Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Only Take the Bad?

I was watching the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama today – what a show! Hollywood is definitely an American invention, but we Canadians should take note.

The American inauguration was filled with music, dancing, and very well rehearsed performances by the dignitaries. That’s what today was all about – performance.

From meeting the with President Bush and his wife for tea prior to the swearing in, to having legendary American singer Aretha Franklin singing during the ceremony, to the presidential walk-about after the swearing in to the White House, it was all very entertaining.

When a Canadian Prime Minister is sworn in, there is a quick ceremony up on Parliament Hill, but that’s about it. You don’t have an estimated million-plus people lining the streets watching, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big name Canadian roc k star perform.

Oh we Canadians have taken some lessons from the American political machine – negative campaigning has been used in municipal, provincial and federal elections up here for years. Negative campaigning is when one politico tries to make his or her opponents look bad, and unfit for public office. It has been used in campaigns at the federal level – remember when Prime Minister Kim Campbell tried to make Prime Minister Jean Chretien look evil for talking out of the side of his mouth? That campaign back fired, when Chretien held a press conference, admitting to a childhood illness that left a portion of his face paralyzed, hence his speech impairment.

Negative campaigns have even been run at the local grassroots level – former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall tried to slam former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman’s campaign with a whole bunch of ads labelling him nothing more than a slick salesman. This campaign didn’t work either, Lastman went on to be a long-time mayor of Canada’s largest city, until he retired from politics just a few years ago.

Still, taking away the bad from American politics doesn’t necessarily do us Canadians any good. Many people in this country don’t care for Canadian politics – the American election got more attention here than our very own Canadian election running at the same time.

We need more Hollywood in our Canadian politicians. We need to have amazingly crafted speeches, spoken by truly great orators, in front of stunning back drops. Sure, there is more to a politician than how he or she is perceived – what he or she actually does to better or make worse our society is the end product.

But come on – how many people remember all the great advances made in society? When we reminisce about our leaders, we tend to focus on the negative – the GST from Brian Mulroney, the lack of funding for the CBC and our military from Chretien, the inability of Stephen Harper to have enough support to make any change. But when it comes to the good, we remember what kind of image that politician left on our minds. The slick, three-step-at-a-time ladies man Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the deep broadcaster-like booming voice of Brian Mulroney, the energy and passion in the speeches of Lester B. Pearson.

Obama is being called the “coolest” president the States has ever had. Cool uh? Sounds like a great image that can only come out of the Hollywood-American political system.

I remember when Ronald Reagan was president back in the 1980’s. He was an actor-turned politician. But he was never a great actor, he only did a handful of commercials, and his best movie had a chimp as his co-star. But still, Reagan had mass appeal in the States, even though years later his economic policies – dubbed Reaganomics by economists – led in part to the economic recession of the early 1990s.

That’s because Reagan had style. He was slick, smooth talking and knew how to give a speech. Reagan became famous for his speeches, where he used peaceful settings – like his desk in the Oval Office, with big containers of brightly colourful jellybeans on it – to deliver bad news. The peaceful setting offset the bad news.

Reporters often joked that they could predict how bad the news was, by the number of jellybeans on his desk. If he had more containers all topped up, look out!

Joking aside, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was one of the country’s best public speakers. I still remember his now famous speech on the south lawn of the White House, at the service remembering shuttle astronauts after the Challenger explosion.

The meaning of the message may be the most important part, but if you don’t have anything to lure people in, and hold their attention while you deliver that message, no one will ever get the message.

And that’s why most Canadians tune out of Canadian politics – but know all about our neighbours to the south.

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