Do you realize that Hillary Clinton and Justin Trudeau are the most popular politicians in North America today?
Two inspirational speakers with inspiring names ride above scandal, uneven recovery, and apocalyptic worries about the environment, global governance, and democratic capitalism. They are more popular than all the other professional politicians who’d like to change things significantly and, as well, they lead the conservative-minded incumbents in Ottawa and Washington.
They have plenty more in common.
Beyond the daily pleasures and perils of celebrity, they’ve both won regional elections and campaigned to lead national liberal parties. (Trudeau now leads Canada’s Liberal Party and Clinton was supposed to win the presidential nomination for the Democrats in 2008.)
Also, neither has ever run a winning national campaign, a significant national organization, an elected government, a domestic program, or a domestic department of government. They’ve never raised a tax, cut a loophole, shrunk a program, passed a program, selected a Cabinet, nominated a judge, chosen one good cause over another, or negotiated with a public sector union.
Still, their polling numbers sweep the field. Their names conjure memories of better times; and they do that old trick of appearing to do politics and modern government better than all the overwrought ideologues and sordid hacks who don’t call themselves liberals.
They hang with the rich and their retainers but don’t answer to money. They’re “aspirational” without being ideological.
They don’t play on the edges or ever stray outside the orthodoxies of the two oldest political machines in the West. Today, each carries the dream of power that beats in the hearts of insiders in both machines.
Yet, they both complain about cynicism and bet they can win by owning the slogan “It’s time for a change”—that sigh that kills rigorous debate and skirts the hard business of securing a mandate to do something important.
Bit cranky? Do I have a problem with dynasties? Sure.
But declining to bet on Trudeau in the Canadian election of 2015 and Clinton in the US election of 2016 is easy, even a cold calculation. Betting that both will win is far harder.
Big surprises may come along and save Stephen Harper and elect a Republican President. And, after that happens, people will say: a second term for Harper was in the cards and a third term for Democrats wasn’t. However, even if nothing extraordinary happens, we already know enough about Trudeau and Clinton, their styles, their politics, and their adversaries to question their chances of keeping ahead for years before anyone votes.
Saying they’ve got what it takes today is roughly equivalent to believing that focus groups today can tell Apple executives what will be selling—and how to sell it—2 years from now.