The 2008 U. S. election represented something that rarely happens: some of the electorate developed a genuine belief that things can change. Usually, this happens when the candidate is a strong speaker. I’d put Reagan, Kennedy and Roosevelt in that category.
If Americans think 2008 got people excited, they should have been in Canada in 1968. We had “Trudeau Mania”. Pierre Elliot Trudeau became a rock star – he was young, good looking and smart. He had style and Canadians developed a hope that we could actually be “cool.” A constant theme of the election was all the women and girls who wanted to kiss him.
We’d had a series of minority governments (the governing party doesn’t have a clear majority and must rely on a third party for support). The Liberals got a strong majority in 68.
By 1972 – the first election I voted in – things got more realistic and, unfortunately, more cynical. He was returned with a minority government. Many in Western Canada had also developed a real antipathy towards Trudeau that has lasted to this day.
To be fair, I think both Obama and Trudeau said in their campaigns that there would be difficulties ahead. The electorate didn’t want to listen to that part of their message. Like the beginning of a romance, all we see is exciting possibilities. And we all know what happens long term with almost all romances.
Farther into the future we also look back on old girlfriends and boyfriends with nostalgic glow. The same happens with Presidents and Prime Ministers. Trudeau, in English Canada, is well regarded. I passionately disliked Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – it represented a departure from the gradualism that’s one of the best features of a British style parliamentary democracy. Yet now I admire the man and have learned to live with court challenges.
Most issues, and hence politics, are messy and difficult. Yet we yearn for simplicity and “common sense.” This desire isn’t helped by a media that also caters to the once sentence observation.
So, how many grown-ups are in the electorate? We’ll see.