Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Trudeau Swims Into A Superficial World

Much of the Justin Trudeau chatter amongst the "political class" is focused on the style vs substance question, pretty hair meets concrete policy.  While I completely agree that Trudeau must demonstrate some policy chops- particularly on the economy- I find the discussion a bit detached from reality, even more curious given past experience.

Begin with a simple fact: Canadian politics are as deep as a bird bath, packaging trumps substance every single time.  Political geeks may yearn for depth, but what is presented to ordinary Canadians by political parties and the media that covers is largely simplistic, superficial, soundbite, catchphrase TRIPE.  To then demand serious policy wonk articulation from Trudeau is to forget the current climate, which is why I find the "bar" being set for success an esoteric discussion, with little relevance to real world Canadians.

Trudeau must articulate a vision for Canada, Trudeau must have an economic agenda that comes with appeal, Trudeau must look competent and display leadership qualities.  Beyond these generalizations, perhaps superseding, Trudeau must be packaged and sold, like a commodity.   Today, I hear soundbites from Trudeau's speech last night, a snappy line all that is required to convey a positive tone.  Trudeau loves Canada, delivered with authenticity, right there a passing grade for an introductory speech, if one incorporates all the other intangibles that make Justin attractive.   The Conservatives have mastered the 5 second soundbite, facts and stats secondary, so why then do pundits look for something deeper when analyzing Trudeau's "challenges"?

We currently have a government in power that has ran on a couple banner ideas, marketed like a product, tight messaging, repetitive themes, all within the domain of that film that resides at the top of any pond.  Nobody gets their hair wet in Canadian politics, in fact it is dangerous to offer in depth policy, it allows for retort, attacks, much better to run on hope and slick packaging.  Again, we political geeks may hunger for more, but the reality is all this talk about Trudeau needing to display great policy depth is pure bunk, cobble together a generalized vision, offer up some detail in a "red book" and sell it.

Above all, whether Trudeau succeeds or fails will depend on his ability to CONNECT.  Within that reality, how the Liberal team sells the man, how it packages the general vision, how it creates a constituency that ultimately brings success, both in terms of leadership and potentially beyond.  If Canadians like Justin, it will be more important than deep intellectual arguments concerning substance.  Not a statement on right or wrong, just a recognition of the modern political machine, which also understands there is much to "work with" with Justin Trudeau.


Kirbycairo said...

"I completely agree that Trudeau must demonstrate some policy chops - particularly on the economy"

Really? Why? No other party or leader has demonstrated anything like policy chops. Harper has demonstrated that you can offer nothing (not even decent platitudes) and still get elected PM.

Steve V said...

I don't disagree in one sense, but I do think Trudeau has to look credible on the economy.

Omar said...

"We currently have a government in power that has ran on a couple banner ideas.."

And Harper did and thought what exactly before he was PM? Yeah, not terribly much. I was a little worried about what Trudeau's announcement speech was going to be like, but was pleasantly surprised and thought it quite good. As soon as he finished though I turned the channel to forgo all the usual suspects and their usual 'spin'. I have absolutely had it with anyone's opinions other than my own. Thank you very much.

Dan F said...

Recruiting Mark Carney as a candidate, and Finance Minister-in-waiting, regardless of whether or not he's a leadership candidate, will go a long way to establishing that credibility. For all the talk of Carney as a leadership candidate, I suspect he will finish up his term at the Bank of Canada and at that point be an excellent candidate for MP and potential Finance Minister.

Steve V said...

I stopped watching after the speech as well.

Purple library guy said...

Well, it's true that Trudeau's problem is not so much lack of policy depth as the appearance of lack of policy depth. Harper gives the impression of being an accountant-ish guy in a suit, which gives him instant credibility. Mulcair has a strong political background and has a certain solid portliness about him, plus his general reputation is about being tough or mean. Plus, both the NDP and Conservatives are associated with a general ideology, a set of ideas. Harper and Mulcair just need to invoke those ideas by nodding in their general direction and it looks like they've said something.

But Trudeau's impression is all about "appealing"; he doesn't look like an administrator, he looks like a nice guy. There's no instant authority there. And that interacts badly with the recent problems of the Liberal party itself, which of late years has been seen as standing for nothing in particular, as flailing around for a distinct stance and not finding it. So Trudeau (like other Liberal leadership contenders) has nothing much to nod to that will make Canadians go "Ah, yes, he's referring to those distinctively Liberal positions". Means he has to make it up himself. And in fact it's been explicitly stated a number of times that this time around, the job of potential Liberal leaders is nothing less than to invent a whole new set of ideas with a Liberal stamp on them for Liberals to invoke so that they don't look like a pack of empty suits.

Not fair to Trudeau, but there you go. I can see why it's working that way.

Steve V said...

I think that fair comment, which is why there has to be some fleshing out to gain credibility. If Trudeau's team can come up with a few specific economic divergent positions, then "nice guy" will be plenty.

S.H. said...

What we're seeing is the "simplistic, superficial, soundbite, catchphrase TRIPE" of the opening smear campaign on Justin Trudeau.

What the G&M, Bruce Anderson and so many others write today is the groundwork being laid for the attack ads of the CPC tomorrow.

You're not witnessing serious journalism or even a serious critique of Trudeau. You're witnessing the conservative media earning their federal advertising dollars and Senate seats.

Steve V said...

I agree, the reaction today only confirms my title.

One aside, the fact Trudeau will be making his first stop in Alberta suggests a pretty sauvy team behind him, a good initial move.

the salamander said...

tadpole Trudeau could run on "I will clean up Parliament, appoint a neutral Speaker, ensure democracy thrives, investigate and prosecute the Harper crimes, ensure fair elections, protect the environment.. and the habitat and all creatures, and meet openly with the citizenry and the media on a weekly basis.'

Harper and 'Transparent and Good Government Inc.' can blather on with force-feeding us Kenney spew, Oliver, Baird, Mackay, Clement, Kent, Toews, Fantino, Flaherty nonsence-dogma, jammed down our throats and equally jammed into us as suppository good government medicine.... Please ?

Mulcair will likely provide something tangible....

The best we can hope for right now, is that Harper and his cling on Alberta Bound lard assed Cabinet are relegated back to a minority government that needs a note from mommy to talk to China.

lungta said...

catch 22 politics 101
any actual policy will be sliced diced and trashed but as a policy is needed simply offer a policy opposing the others lack of policy
catch phrases STOP HARPER and STOP HARPENOMICS is enough financial policy for 95% of voters.
this also has the advantage of spining the pundits into endless deniable unverified speculation and opinion articles along the lines of "what is the difference between a duck?" and "is it further to Banff than by bus?"
if you follow this template then the real battle of feelgood visions and battle by "8x10 glossy" can begin