Saturday, January 26, 2008

Trudeau and Obama: The View from the National Post

So it's not just me. Apparently Robert Fulford over at the National Post (of all places) has also picked up on some of the parallels between Trudeau and Barack Obama.
The Democrats' Trudeau?

... Like Trudeau, Obama seemed almost to come from nowhere: One day he was hardly known, the next he was a tidal wave. Like Trudeau in 1968, he stands for "change," which means anything you want it to. He appeals, as Trudeau did, to citizens who have lived through a time of fractious partisanship and yearn for a new era, with fresh energy and fresh optimism.

In the context of national politics, Obama looks young, as Trudeau did. Trudeau was 48 when he became prime minister; Obama will be 47 at his inauguration next winter, if it takes place. Both of them taught in law schools, showing a particular interest in constitutional law. Both have been called thoughtful, exceptionally smart and charismatic. Neither came with experience in large-scale administration.

He doesn't really indicate whether he thinks this is a good thing or not, but I was amused that he mentions a lot of the same points I made back here. To which I would add something that Fulford touches on but doesn't really explore:

Obama had a white mother and a black father.
Trudeau had an Anglo mother and a Francophone father.

From what I understand, being half French in Canada back then was about the equivalent of being half black in America today. On top of cultural prejudice on both sides, Trudeau was distrusted by the Quebecois because he was too connected to the Anglo establishment, and dismissed by the English for being too focused on Quebec issues.

Sound familiar?

Trudeau pretty much failed to use his bi-lingual and bi-cultural background as a bridge between Canada's two solitudes. His bitterness over seeing so many of his friends getting caught up in the Separatist movement, which he considered a colossal waste of time, resources and intellect, expressed itself in an attitude of anger, stubbornness and frustration that damaged English-French relations even as he tried to reconcile them.

Obama doesn't seem to have the same bitterness, so here's hoping he has a little more success in his bridge building efforts than Trudeau.

1 comment:

  1. I just clued in to this connection tonight (Can't believe it took me this long!), after watching Obama's recent speech in Flint, Michigan. I sensed a passion for the possible in Obama that I recall in Trudeau ... Even though I was only ten years old when "Trudeaumania" hit Canada, I caught the bug, so to speak. At ten, I thought that Trudeau would make the coolest dad (he obviously was to his children, and he *cherished* them, as Obama does his two girls); I've been fascinated, inspired, and sometimes driven a bit bonkers by the man's intelligence, charisma, ideas...and his smart-ass wit. All faults aside, I believe that Trudeau *loved* his country, its ideals and people (despite his reputation for "reason over passion" and a persona that could verge on the haughty); I sense a similar feeling and drive for national greatness in Obama.

    The synchronicities and complements between the two men are amazing -- one being their names. Pierre (French) Elliot (English) Trudeau (from the Old High German "drud" -- see the marvelous for more -- See the third entry in the "What's in a Canadian Name?" section) ... and Barack (shared origin: Arabic and Hebrew) Hussein (Arabic) Obama (Kenyan). Both men of wide-ranging heritage; one uniquely Canadian and one utterly American ... and both visionary beyond their countries' identities and borders.

    Obama said something in his Flint speech: "If we choose to change..."

    "If we choose to change." How often do we hear statements like that? How often does a politician remind us of our shared responsibilities towards one another and the world?

    Both men -- I think of each as a "paterfamilias" to his country -- have urged people to wake up, grow up (Obama, to paraphrase: "Turn off the TV; put down the remote..."), and act together for the greater good. How refreshing ... and forty years after Trudeaumania, the world's ills are that much more serious and people sense it, deeply ... so it's unlikely that Obama will whoosh down a staircase, pirouette behind a Queen or give dissenters the finger ... but oh, he'll shake up the status quo and that can only be to the world's good.

    I can't help but wonder if Obama has ever studied Trudeau's life...I wonder who his intellectual mentors have been...