Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

11/5/2005

I’ve known politicians, and you, Mr. Martin, are no politician

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:25 pm.

Our poor Prime Minister - even when he wins, he loses:

Canadian voters have forcefully rejected Mr. Justice John Gomery’s exoneration of Prime Minister Paul Martin for the sponsorship scandal in a new poll that vaults the Conservatives in front of the Liberals for the first time since last spring.

You know, this never would have happened under a Chretien government. Because Chretien’s bumbling-fool act was just that: an act. He wasn’t such a…such a bad politician that he’d ever openly and repeatedly declare his innocence when implicated in a scandal, offer himself to be judged by the courts, be exonerated, and then somehow get slaughtered in the polls anyway. Seriously, how uncharismatic do you have to be to have people hate you even more after they receive evidence that you didn’t do the thing they hated you for in the first place? (Mind you, there’s a simpler explanation for these poll results: Canadians aren’t favouring the Conservatives because of Gomery; they’re favouring the Conservatives because the Conservative leader haven’t been talking very much lately. That party’s failure to stick to that winning strategy during actual campaigns is what causes their numbers to plummet in the weeks leading up to elections. See also: federal elections, 2004, 2000.)

Under a Chretien government, this wouldn’t have gone to the courts in the first place. It would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, in the news. There’d've been some murmurs about a sponsorship scandal at some point, and then Chretien would have dismissed them. He’d have been hounded by reporters for a few minutes, and he’d have made some statement of the form, “Geeez, are you still thinking about this? Get over it! So someone didn’t keep track of some money a few years ago. Who cares? Geeeez!” This statement would have gotten a lot of airplay, and then Canadians would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, reacting indignantly: The arrogance! Can you believe it? Our prime minister is such a disgrace! And then something else would have bumped this complete non-issue off the front pages. No one would have even thought of calling, or demanding, a snap election. A few months or years later, there’d have been another election anyway, and Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia would have gone on and on about how they couldn’t stand that fool, Chretien, but then they’d have given him another majority government anyway.

The reason that Chretien had no trouble winning majority governments and (grudging) support, while Martin is struggling mightily in both areas, isn’t because scandals came to light during the Martin years, while the Chretien government was scandal-free. Oh, no - apparently there’ve been enough scandals during the Chretien years to fill a book. But the first line of the single review of that book, from one Brent Colbert, says it all: Just finished this book and couldn’t believe how many of the scandals I had forgot over the last decade. Oh, Brent, we’ve all forgotten them. We’ve forgotten them because Chretien, unlike Martin, had taken to heart the first fundamental rule of high school debating, which is this: you must concede nothing to the opposition. Even when they’re right. Especially when they’re right. When your opponents accuse you of, say, corruption or fiscal mismanagement, you obviously don’t confess. Everyone knows that. Less obvious is the fact that you also shouldn’t deny it. Because when you deny it, you’re agreeing with your opponents in that corruption or fiscal mismanagement is wrong. You’re handing them that point, and they will run with it. The best strategy, as we learned from the Right Honourable Mr. Chretien, is to roll your eyes and call your opponents stinky poo-poo heads. You’re above their stinky poo-poo head accusations, and you don’t want to talk about them anymore. And poof! Those accusations don’t spend six months on the front pages of newspapers, and you win.

Maybe I’m giving the guy too much credit. Maybe he was simply, as many people said, inarticulate. Maybe it wasn’t a strategic evasion of big questions so much as an accidental avoidance of them that kept his scandals off the front pages and his ass in the prime minister’s office.

But in that case, more power to him. Man was a born politician. You can’t teach that sort of talent.

(Looking for intelligent commentary about the sponsorship scandal and Gomery inquiry? Declan’s got it. In general, if you’re ever looking for commentary about Canadian politics or journalism from someone who knows what’s going on, and who can get through a sentence without snark, you’re a lot better off reading him than me.)