Maclean's began its issue on "The Leaders" with: "That every federal election is about leadership is axiomatic." Well, axioms are worth challenging parallel lines never intersect, the free-market is self-correcting, etc. It's how people progress to new systems and visions. I'd like to know how they know that, and if it's even true.
Take John McCain's move this week to "suspend" his campaign in order to save the U.S. economy. Everyone realizes it's not a genuine action; it's a gesture, a sign, meant to "show" leadership. He "is hoping that his abrupt decision will be seen as the kind of ... leadership he believes Americans want." (Washington Post). It's like he's auditioning for the part of Decisive Leader in a movie. Then it gets offset by another gesture: shots of him on Katie Couric's news set while David Letterman plotzes on his own set because the candidate cancelled on him! Same stuff up here. Jack Layton has a sign on his podium reading Strong Leader. They could just superimpose a caption with an arrow: Strong head of strong leader, pointing at him, buffed and bulked up for the part. When asked if he "fears" a Harper majority, he recoils as if programmed to never use that word, because he's Strong.
This is politics as culture, as entertainment. The Leader is just one member of an ensemble. Elections as shows can be riveting like the Barack and Hillary show. What may occasionally interrupt them is a genuine, personal threat such as an economic crisis it's like a fire breaking out in the theatre. Suddenly, people aren't preoccupied with being entertained but with being saved. What do they care then who gives the best performance as leader?
StÃ©phane Dion is an odd case. He keeps yapping about his green plan even as party hotshots tell him the story line has changed, we're off that stuff. Could he think it isn't a show that the planet really is in danger? Would that count as real leadership rather than the acted kind? Poor StÃ©phane. Could he ever play a leader? Doubtful, although if he got elected somehow, and everyone onstage journalists, MPs treated him as a leader, he might start feeling, and acting it. Ah, the magic of theatre.
Is strong leadership even desirable? FDR, whom people think of in harsh economic times, wasn't elected as a strong leader. Once in office, he did things that made people think of him that way. Self-proclaimed strong leaders tend to come from the populist tradition Huey Long, Maurice Duplessis or totalitarian leadership cults. I wonder if Jack Layton ever cringes at the label. Before you can say it, I'll mention Churchill, a strong leader all his life but given the top job only when his country was already at war and a real bastard was needed. Even before war's end, the voters kicked him out in favour of a weaker leader whose policies they liked.
Why hasn't Harper the Strong pulled away from the field? Why is the Layton NDP stuck? How has the weak, frail Dion hung in as if voters are seeking something outside the strong leadership box? Such as weak leadership. Isn't that what real democracy would be about? It would disperse leadership among its citizens. In ancient Athens, they chose most leaders by lot, after policies were established in public debate. They made an exception only for leaders chosen in wartime.
So maybe the leadership axiom isn't so axiomatic. An Ipsos Reid poll this week found 62 per cent of Canadians say they're most "swayed" by party stances on key issues versus 21 per cent by leaders. Pollster Darrell Bricker was so stunned, and so committed to official theology, that he insulted voters by saying he didn't know if they meant it or were just trying to give "the right answer." To gain what, his approval? Maybe someone should poll the pollsters on whether they think Canadian voters have any brains.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.