Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Player

Justin Trudeau's intellectual limitations were on display last week in the remarks about China that have been so widely commented on.  The best critique is the column by Andrew Coyne that notes that the Trudeau gaffe is one of a series. As Coyne puts it:
...the Trudeauvian gaffe generally involves a quite deliberate statement, presented not flippantly or off-hand but in a determined effort to sound provocative or profound. If they instead strike the listener as ill-judged, it is because he seems to have invested so little actual thought in them. It is in the gulf between his intellectual reach and grasp that his reputation as a ninny has been earned.
There is another column from November 11 by Andrew Cohen, who is generally sympathetic to the Liberals, that suggests that alarm about the young leader is beginning to set in. Cohen wants the Liberal leader to do some homework:
Trudeau has to prepare himself. He is a gifted retail politician, superb on the hustings in either language. He can draw a crowd and appeal, in particular, to younger voters, with an edgy message.
What he lacks is gravitas. He looks too young, too slight, too whimsical. He must be seen as seasoned, savvy and ready to run a big country with a trillion-dollar economy.
To do that, he first needs to invest in himself, intellectually. He should spend a morning every week with experts on social, economic, fiscal, cultural and foreign policy. New leaders benefit from these tutorials. 
The bolding is my emphasis.  The question it raises is: why has he not already done so?  By the time Pierre Trudeau was his son's age, he had, for example, founded Cité Libre, contributed to a book on the asbestos strike and published the seminal essay on Duplessism, "Some Obstacles to Democracy in Quebec".

There is no evidence of comparable accomplishment on Justin's part.  Regardless the Trudeau name continues to be a magnet for large sections of the Canadian population.

One aspect of Justin's remarks that has been overlooked does contain an important truth: his drawing attention to China's crash green energy program. Started about seven years ago, China's efforts have not had enough time to produced significant dividends. Prompted by China's terrible air pollution, the program is nonetheless real. Of course, Trudeau could also have referred to democratic Germany's solar energy program and other green policies.

What the comments particularly revealed, however, was that Justin was not ready with a good answer to the question and more importantly, he did not have the skill, that all politicians need, to smoothly change the subject without stumbling, such that his audience and the media didn't notice.

When he was elected in April I argued:
I think the Justin phenomenon goes further than an initial burst of enthusiasm. It has an Emperor’s New Clothes feel about it. I see the enthusiasm of press and pundits, but a disproportionate amount of this is the politics of reputation, which... can disappear when there is a sober, candid appraisal of his actual performance. The residual popularity of Trudeau the father has made the son a celebrity, and has driven a circular self-reinforcing narrative that is predicated in large part simply on this popularity and celebrity. This has an impact on the polling, which then reinforces the media narrative, thus influencing future polls. This has happened before. It will happen again.
However, there is a limit to this cycle.  He must perform well as leader, especially in Parliament.
Perhaps the limit is close to being reached.