In blessed hindsight, the decision of the Liberal campaign to put Stephane Dion’s teleprompter out of his, its or our misery is probably something that should have happened weeks ago. Go back to those town hall meetings in Bradford, Oakville and Toronto. Not a teleprompter in sight at any of those stops. Mr. Dion didn’t suddenly seem Obamaesque. But he was better. And, maybe most important, he appeared confident—a description that I’ve rarely felt applicable despite having seen him speak in public maybe a hundred times over the past year.
Teleprompters are for politicians, TV hosts, fading rock stars and the like. And if Mr. Dion has any superficial, personal appeal it’s in his being nothing like those things. It’s simultaneously the best and worst of his qualities.
He’s a professor, married to another professor, who was dragged into politics only to make his name engaging in what amounted to an academic debate with Quebec separatists. Even when he was named environment minister in Paul Martin’s government, he approached from the outset as a political scientist.
In the past it’s been argued that Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper are comparable in this regard, but they actually probably couldn’t be less alike. Harper has spent his entire adult life dealing in politics on a very direct and practical level—working for politicians and parties, lobbying for the NCC, running himself and winning public office. He might have a Master’s Degree in economics and possess a deep knowledge of public policy—he might move awkwardly and speak tediously—but he’s basically a politician.
And everything that has happened so far in the battle between the two can be understood through that distinction.
The Conservatives moved quickly and aggressively to make Dion’s primary asset—that he’s different—a disqualifying weakness. And when the election arrived, Harper worked to personify the safe, non-threatening politician—dressing, sounding and acting the part right down to some of the most hackneyed political cliches.
And so maybe the failure of the Liberal campaign, in this sense, isn’t that they (or he) couldn’t make a proper politician out of Dion as much as it’s that they (or he) tried to make him a proper politician in the first place.
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