They’re about to hold an election in my native Canada, and I’m reminded of Roman Hruska, an otherwise unmemorable Republican Senator from Nebraska, and his defense of a less than qualified Supreme Court nominee in 1970. Even if Harold Carswell is mediocre, said Hruska, so what? “There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”
The thought that mediocrities deserve representation is the wind beneath Canadian Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s wings. The Liberals tried brilliant (Michael Ignatieff) and experienced (just about every prior leader), and look where it got them. We don’t need no Harvard professor, let’s have a high school teacher—Justin.
And as a high school teacher, Justin was no doubt a star, the kind of person on whom all the girls had crushes. The kind of person of whom tales were told. As a politician, however, his only memorable intervention in Parliament was an obscenity. As a leader, his platform is a farrago of banalities, and on the most important issue of the day—the Trans Pacific Partnership—he has chosen to waffle.
As a non-resident Canadian, I won’t be able to vote in the election, and I suppose I have Stephen Harper to thank for that. Let me tell you, Wayne Gretzky and I are a little burned up about that. Still that hasn’t stopped The Great One from supporting the Conservatives from afar, and me either.
The Tories have been playing politics of late, offering the kinds of goodies politicians toss around come election time. That’s in the nature of things. What’s remarkable, however, is the long game, the way in which Canadian politics have taken a sharp turn to the right, in the direction of economic sanity, and the Conservatives can take much of the credit for that. They’ve shown that one needn’t trade off jobs and wealth gains against generous social policies, and in doing so have made Canada the most admired country in the world. Right now all major Canadian parties are way to the right of the Dems.
Right now, there are only three Canadians on the world’s radar screen. To our shame, Justin Bieber and Rob Ford are two of them. Stephen Harper is the third, however. People took notice of his speech before the Knesset, and paid even more attention to his frosty handshake with Vladimir Putin. At photos of G-7 leaders, where we struggle to identify the Italian president, Harper’s face is recognized. I can see NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in the group shot also, standing in the corner, as Mitterrand did. But Justin? I can’t imagine seeing him there, without feeling a sense of embarrassment.
Justin’s father, Pierre-Eliot Trudeau, was the very opposite of mediocre. Perhaps that should give one pause, since we learned from his government that brilliant people can be clueless about what it takes to build an economy. I recall a speech that William F. Buckley gave in Montreal in the early 1980s. From the audience, someone asked him how he could defend a president whose intellectual gifts were seemingly so modest. “I don’t agree about Reagan,” said Buckley, “but even were that the case I’d prefer him to a brilliant Pierre Trudeau.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes didn’t think that brains were all that mattered, either. Holmes admired Franklin Roosevelt, who he thought had a second-class mind but a first-class temperament. Pierre Trudeau also had a temperament of the highest order, and the kind of toughness required to stare down the FLQ and bind up a divided country. Courage of that kind matters. It’s the cardinal virtue, said C.S. Lewis, because it’s the form of every virtue at the sticking point. It’s a virtue which Tom Mulcair has in spades, and which Harper has also shown. But Justin? Read his feeble policy statement on the TPP and you’ll know just what to expect of him in a crisis.
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