Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You mean I shoulda been looking for a female blogger with a Ph.D. in linguistics?

Tory blogger Stephen Taylor is theorizing that a) while Stephen Harper and his wife are "ordinary Canadians," Stéphane Dion and his wife are not, and b) that stressing this will lead to more votes for Harper's Conservatives. The reason being that ordinary Canadians vote for candidates who are ordinary like them, not for people who are "less ordinary" or "extraordinary."

Leaving aside for a moment whether or not these two party leaders are actually all that different in their "ordinariness" (I'm doubtful), I'd like to ask a somewhat different question--do Canadians really vote for candidates based on whether or not they seem to resemble themselves? I mean, this is clearly the case in the United States, where billions of dollars are spent on image consultants that try to make multi-millionaires seem more like the guy next door. But assuming that just because Americans vote this way, Canadians must as well, seems like it could very easily end up being dead wrong. It's certainly not the case in a lot of European countries--I can't count the number of times Germans have told me that they expect their politicians to be more educated, more knowledgeable, and more willing to pay attention than they are, for example.

Is there actually any data that suggests that Canadians look for themselves in their politicians? Do you? (I sure don't!)


Anonymous said...

the fact that you blog about politics doesn't make you "ordinary" as most Canadians don't participate in this hobby. We're a couple of extraordinary people.

It's a good question though. You have to admit, Harper's people are trying to make him as mainstream (or downtown) as possible (hockey dad, tim horton's etc)... yet the aristocratic class rule in the UK and France.

Someone with a PhD should study this paradox. ;)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

stephen (taylor, not harper) sez:

the fact that you blog about politics doesn't make you "ordinary" as most Canadians don't participate in this hobby. We're a couple of extraordinary people.

Oh, I 'fess up to not being ordinary. (I don't know about 'extraordinary,' though--I'd just call it being a big ol' weirdo. *grin*) But I'm not sure why that's relevant to this post. Is your theory that only "ordinary" Canadians look for people who are like them? I'm not sure where you're getting your evidence for that (or for any of it).

You're right that Harper seems to be assuming that people pick politicians who are like themselves--I'm just wondering whether it's actually true. Do we know?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Oh, and:

Someone with a PhD should study this paradox.

Yeah, but probably not someone with a Ph.D. in linguistics. *grin*

Anonymous said...

I think that people look to see themselves in their leaders.

It is a representative democracy after all.

Paul Martin was hardly ordinary! He was a shipping tycoon. How many of us can claim the same.

It seems to be Harper's strategy. I don't know how "true" the strategy will be. I guess we'll be able to see later. But, as I've said elsewhere... Harper had to dodge the "scary" label so being the least dynamic guy that he is only helps his image.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I think that people look to see themselves in their leaders. It is a representative democracy after all.

But again, your own comment about the UK belies that generalization. That country is also a representative democracy (as is Germany, which was my example from the post), and yet it uses very different criteria from "most like me as possible" to choose its leaders. And while the whole "guy next door" schtick seems to work really well for a lot of American political leaders, what I'm seeing in Canada is something quite different. If you look at the leaders of all three of the big parties, what they have in common is that they're really really smart white guys. Two of them have Ph.D.s, and the other one has an image of being the "smartest guy in the room." To me, that suggests that Canadians may well be looking for something other than the guy next door in their leaders. It's just a hunch, but I don't think it's unfounded.

JG said...

the fact that you blog about politics doesn't make you "ordinary" as most Canadians don't participate in this hobby. We're a couple of extraordinary people.

The same can be said of professional politicians - like Harper - who have spent their entire careers in lobbyist organizations or in explicit partisan positions. Though "extraordinary" doesn't quite describe that...

Québécoise ambulante said...

It's a good question you're asking. In France, people seem to be looking up to those politicains who are well educated, who can speak more eloquently than your average gal.

In Québec, I am unsure, but I get a sense that intellectuals "n'ont pas la cote". Take Boisclair, for example, a graduate from Harvard... how many times has he been made fun of for using complicated words? And about his rival during PQ's last leadership race, Pauline Marois, many felt that they had to remind us of her working-class background... to make the point that she was "une femme du peuple" despite the fact that she is, through her husband, independently wealthy.

Québécoise ambulante said...

Oh... and if you need a female blogger with a PhD in linguistics, you know where to knock... =)

But I'll leave the study of this paradox to anthropologists!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Hey, you wanna run? Apparently I would be obligated to vote for you if you did--you fit my ideal profile to a T! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I would much rather have an extraordinary person as my leader than an ordinary one.

Extraordinarily smart, extraordinarily knowledgeable, extraordinarily capable, caring, and efficient.

And thank you for blogging again! :)

Anonymous said...

You want Ordinary? Vote Harper Party!

janfromthebruce said...

If you look back at political parties and their elected leaders, and even look at leaders in federal politics, they all have lots of education. Also, many lawyers also enter politics, and obviously they have lots of ed.
Harper's problems of relating to Joe and Mary on main street don't seem to have anythiing to do with elite education, but a lot more to do with his stand-offish personality.

Québécoise ambulante said...

Don't worry, IP... If I ever ran a political campaign, your honor would be safe... you could always claim you voted for the NDP candidate who also happens to be a female blogger with a PhD in linguistics... ;o)

Anonymous said...

Taylor's post struck me as having a very American outlook as Republicans pull out the academic or strong wife angle to scare voters away from Democratic candidates. I'm surprised Taylor didn't bring in the God angle as well -- evangelical born-again contrasted with secular. I think Taylor is way off the mark in pegging what Canadians look for.

James Bow said...

Personally, I don't think Canadians are all that ordinary, and I'm somewhat suspicious of politicians that try to pass themselves off as such. This is an expression of conformity, after all; an implicit demand that we not try to go beyond ourselves, or be extraordinary.

So, I'm less concerned over whether I'll find myself sitting next to Harper in a Tim Horton's or forced to sit before a lecturn in order to access Dion. I'm far more interested in hearing what each leader will do once in power. And attempts to distract that debate have limited returns, in my opinion. So what if Dion appears elitist; what are you going to DO, Mr. Harper?

That guy said...

Joe Clark was ordinary.

Pierre Trudeau was not.

Which one kept winning elections again? I forget.

The JF said...

Seems to me kind of like a strange concept to have somebody "ordinary" to lead you, I mean... If you're going to be led, wouldn't you expect that person to be smarter, more experienced and a better able to take decisions? Because if the person that's leading is exactly the same as you, you don't need a leader, you'd be fine just by yourself.

And I think if you look at the type of leaders that get elected in Canada, as pointed out, they're mostly academic types. It seems to be a difference between Canada and the USA, whereas Americans usually require their Presidents to have done military service to be considered seriously, as someone that risked it to defend the country and the values, Canadian Prime Ministers have all seemed to be academics and lawyers (right now we have, Harper with a Master's in Economics, Dion with a Ph.D in sociology, Layton with a Ph.D in Poli. Sci.), likely because we're in a perpetual constitutional mess, but also because they're usually perceived as better able to take decisions, to handle the duties of public office and just generally fit to uphold peace, order and especially "good governance".

Because if Canadians voted to elect the guy who seems most fun to have at a BBQ, Jack Layton and the NDP would be running the country right now, because despite Layton's Ph.D, he's been consistently voted as the guy you'd most like to have a beer with, and he's popularly perceived as friendly. Yet that doesn't seem to be helping us out all that much, and it's a bit late to change his image now even if he wanted to.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, when I mentioned to an American political scientist of my acquaintance that Canada's political leaders were all hugely educated academic types, he was all: "wow. that would NEVER happen here." It's an interesting cultural difference, to be sure.

Good point about Layton, too. His Ph.D. doesn't seem to put people off at all.

Anonymous said...

Gee, what category does Olivia Chow fall into? God forbid, she may have a brain and she is a politician.

I'd rather have brainy, interesting woman like Olivia Chow and Janine Kreiber than the dull Loreen Harper (Teskey until the election).

laura k said...

I don't see that in Canadians at all. I've never heard anyone talk about voting that way. And I've only heard the US tendency to vote that way derided - and not by highly educated people and/or lefties - by "ordinary" folks.

Anonymous said...

I do, but that's because I'm incredibly vain. To be more precise, I look for someone who's as smart as I imagine myself to be, but far more energetic. And probably with shorter hair. And it's not like I generally expect to find someone like that among the choices.