Values, in politics, aren’t something. They’re everything.
So, too, is speaking with clarity and confidence.
Last week, both notions — having a set of values and communicating them to voters with conviction — were readily on display, in Canada and the U.S.
In Montreal, Justin Trudeau stepped up to a podium to talk, over and over, about “middleclass values.” And then, the next night in Denver, Mitt Romney stepped up to a podium to talk, almost as much, about “middleclass values.”
It was quaint, of course, to listen to two men born into privilege and power speak so earnestly about the mythic middle class. Neither has ever been part of it, not on a single day of their lives. Both weren’t just born with a silver spoon in their mouths — Romney and Trudeau came into this world equipped with silver shovels.
But there they were, talking like regular guys about
everyday values stuff. Identity. Authenticity. Hope. Empathy.
And, in so doing — in a direct and forceful way — Trudeau and Romney pulverized their opponents.
Onstage in Denver, Romney didn’t just win the first presidential debate. He eviscerated Barack Obama.
Yes we can, Obama famously said in 2008. But, no, he didn’t, not against Romney. The young man who spoke so stirringly about shared values four years ago was gone. Replaced by an older, greyer professor, one who looked irritated to be there at all. Sharing a stage with a man he clearlydid not consider his equal.
Facts tell, stories sell. Romney won because he told a series of values-laden stories, while Obama — like progressives so often do — recited a litany of facts. Romney dominated because he spoke, clearly and compellingly, about everyday values. And Obama lost because he did neither.
Up here in Canada, Trudeau was alone onstage at a packed hall in his Montreal riding of Papineau. But Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair were very much there in spirit. Had they been standing near Trudeau, they would have resembled what they so often are — remote, humourless older men, with an enthusiasm for statistics, but not so much for people. Like Obama was in Denver.
Nearly a dozen times, Trudeau spoke about “values.”
His voice is sometimes jarring — it is a thin tenor, when leaders always speak in a deeper baritone — but his message was not. Like Romney, Trudeau repeatedly sought to align himself with the little guy. To ensure that no one missed the point, his smart campaign boss — a brilliant Cape Bretoner named Gerald Butts — kept out the Liberal party aristocracy and filled seats with constituents. Regular folks.
In North America, our politics are changing again. You can feel it. While the Occupy kids no longer can be found in city parks — and while the Tea Partiers have been absorbed by the mainstream of the Republican Party — the message they both share is transforming the political landscape. The elites have too much power and too much wealth. There is a profound imbalance at the centre of everything, and it needs to be fixed. The 1% versus the 99%.
The fact that two millionaires’ sons — Trudeau and Romney — could speak to the values of the 99% is testament to the potency of the Occupier and Tea Party credo. The fact that they could pull off what they did last week suggests that voters are desperate for leaders who will fix the yawning chasm between the haves and the have-nots. It’s amazing, when you think about it.
Coincidentally, I’ve written a book about all of this stuff, all released in the same extraordinary political week. It argues the future belongs to the leader who can speak compellingly and energetically about everyday values.
This week — improbably, impossibly — Mitt Romney and Justin Trudeau did just that.