Since Justin Trudeau made a very bad joke about the Ukraine and Russia and the Olympics, on the weekend, folks have been weighing in on this web site. The vast majority have disagreed with my view that (a) he should have apologized and (b) he should have done so immediately.
I won’t name names, but to those commenters who aggressively defended what Trudeau said, I say: you are starting to resemble the Conbots you used to (rightly) condemn. You have fallen in love with the meat, as I sometimes indelicately put it, and that is a bad, bad thing.
Here’s what you owe Justin Trudeau, or any politician you work for/with: YOUR JUDGMENT. You owe them your view, honestly and clearly expressed. Not ass-kissing bullshit.
You want to know one of the principal reasons Conservatives are turning off Canadians? Because they treat every bit of dissent as treason. Because they never tolerate any disagreement, no matter how reasonably expressed. Because, intellectually, they are lemmings.
Don’t be a lemming: tell the truth. And when your leader screws up – and they all do, sooner or later – tell him or her the truth.
Don’t kiss their ass.
Funny story: back when Adlai Stevenson was running to be president, a woman came up to the Democratic nominee.
“Every thinking person will be voting for you,” she gushed. Stevenson, who would go on to an impressive loss against Dwight Eisenhower, was unfazed. “Madam,” he said, “that is not enough. I need a majority.”
It’s an anecdote worth remembering. In politics, as is well-known, intelligence and power are often mutually inconsistent concepts. Case in point: Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
It is not enough to say that Ford never seems to be troubled by deep thoughts. It’s even more than that: Mayor Crackhead positively revels in the fact that he belongs in the same shed where the other tools are kept. The ones that aren’t, you know, sharp.
If the pointy-headed downtown intellectuals are against him, Ford couldn’t be happier. “I side with the poor people,” wheezes Rob, the son of a multi-millionaire.
Ronald Reagan used to be called dumb, too, but he did alright, didn’t he? Handily won the presidency twice, and he remains revered by conservatives as the greatest-ever communicator.
Back in the early Eighties, before airports would be named after them, Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan privately got along well enough. Trudeau regarded Reagan as gracious, and often remarked to his circle that the US president was a genuinely kind and pleasant man.
To his critics, however, Reagan was not bright. Then and now, they saw Reagan as a fool. A dummy.
Watching Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son give a convention speech on Saturday, I thought – as I often do – about Ronald Reagan. Their respective ideologies could not be more dissimilar, of course. But in other respects, Reagan and the younger Trudeau sometimes seem cut from the same cloth.
Reagan was a Hollywood actor; Trudeau was a drama teacher. Like Reagan, Trudeau has a fondness for the dramatic and (occasionally) melodramatic. Too much flair, too much theatre, can be dangerous in politics. It can leave voters wondering about your authenticity.
But for both Reagan and Trudeau, the dramatic flourishes attracts many more voters than it repels.
The Republican leader and the Liberal leader have an affinity for a slightly hokey style of politics, too, one that always favours pictures to the written word. It’s a style that is steeped in the power of symbolism.
So, there is Reagan joking with his doctors – as John Wayne would – after he is shot by a would-be assassin. There is Trudeau, pummeling Patrick Brazeau in the boxing ring, and shrugging his Wayne-like assessment afterwards: “He didn’t know that I could take it and keep going.”
Mostly, however, Reagan and Trudeau share this: they do not profess to be intellectuals. Trudeau has gone out of his way to suggest that he isn’t one.
Perhaps recalling what happens when his party has recently sought out an intellectual as a leader – eg., Dion, Ignatieff – Trudeau, like Reagan, seems amused that he is regularly dismissed as an intellectual lightweight.
The bad news, for the likes of Reagan and Trudeau, is regularly being mocked for being a bit dim-witted.
The good news, of course, is being underestimated by one’s opponents. ‘Cause it’s the ones doing the underestimating who usually end up doing this:
Dear Liberal Delegates:
Sorry, but I couldn’t be there with you in Montreal. Son Two has a lot of hockey, this weekend, and he comes first. So, gratis, I thought I would pen you a note about 2015.
Because, after all, an election is indeed happening next year. (Unless Stephen Harper suspends the Constitution, that is, and I wouldn’t put it past him.)
Between smoked meat sandwiches, ask yourself this question: does the Conservative Party look scared, about the 2015 election?
I don’t think so, either. In fact, the Reformatories seem positively placid about the coming Grit-Tory confrontation. And, make no mistake: the 2015 election will be principally a contest between Justin and Stephen. And here are three suggestions why Harper isn’t (yet) worried about that.
One: Harper wins when progressives split the vote. While his core vote is smaller – and white, and angry, and male – it is a highly mobilized constituency. His devotees, conservative to the core, can always be counted on to vote. Progressives, not so much.
Since Jean Chretien left town – and since Harper stitched together the warring factions of the right in 2004 – his main electoral strategy has been to keep the Liberal and New Democratic parties at each other’s throats, and lazy progressive voters at home. It’s worked.
So you can expect to see Harper doing all that he can to split, and suppress, the progressive vote between now and Election Day.
Two: there are 30 new Commons seats up for grabs in 2015, mainly in places where the Canadian population has grown – Ontario, Alberta and B.C. According to no less than Elections Canada itself, the Conservative Party is most likely to win as many as 22 of them.
If you superimpose the 2011 popular vote on those new seats, the Conservative majority surges – giving them close to a 20-seat majority, more than double the buffer they currently enjoy. All of those seats are located in areas where the Cons remain strong, namely Alberta and suburban Ontario. If you want to prevail, Grit delegates, you also need to start crafting messages aimed at seizing the affections of the consumer-and-commuter class. Harper presently owns that vote.
Three: in 2000, Jean Chretien won a big majority – it was in all the papers. He didn’t do that because a creationist Stockwell Day believed that the Flintstones was a documentary. Chretien won by turning the election campaign into a referendum on what to do with his budgetary surplus. Invest in infrastructure and health care? Or give a flat tax to the rich, and privatize health care, as Day preferred?
Expect the crafty Stephen Harper to trumpet the fact that his team wrestled the deficit to the ground. Expect him to offer a budgetary buffet of tax cuts and measures to make life more affordable. Liberals, meanwhile, will be characterized as the party that has no economic plan. The party that is obsessed with trivial stuff.
Resolutions about legalizing pot, prostitution and assisted suicide are a big deal to some constituencies, sure. To most Canadians, however, they just aren’t. Harper’s objective, then, will be to convince voters that only his is the party of the economy – and that the Grits are the party who want to fritter away the surplus on things that don’t matter.
Harper will continue to toy with you, Liberal delegates. He – the guy who spent $1.2 million to send his limousines to India – will try and get you distracted with smears, like retired general Andrew Leslie’s moving costs.
Don’t be distracted. To win, you need to keep a laser-like focus on the economy. You need to elbow out the NDP, and capture the bulk of the progressive vote. And you need to develop a strategy to prevent the Cons from gobbling up those 30 new Commons seats.
Now, back to the rink. Politics is fun, but hockey comes first.
This is Canada, after all.
I’m here to drop off Son Two for hockey, and behold what I spot on the wall opposite the elevator: him.
Full disclosure: I worshipped this man. When I was a kid at Our Lady of Lourdes in Kingston, he came to visit our town. I lined up to shake his hand, and then I lined up again to shake his hand again.
Remembering that, looking at this, I think: it would be really hard to be his son.
Yes, he really said that, and in an article slated to be published during the Liberal Party’s convention.
That’s a quote: “The United States is a more democratic society.”
Wow. Remembers everything, learns nothing.