I’m a regular on Evan Solomon’s CFRA radio show with Alise Mills and Karl Belanger. My friends Mills and Belanger are articulate and thoughtful advocates (unlike me), and they’re prepared to criticize their own political party when it is warranted (like me).
Solomon invites us onto his much-listened-to show, we’re told, because we don’t just parrot partisan talking points. There’s too much of that on the airwaves – particularly over at CBC – and Solomon prefers panellists who are prepared to offer the occasional mea culpa.
Mills is (notionally) the Conservative strategist, Belanger is (usually) the New Democrat strategist, and I’m cast in the role of Liberal strategist (mostly). One topic recently was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit with the Philippines’ madman, President Rodrigo Duterte, and whether Trudeau would raise Duterte’s human rights violations.
I vigorously defended Trudeau and insisted he would do so (and he did). On every international excursion, I said, Trudeau has never hesitated to press human rights issues.
Mills, however, was having none of it. And she was intently focused on one part of Trudeau’s Philippines visit in particular: the part where the prime minister popped by a fried chicken place in Manila to get something to eat. He had a lot of cameras in tow, as prime ministers usually do.
Trudeau charmed the locals, ordered the chicken and left.
Mills, however, was mightily unimpressed. And if you were to eyeball the offerings of the conservative commentariat – and conservative commenters online – you’ll see she’s not alone. They went bananas about something that seemed quite innocent.
I’ve pondered all this and come up with a theory: conservatives know that Trudeau is arguably the best retail politician Canada has had since my former boss, Jean Chretien. When it comes to glad-handing and baby-balancing, Trudeau is without equal. When you think about it, you might agree that there isn’t an elected politician alive who is as good at this mano-a-mano stuff as Trudeau.
Now, of course, he overdoes it sometimes. His Superman stunt on Halloween was, as the website Mashable noted, “a little bit too self-aware.” Sniffed Mashable’s guy: “Trudeau is clearly fishing for more media attention, a tactic his administration has used for some time now. While Trudeau may be the darling politician to some, his obvious PR moves are getting old real quick.”
But if we’re being fair, we have to acknowledge that every politician, everywhere, fishes for media attention. They all do stunts. Chretien, for instance, rode on scooters and water skis. Trudeau’s dad did pirouettes. Bill Clinton donned sunglasses and played the saxophone. Barack Obama went kitesurfing, mugged with countless kids and openly loved his wife.
Wait – that’s not every politician. That’s just progressive politicians.
And therein lies the best explanation for Mills’ pique: conservative partisans detest Trudeau because he (like Chretien, Clinton, Obama, et al.) is really good at visuals. And conservative politicians generally aren’t.
Stephen Harper at the Calgary Stampede, dressed up like a wretched Woody in Toy Story. Robert Stanfield famously fumbling a football. Joe Clark losing his luggage and walking into a soldier’s bayonet. And bland Andrew Scheer, who just last week released a commercial – innovatively titled “I’m Andrew Scheer” – that was so bad, and so fundamentally weird, you half expect David Lynch to appear in it, holding an owl and a log, and talking backwards.
Conservatives aren’t very good at photo ops. Watch Donald Trump the next time he’s compelled to shake someone’s extended hand in the Rose Garden. He usually looks at it like it’s a wet dog turd – or, conversely, he latches onto it like a barnacle on the underside of a barge. It makes for fun television.
Conservatives, in their tiny black hearts, know this about themselves. Distilled down to its base elements, their ideology is misanthropy. So they avoid interactions with other humans wherever and whenever possible.
Trudeau, meanwhile, doesn’t. It’s the one thing he’s really good at.
And that’s why conservatives hate him when he does selfies and baby-balancing and cheery photo ops.
They wish they could do that stuff, too, and they’re jealous.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.