Trudeau the drama teacher
Sub-title: The liberal leader put on a great performance this weekend. But what kind of a leader would he be?
The Liberal Party convention held in Montreal this weekend was a professionally staged affair. Leader Justin Trudeau looked super onstage and the palpable joy of the women who jumped to hug him, recalled the days of Trudeau-mania decades ago. The visuals, particularly the flash to his family, including his two children and his radiantly beautiful, pregnant wife Sophie Grégoire, were, frankly, unforgettable.
However great talents, hide great weaknesses. So while the Liberal Party and Trudeau’s own popularity ratings are almost certain to get a boost over the coming weeks, it pays consider what these might be.
Let’s start with some strengths. Trudeau’s ability to recruit the team that has party leading the polls signal his emergence as a potential political force, the likes of which we have not seen in Canada for some time.
Reagan and Clinton
As such, comparisons with recent Canadian leaders, even his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to whom Trudeau bears a superficial resemblance, are thus hard to make. However the United States, which produces plenty of such outsized personalities, has produced several parallels. For example many compare Trudeau to Bill Clinton another natural politician.
Trudeau’s years as a “drama” teacher, highlighted in recent Conservative Party attack ads, ironically signal another possible strength. The characterization was designed mock. But the Tories had better be careful about what they wish for.
Trudeau’s studied grins, nods and thumbs up, caught so vividly on camera, to speeches such as those of Andrew Leslie, a former general and now his senior military advisor, recall those of another performance hugely successful artist: Ronald Reagan. The former two-term US president and father of modern American conservatism, was similarly mocked because of his background as a performer in films such as “Bedtime for Bonzo.” However Reagan had the last laugh. “How can a president not be an actor,” he would say jokingly when asked.
Reagan though, unlike Trudeau’s trajectory, came to the top job fully prepared. Reagan spent years as the head of an actor’s union and two terms as governor of California before stepping onto the big stage. Although mocked as a lightweight, it later emerged that Reagan was a prolific writer of his own radio spots, speeches and of substantial correspondence. The Reagan comparison highlights Trudeau’s greatest weakness: a lack of “gravitas;” of serious accomplishments, governing philosophy or educational achievements.
Trudeau the Younger
In that respect the politician to whom Trudeau most echoes, is another son of a former political leader: George W. Bush. Despite his failings as president, Bush the Younger was a stunningly successful politician, highly charming with a quickness of wit that recalled Johnny Carson.
In his first political race, for the Governorship of Texas, Bush defeated Ann Richards, an incumbent, herself a powerful political force. Bush grabbed the presidency by literally mugging Al Gore, a former two-term vice president. Bush managed to win re-election in 2004, even after his stunning weaknesses were revealed to all, in the country’s misguided war against Iraq and the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
Bush, like Trudeau, suffered from a lack of gravitas. To compensate for his weakness (he had never bothered to travel outside the country before becoming president) Bush took on Dick Cheney, a neo-conservative, as a vice-president and top advisor. However he simply did not have the intellectual heft to assess or question Cheney’s advice and we all know where that led.
Trudeau too has shown no signs of having the gravitas to judge what General Leslie, the author of an influential report on the transformation of Canada’s armed forces, or any of his other advisors for that matter, will be telling him. Like most natural politicians, Trudeau the Younger, thus risks being influenced most, by the last person he spoke to.
As a result, before they get too enamoured by the monkey, they will do better focusing more on who the organ grinders will be.
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