“I’m rubber, you’re glue. Your words bounce off me and stick to you.”
That juvenile little axiom popped into my head today as I contemplated the amazing Rubber Man, Justin Trudeau, and the clumsy attempts by Stephen Harper — the Darth Vader of Canadian politics — to ruin him.
Harper and his Conservative attack machine successfully ruined the careers of previous Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff even before they really got started. The Conservatives used non-election attack ads (unheard of until then) to paint Dion as a not-ready-for-primetime bumbler, and Ignatieff as ‘just visiting’ Canada. We don’t know just how much the attack ads impacted the public’s perception of the two leaders — Dion was barely able to speak English, and Ignatieff was kinda scary — but they certainly had an impact.
So it was only natural that Harper and his gang of thugs would go back to the old tried and true playbook to try to destroy Trudeau. But the first negative ads bounced off Trudeau (the rubber, see above) and landed on Harper (the glue). Trudeau was painted as not being experienced enough to be prime minister, and subtly mocked for being a mere teacher. For graphics, they used a clip of Trudeau doing a mild, mock striptease, which was intended to make him look foolish.
It all backfired. Harper was minimally experienced with he took over the Conservative party, as the media gleefully pointed out, so that charge didn’t stick. Sneering at teachers is a bad idea, in that there are thousands of teachers in Canada, and they enjoy a rarified reputation. But the real miscue was the strip clip. It turns out that Trudeau was having a little fun at a charity event, so basically the Cons were mocking Trudeau for having fun for a charitable cause. The only thing the ad did was emphasize that Stephen Harper would never, ever, in a million years, do anything fun. And that nobody wants to see him shirtless.
Having failed with the ads, the most recent line of attack was to blast Trudeau for making money as a public speaker while an MP. It’s all true; Trudeau made big bucks as a public speaker, in the range of $20,000 for an appearance. That’s big money, and a questionable (but not illegal) thing for an MP to do. But the Cons went too far. They leaked information that one charity was asking for its money back because the fundraiser Trudeau attended was a flop. Trudeau — under no obligation to do so — offered to repay the $20,000 fee, and promised other to return the money to other unsatisfied groups. So far, no takers, apparently.
Things just got worst for the PM. Turns out the leak came directly from the prime minister’s office, which is supposed to be non-partisan. Highly paid public servants are not supposed to spend their time digging up dirt on opposition politicians. The media, clearly in Trudeau’s corner, let everyone know where the information came from. Worse, it turns out the request to get money back came not from the organization, but one person in the organization, who had strong Conservative ties. So, instead of making Trudeau look like a grasping, greedy celebrity taking money from hard-done-by charities, Harper ends up looking like a devious, scheming creep who used public funds to damage a political rival. Which is what he is.
Harper is now zero-for-two in his attempts to discredit Trudeau. Why are they not working? First, the charges don’t stick very well. Even when they are true, like the public speaking controversy, Trudeau has found a way to counter the accusations by swiftly taking action. Bu more importantly, people seem to like this Trudeau kid, and every attempt by Harper to discredit him only makes Harper look like a churlish old grump. Again, which is what he is.
It’s way too soon to say that Harper is circling the drain as a leader. He’s a master strategist who may just be in a slump. But clearly, the old rules don’t apply to Trudeau. After all, he’s rubber, and Harper is glue.