NEW YORK – It’s a cliché, but like a lot of clichés it’s true: a week is a long time in politics.
British politician Harold Wilson said that, or something like that. In political life, Wilson’s axiom is the only universal truth: everything can change, dramatically, in the blink of an eye.
Ask New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. A year ago, the first Democratic New York mayor in a generation was sworn in outside City Hall. The many attendees were brimming with sunny optimism. The Clintons were there, Governor Andrew Cuomo was there, former mayor David Dinkins was there, even Harry Belafonte was there.
Everything seemed progressive and possible, on that day. Everyone was smiling. Hundreds lined up in the bitter cold for hours, to shake the new mayor’s hand, and offer their best wishes.
What a difference a year makes, as they say. Almost a year to the day, hundreds of New York police officers lined up to do something else – to turn their backs on de Blasio, as he spoke about two murdered officers. It was an extraordinary display of contempt, and it signaled that – for de Blasio – everything can change in no time at all.
Similarly, de Blasio has been criticized for everything from fumbling snow removal to regularly arriving late at events. He even dropped the star of the city’s annual Groundhog Day event. (The groundhog later died.)
In the unlikely event that he ever casts an eye northward, a weary de Blasio might have some advice for another star in the progressive firmament, Justin Trudeau: not only is a week in politics a long time, sonny, it’s even longer for politicians of the progressive variety.
Consider, too, the year that Trudeau has had. A year ago, the Trudeau-led Liberal Party was atop every poll, and every pundit (including this one) was compiling lists about who would make up that first Liberal cabinet. Stephen Harper was destined to return to Calgary in ignominious defeat, and Thomas Mulcair’s social democrats would be reduced to their traditional role, a rump in the House of Commons.
No longer. Not a single pundit now believes that Harper’s demise is a forgone conclusion. In fact, the bulk of them have lately taken to predicting a Conservative minority, or even a slim Conservative majority. Not all of them believe Mulcair is undone, either: the NDP leader remains competitive in key provinces, like BC and Quebec.
As they contemplate the year that is ahead – brimming with Tory attack ads and Tory war room missives, as it will be – Liberals may well wonder how so much has changed in a year. The answer, as with most things in Canadian politics nowadays, lies with Justin Trudeau.
His youthfulness, his optimism, his newness – and the change that all of those things foretold – propelled Trudeau and his party to the heights of popularity. He seemed unbeatable.
A year later, his verbal gaffes, his policy void, his inexperienced inner circle – who have rendered his open nominations pledge a farcical joke, among other things – have taken a toll. What once seemed unbeatable now looks, well, quite beatable.
The “week in politics is a long time” cliché cuts both ways, of course. What now looks promising to Harper and Mulcair can easily melt away in the Spring. Trudeau could surge back.
But, for now, Justin Trudeau would do well to ponder the cautionary tale of Bill de Blasio: at the start, they will line up to shake your hand.
And, in no time at all, they may be lining up to turn their backs on you.