing.

Like Chretien, Biden has an Everyman appeal that cuts across demographic categories – which is why Biden won the overwhelming support of African-Americans in the South Carolina primary at the start of March, and why he never looked back.

Like Chretien, Biden often doesn’t seem to speak any of the official languages – but he has an innate ability to connect with voters, at a gut level, that conservative politicians too often don’t.

Like Chretien, too, Biden’s timing is just right.  Chretien returned to politics when Canada was being riven by endless Constitutional wars, and the growing threat of separatism, and he helped keep us together.

Biden has returned to politics at a similarly historic moment – after too many years of the racism and madness of Donald Trump, and a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.

If Jean Chretien were to have one of his chit-chats with Joe Biden, I’m pretty sure I know what he’d say.

“They’re underestimating you again,” he’d say.  “And that’s always good, for guys like you and me.”


  1. Ken from Kenora says:

    After fluffing up his nest very nicely as PM, waiting to seed it with the eggs, did your guy wait all of, I don’t know, five minutes, after leaving Sussex Drive to board an airplane to China to make his pre-arranged corporate deals? He fooled a lot of people with that ‘Little Guy’ schtick.
    As for Joe, do yourself a favour and read Robert Gates’ book Duty. He states that Joe is a man of integrity, but; “Still,I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

    Gates, Robert M. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (p. 288). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    Gates relates that one day Biden expressed an opinion and the White House team reflexively ignored it as it had to be wrong. They then realized to their great surprise that he was right. One occasion.

  2. William Morrison says:

    I never thought for a moment that Chretien was senile or too old for the job. He was always sharp as a tack, and I bet he still is.

    Not so Biden, though. I think your comparison is wrong…Biden strikes me as somewhat of a dodderer…

  3. The Doctor says:

    I think the more pressing problem for Trump and his campaign is simply that Biden is not Hillary. And because of that, Biden doesn’t have anywhere near the intensely negative approval ratings that Hillary had. In that sense, Hillary was like a gift to Trump.

    I’m not saying Trump can’t win — I would never count him out — but it points to a larger potential problem that Trump’s campaign has, and that is that Trump seems intent on using the exact same playbook he used in 2016. But this is not 2016. The old problem of a general wanting the fight the last war rather than the one that’s in front of him.

    Meanwhile, he’s spent the last 3 years basically nothing to expand his electoral tent. All credible experts have pointed out that his 2016 victory was extraordinarily narrow, in terms of that “inside straight” of a handful of key swing states. In that sense, it was almost a lightning in a bottle victory. He’s basically counting on making that happen twice.

    Oh yeah, and he and his fans seem to think that the 2018 midterms never happened. They sure don’t like to talk about them.

    • Mark D says:

      As a Canadian I have learned to avoid prognosticating on U.S. presidential elections. Senate, the House of Representatives, State Governor, and other others are similar enough to Canadian electoral politics that I don’t mind weighing in and adding my opinion.

      But presidential elections are nothing like we have in Canada, which is why Canadian pundits in my experience, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, usually get it wrong.

      As my American friends (Democrat, Republican, Registered Independent) have explained to me, the 2020 presidential election is really 50 state referendums followed by 50 state elections.

      Regardless of any any ideological differences between Trump and Biden, Trump goes into each state with an advantage as the incumbent. Voters will first approach the ballot as a referendum on his presidency. If they like him, they will vote to re-elect him. Only if they don’t like him will they then consider voting for Biden. (They may still decide they dislike Trump but prefer him to Biden).

      Looking back, I believe Ronald Reagan was the last challenger to unseat a sitting president without major third-party interference. (Bill Clinton was heavilly assisted by Ross Perot). And even then Reagan had substantial third-party interference through John B Anderson’s third-party run.

      But otherwise in living memory? Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama breezed to re-election. Gerald Ford is another incumbent who lost, but he had never been elected president or vice-president to begin with. The Republican Party has suffered worse scandal than anything we have seen these last three years, and even then Carter’s victory was nowhere near a landslide.

      Both Nixon and LBJ were re-elected as incumbents (though LBJ opted not to run for a third term, which he would have been permitted since his intial term was the remainder of JFK’s term).

      FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower? All re-elected at least once, which leaves Hoover during the Great Depression as the last the president to have lost re-election without major third-party interference.

      Additionally, I am trying to remember the last U.S. president to overcome the “ten-year rule”. That is, to win a U.S. presidential election after holding major office (State Governor or U.S. Senator) for over ten years, although my American friends dispute whether Vice-President ought to be included with the other major U.S. political offices. The conventional wisdom being that after ten years in a major office, a candidate’s voting record becomes too much of a liability in a nation-wide election. Just ask John McCain, John Kerry, or Al Gore (if we include vice-president under the rule.) In fact, some of my U.S. pundit friends are less generous, referring to it in the post-television and internet age as the “eight-year rule” or even the “six-year rule”.

      But going with ten years, I believe the last exception was President Clinton who served 12 years as Governor of Arkansas. Otherwise, Bush 43 served six years as Texas Governor, Obama just shy of four years as U.S. Senator, Trump held no prior electoral office, Bush 41 served eight years as Vice-President, Reagan eight years as California Governor, Carter four years as Governor of Georgia, and Ford was never elected President or Vice-President. Nixon served two years as U.S. Senator then eight years as vice-president.

      Biden is a challenger, he spent nearly 36 years in the U.S. Senate prior to being elected vice-president, and there is no major third-party interference projected this election cycle. Even with a number of exceptional circumstances Trump will be hard to defeat as an incumbent, particularly by someone as imbeded in Washington as Mr Biden.

      Don’t misunderstand. I think he would make an excellent U.S. president, if elected. However, the process in presidential re-election years always favours the incumbent, as well as the less experienced candidate with major political office. So I think re-election favours Mr Trump.

      However, where I think Mr Biden’s run will prove helpful to Democrats is downballot. That is, Mr Biden’s place at the top of the ticket will help moderate and centrist Democrats hold their seats, and he may even help make gains in the number of Democrat Governors, Houe Representatives, and U.S. Senators elected.

      In fact, I could see Americans re-electing Trump as President, but increasing the Demcrat majority in the House of Representatives while also delivering the Senate to Democrats. Similar to what we Canadians did with Prime Minister Trudeau last election.

    • Mark D says:

      Also, Trump has quietely expanded his base. Ironically, he does so employing a variation of Prime Minister Chretien’s “under promise, over deliver.”

      Only in Trump’s case, he delivered where a large chunk of his 2016 base or potential base did not expect him to deliver on his promises. (To paraphrase one Clinton supporter after the 2016 election, “Trump won because voters trusted him to lie more than they trusted Clinton to tell the truth.”) Thus Trump has benefitted from low expectations among the base.

      Remember Trump went into the 2016 with a divided Republican party. He was perceived by conservatives and establishment Republicans as a populist media celebrity who had hijacked the Republican Party. He received just as much criticism from Fox News as he did CNN. The Never-Trump movement was still fairly influential among the Republican base–many who stayed home, voted downticket only, or supported third party candidates. In fact the Bush clan has all but admitted they voted for Senator Clinton.

      Right-wing shock jocks like Glenn Beck and Ben Shapiro had totally denounced him, Ted Cruz had to be browbeaten by donors to give Trump the minimal lip support, and Mormons and Evangelicals were heavily divided. National Review and Weekly Standard were heavily critical.

      Since then, Trump has delivered on many of his promises to his divided base. Which means he will win back many Republican voters in 2020 who refused to support him in 2016.

      Additionally, the damage has been done among political moderates, centrists and independents. Trump has been president for just over three years now and the U.S. has not imploded. Nor has the world broken down into nuclear conflict.

      Where Trump is vulnerable, however, is with the economic fallout following the Coronavirus pandemic. With so many Americans out-of-work because of the pandemic, Biden would do well to stick to Carville & Bagala’s simple messaging of Clinton’s first presidential run: “It’s the economy.”

  4. Douglas W says:

    Joe’s keeping the seat warm for Governor Cuomo.

  5. If you agree with my thesis that this is The GREATEST Depression, then Trump is already done as dinner.

    • terence quinn says:

      I don’t totally disagree with the greatest depression comment but I think the amount of money governments are throwing at the virus crisis might end up as a recession vs a depression.There is a lot of cash floating out there and that will bring buyers back to the consumer markets quite fast>

      • Fred from BC says:

        Yeah, I don’t think it can be properly compared to a real economic depression (or even a recession) because the cause is completely different…it’s ‘artificial’, in this case. Everything was going just fine until this virus forced everything to shut down, wasn’t it?

  6. Pedant says:

    Chretien was 20 years younger than Joe Biden when he fought his first election as leader. Big difference.

  7. david says:

    Trump was bot and sold by the Rooshans.
    Joe is so old no-one is buying his schtick. It all depends on who his VP pick is. That’s who the kid’s will vote for.
    Last but not least. Anita Hill.If you can look past that travesty then give your head a shake.

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