JC returns! Now c’mon : you KNOW who I mean!

Good to see le petit gars back in the news. Jean Chrètien spoke on the Hill the other day on the occasion of the unveiling of his official Prime Ministerial portrait.

I liked this guy right from the time when I began to develop an interest in politics.

He was the consummate politician. He knew how to read the electorate all the while maintaining peace and order within his own party. Except for the period immediately preceding his departure, he was unifying, not divisive. He built consensus, not through intimidation and bullying – like the current PM – but through a keen sense of awareness of what everyone at the table required to be satisfied.

He came from a time where not everything had speaking notes attached or was an opportunity to discredit the other side. He picked his spots wisely and did not cast the net of cynicism over all of public discourse – like the Harperites have done.

Go ahead and diss the Shawinigan Handshake” or the policy decisions he took as the PM, but even his most vitriolic critic will concede that he knew how to relate to the electorate.

M. Chrètien laments the current state of the political culture in Canada, and rightfully so. I agree fully with him when he says:

“They work hard, these guys,” the self-described “little guy from Shawinigan” said in an interview shortly before the portrait ceremony.

“And you know, they are an honest crowd and everybody pictures them as a bunch of crooks. It’s very unfair.”

Public cynicism has mounted recently amid outrage over controversies like the Guergis-Jaffer affair and MPs’ refusal to allow the auditor general to scrutinize their expenses.

Mr. Chrétien blamed “gotcha” journalism for the cynicism.

“Trivia is what attract the attention. The debate is very rarely now on policies, it’s always on all sorts of gotcha politics because the media need gotcha politics. They need blood.”

But he conceded politicians share the blame for bringing themselves into disrepute.

“Members too, they’re stupid because they play the game. You know, they attack each other for nothing.”

And that applies to members on both sides of the house. There are many, many reasons to hate the Harperites, but the Opposition often will release the hounds on the trivial, non-policy related minutia.  And the Cons are even worse – remember the “just visiting” attack ads?

I believe that the vast majority of our political leaders are indeed hardworking, honest and with a clear sense of public purpose when choosing politics as a vocation. But many succumb to the vanity that is the disease that fells many politicos.

Max Weber was a German sociologist who delivered a lecture 1918 on “Politics as a Vocation”. This is one of those essays that I remember best from my undergrad studies in Political Studies at Trent U. in the early 1980’s.

Weber’s conceptual analysis of the politician’s ‘personality’ culminates in the observation that above all politicians ideally require a psychological facility for distancing themselves, even from their selves:

…first of all the career of politics grants a feeling of power… What kind of a man must one be if he is to be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history? … three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion… passion as devotion to a ’cause’ also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. ‘Lack of distance’ per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician.

Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one’s self.

…passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion… JC understood that there were necessary traits for a successful career politician.

Félicitations M. Chrétien! If you were still the Leader of the Grits, I would, just may, take out a membership!

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