Lights! Camera! Election!
“Tracy Flick: “None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn't meddled the way he did. He should have just accepted things as they are instead of trying to interfere with destiny. You see, you can't interfere with destiny, that's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's just going to happen anyway, and you'll just suffer.”— Election, 1998
There has always been political theatre. Teddy Roosevelt came back from Africa to challenge his close friend Bill Taft in 1912 when the portly Ohioan tried to dull TR’s environmental record. The Reform press ate it up. The Kennedys were a Wagner Ring cycle of drama and tragedy with murder, drownings and Mafia girlfriends that still gets airtime.
And then there was “the rise of the oceans will begin to slow” from the oracle of the autocue, Barack Obama. In Canada, Pierre Trudeau was a forerunner of House Of Cards as he mocked their Queen and challenged the status quo of the nation’s first century.
So we should not be shocked by the Stanislavsky turns of the current political year. With social media as its plutonium, treading the boards for votes has gone nuclear. The icky task of governing is left to wonks, with basking in the Rose Garden the spoils for the competent campaigner.
Let us assume the Republican Party will find a way to screw up its golden chance to retake the White House (you know they will) and that Boy Trudeau becomes prime minister like his Daddy. What have we learned about the current state of chewing on the scenery to get elected in 2015-16?
Elections are still about telling stories, not toting up abacus scores on the economy. When he ascended to the Liberal leadership, Trudeau didn’t have much narrative beyond scion of a great political story from his pere and his maternal grandfather Jim Sinclair. The rest was gauze and wishful thinking.
Then the Conservatives did him the enormous favour of writing him a narrative worthy of Frank Underwood: figure of pity. For all his economic huffing and puffing, Stephen Harper never found a story for himself as compelling as the “Not ready yet” handle he laid upon the brow of the Liberal leader.
Inadvertently, the Tories gave him his story: the put-upon young underdog whose bar was so low after the Conservative pounding that a sumo could have hurdled it. And hurdle it Trudeau did, albeit barely. When Harper and NDP chef Tom Mulcair discovered that the hectoring, finger pointing Trudeau was not going to soil himself on national TV, they were at a loss where to go next.
Helping the Liberal leader, a media pack seething from years of Harper’s neglect gave Trudeau a hall pass in lieu of cataloging Tory malfeasance.
Given their low expectations, the public allowed Trudeau a second look after the debates. Spouting a platform of Harper’s vulnerabilities derived from polling, he fed Harper Derangement Syndrome so furiously that soft NDP support bolted Mulcair to join Trudeau in slaying the dragon. The only question now is will the NDP collapse enable a majority in the election.
In the U.S., the commedia dell arte has come via Donald Trump as The Grinder and the Tracy Flick performance of Hillary Clinton. To a public addicted to the new porn of brazen politics,
Indeed, Trump has removed the proscenium arch of political theatre to create a political So You Think You Can Dance. Juggling a half dozen catch phrases ranging from I’m a deal maker to I’m very successful, Trump struts like Archie Bunker in a $10,000 suit, damning losers and ugly people and politics as usual. Needless to say, a public that adores the Simpsons and South Park find Trump endlessly amusing. The issue for Trump is whether he’s a six-month special series or a long-running sitcom that will last into the next decade.
Hillary Clinton’s theatrical bent lies in her utterly fearless dissembling, a technique imperfectly acquired from her husband Bill, the Frank Sinatra of insincerity. With her painted smile and plucky demeanor, Clinton re-orders her universe to a collection of perfidies she artfully weaves into a plea for self pity.
Challenged in Tuesday’s debate on her myriad lies about her e-mail trail, Clinton blamed a congressional committee. Told by Anderson Cooper that the FBI thought it was more than a committee witch hunt, Hilary barely batted an eyelash as she fibbed about happily telling all she knows (except the parts she erased on her drive) when the chance comes around.
It put one in mind of Tracy Flick’s pushback against authority in the movie Election when caught tearing down opponent’’s signs. “And they certainly shouldn't be making slanderous accusations, especially when certain young, naive people's mothers are paralegal secretaries at the city's biggest law firm, and have won many successful law suits. And if you want to keep questioning me like this, I won't continue without my attorney present.”
The performance was of such class that her opponent Bernie Sanders, the socialist post card America mailed herself in 1968, declared it time to move away from such email trivialities to real issues like the revolution in America. His literal embrace of Ms. Clinton brought down the house. And guaranteed Tracy Flick on the ticket for 2016. Bring up the lights!
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy @npbroadcaster