The Hair, Apparent
Let’s just call it “calm a lot” meets Camelot. Left-leaning Canadians, who never seem to get very upset with their own politics, typically frown a lot about how their southern neighbours go about their business. But the same crowd just can’t seem to resist any book with the name Kennedy on the cover.
It’s that possibility of a dynasty, you see. We love the generation-spanning soap operas when they reach into the political arena. Is it because it makes an otherwise dull subject a lot easier to understand- the concept that a son will take up the sceptre of his father and plod on? Perhaps. Most of us in the middle are, at least, indulgent of the dynasty idea comforted with our certainty that no leader would really dare to destroy the political paste that keeps us one. So why not make the whole dreary business a little more interesting?
That’s a question we’re faced with in Canada this summer. Will we make a Prime Minister out of a man based on his family name? There’s more to it than that, of course. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has more to offer the land than his political pedigree. He’s young, good looking. He’s a compelling speaker. He’s certainly earnest. You get the sense that he truly believes that he can make the country a better place. Every Canadian who plans to vote should, out of decency, at least listen to what Mr. Trudeau has to say. And many will because….? Because of his name- his father’s name- the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, philosopher king who shaped the law and much of how business is done here today.
In Canada’s Conservative party war room they’ve pounced on that. Canada’s Tories have become experts on defining Liberal leaders in the public mind before the Liberals get the chance to define themselves. In a summer ad campaign where young Mr. Trudeau’s application to become Prime Minister is examined by a mock hiring board we are told “being Prime Minister is not an entry level position.” Justin Trudeau’s policy gaffes are reviewed. And wary that Canadians are fond of the young man and the notion of dynasties the Conservatives end the ad saying “He’s just not ready.” Another Prime Minister Trudeau? Maybe someday. Not today.
To make matters worse- they tagged the ad with a defining line that is one the lips of everyone discussing politics here this summer. “Nice hair though.”
The ad campaign has had a real impact. There are a lot of people in the Liberal Party who are starting to wonder if Justin Trudeau is the candidate who can lead them out of the political wilderness. The polls show the middle ground voters, tired of a decade of Tories, are moving towards Canada’s New Democrats- a party that is trying desperately to stash its socialist luggage in the closet way behind next year’s Christmas presents. What went wrong?
A year ago every Canadian pollster was certain that Mr. Trudeau would win hands down. It was the cachet of that name. A dynasty just waiting to happen triggered by the good looks and like-ability of a young man who didn’t seem to have to struggle hard to defeat a tired ten-year-old government with no charisma whatsoever. The Conservatives were mired in scandals. There was that nagging recession that seemed to metastasize every time the economy started to get better. What could go wrong?
They used to ask that question in Hoboken, New Jersey. They asked it a lot when Frank Sinatra Jr. was abducted in December of 1963. Did his famous father arrange the kidnapping just to put his son on the entertainment radar? No. But the young Sinatra, who was, incidentally, a first-class musician, never could fill his father’s big shoes and it was damn cold in Frank Sr.’s shadow. How cold? The son of the man called “the chairman of the board” was last introduced as “member of the board” on TV’s “Family Guy” where he sang a song with Brian the dog.
A great name can be a liability if people start comparing you to your Dad.
It remains to be seen if the Liberals can claw their way back out of the whole they are in this summer and Justin Trudeau is still far away from having to stoop to canine accompaniment. But Liberals will have to find something else to campaign on than Justin Trudeau’s connection to his father.
That’s what it will take to move from “nice hair” to “nice heir”.