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Welcome To Politics 2016: Experience Defintely Not Preferred By Media Savants

In what has been a most unusual political year, a new revelation. Previously it had been believed that the breadth of a candidate’s experience was of paramount importance. As a result U.S. governors were the trendy pick of the experts this cycle. Stephen Harper’s experience was supposed to help him hold off the unproven Justin Trudeau. Hillary Clinton would slaughter the Democratic field.

But judging by the Canadian and American elections there can now be no greater impediment to gaining office than a full resumé. To survive vetting, it’s better to offer nothing rather than a track record. For proof, look no further than last fall’s Canadian election where Trudeau, a man with no history to speak of, won a majority government. His opponents in the election were ruthlessly pilloried by the media for the foibles in their lengthy careers. 

Stephen Harper was castigated for his management of the economy through almost a decade of turbulence. His reputation in other nations as a competent steward was ignored, while his sins against those he’d spurned made headlines in the debates. 

Poor NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, veteran of both provincial and federal politics, was sunk by the niqab torpedo, having taken the unpopular position on Muslim face coverings. Next to the pristine escutcheon of M. Trudeau the bearded NDP leader was fact-checked to oblivion by the media. 

On this strategy Trudeau was in lock step with his idol, U.S. president Barack Obama. No American president has ever reached the highest office on a thinner resumé than Obama. His feet barely left an imprint as he went from Illinois politics to the presidency in a flurry of “not here” votes and one-term stays office. 

Trump’s failures are a sexier story. For those who’ve hidden in the make-believe of government or media their entire lives, free from the market forces that buffet everyone else, Trump’s steak, water, university or clothing business are gotcha’ moments.

By comparison, his two presidential opponents, John McCain (2208) and Mitt Romney (2012), had lengthy careers in politics, the military and business. Romney’s extensive record of job and wealth creation was ignored in favour of blistering attacks on companies that failed or employees who were impacted. Forgetting Edison’s admonition “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”, pundits and scholars had Romney declared a cutthroat villain because not every business he’d turned his hand to had turned to gold.

Meanwhile, Obama got a pass from the media based on gauzy rhetoric about seas rising, racial harmony and peace in our time (themes he failed to live up to). Like Chauncey Gardner in Being There,  Obama's blank slate was his shield from criticism, his wisdom incarntate.

In the current U.S. elections Donald Trump is suffering the same media scrutiny on his lengthy career as a businessman. The very nature of “creative destruction” in capitalism guarantees even the most successful will have failures. Yet, as happened with Romney, the press has created the perception that a successful business person must bat 1.000. Ergo, Trump’s business acumen is a fraud.

His failures are a sexier story. For those who’ve lived the make-believe of government, media or tenure-track academics, free from the market forces that buffet everyone else, the record of Trump’s steak, water, university or clothing businesses are gotcha’ moments. 

Even poor Jeb Bush, who sought a polite middle way, was carved for his family name, his stance on immigration and other products of decades in public service. Unlike Obama, Bush had actually taken stands on issues, stands that were used as missiles against him. 

The Republican version of Obama was supposed to be Florida’s Marco Rubio, who’d risen so quickly though the ranks that he’d barely made an impression on legislation. There was talk in the initial Republican debates that America didn’t need another first-term senator to learn the ropes of office on the job. Sadly for the Florida senator, he’d generated one piece of paper on immigration — and that eventually brought about his downfall. 

The consequences of candidates with pristine records being excused versus people with a resumé being eviscerated is a chilling development. But in its haste to stir the social media beasts, the press have created a perception that no controversy equates to a successful past in a candidate. Added to Trump’s object lesson in the value of celebrity, it’s not hard to see Kanye West making good on his vow to run for president in 2020.

The expression used to be “a person of substance”. Based on there past two election we’ve watched, the public is high on substance. But it’s not quite the substance that the founders of Canada and United States wanted voters to smoke.  

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy

Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).