Thanks to a wide-open Liberal leadership convention, British Columbia has a new premier with a silver tongue and a touch of mystery. Who is this Christy Clark now governing just south of Sarah Palin’s Alaska and two states up from Gerry Brown’s California? Has the most personal and incendiary political arena in Canada put yet another maverick in power?
Canada’s national newspaper put two reporters on the question. Here’s the headline:
‘There is a lot of appetite . . . for a little bit of honesty’ So says Christy Clark: working mother, former talk-show host and, as of this week, the Premier of British Columbia. She’s a charismatic breath of fresh air — but can she save the Liberals and still find time for her young son?
Click on: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/bc-politics/christy-clark-there-is-a-lot-of-appetite-for-a-little-bit-of-honesty/article1948106/
The overriding impression is of a woman with a “populist streak” who easily speaks her mind. Professor Norman Ruff, who’s watched 11 B.C. premiers come and go, complained that Clark’s predecessor, Gordon Campbell, always seemed to be holding something back — with Ms Clark “what you see is what you get.” Clark consciously stokes this fresh air image. She whispers about escaping the “cocoon” of the provincial capital, Victoria, and baldly asserts that even a “little bit of honesty and straight talk” is tough because government “as an institution works against those things all the time.”
Conversational facility isn’t the same as truth telling, and spontaneity doesn’t make you a populist. From a distance, the spin seems fishy.
Furthermore, what’s so superior about immediately saying whatever you think? Indeed, what’s so bad about a political institution—a democratic government of British Columbia—that chooses its words carefully or a former leader who couldn’t always share all that was on his mind?
She’s a charming professional communicator no doubt, but is she a populist of any recognizable shade? She was born into and thrived in the Liberal Party—one of British Columbia and Canada’s longest surviving elite institutions. Her resume marks a woman who’s faithfully lived up to elite virtues: studying French at the Sorbonne, religion at the University of Edinburgh and political science back home at Simon Fraser University. Ms Clark served as a full-time political assistant to a federal cabinet minister, married a professional political organizer and, at thirty, ran for the Campbell Liberals in order to throw out the “socialist” New Democrats.
A demagogue or a gifted orator can touch the powerless. However, to possess a real streak of populism a politician must actually share a measure of the nondescript millions’ alienation and discomfort—their sense of being outside, of not having the savvy or the luck to be equal to those who always seem to be running things.
A genuine populist is not necessarily charming. Really, if charm always favored the outsider, Richard Nixon would have destroyed Jack Kennedy in the 1960 presidential debate.
Faux populism may not simply be a small vice. It may signal the lack of a far greater virtue—a conscience with the intelligence to protect complex ideas that need more time to mature, as well as the ability to express well those ideas it’s sure of.