Editorial

As someone said to Schubert, ‘Take me to your lieder’

Peter C. Newman January 28 1980
Editorial

As someone said to Schubert, ‘Take me to your lieder’

Peter C. Newman January 28 1980

As someone said to Schubert, ‘Take me to your lieder’

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

As they march their parties backward through a campaign no one wanted, it's increasingly obvious that Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau are the only issues that count. “Canada,” reports Maclean's Senior Writer Roy MacGregor, “may well have entered the age of negative leadership. A vast number of people no longer vote for whom they like but against the one they hate.”

This raises the question of precisely what kind of leaders we must have to help us survive this perilous time. The basic function of democratic leadership is an ability to respect the past, convince the present and enlarge the future. Heritage fights impulse in any partisan setting. But it takes a rare political champion to balance the tug of the past with the pull of the future. (It’s as subtle a process as the difference between dreaming and remembering.)

My ideal prime minister would be a man or woman attuned to change, economic and social, with that special brand of courage Ernest Hemingway tagged as “grace under pressure.” He would be aggressive without turning contentious; decisive without being arrogant; compassionate without appearing confused. He would respect ideas, but not substitute them for action. A master of prose, he would never become intoxicated by his own. He would be pragmatic but only up to the point of knowing when to spurn the arithmetics of expediency.

Such a leader would be articulate and forceful enough to set out clear goals for this country and its two great societies not on the basis of public opinion polls or the in-group logic of his entourage but out of his own strong personal sense of priorities. Instead of participating quietly in the lottery of history, he would be capable of gripping events on the move, exercising the kind of impact that would reveal the character of the nation to itself. He would view legislation less as a posture than a process, using his mandate as a revolutionary instrument. Surrounding himself with much craggier characters than currently inhabit Liberal and Conservative hierarchies, he would recruit the odd adviser with callused hands and political instincts to match.

Few of these qualities find a roosting place in the leaders out there bidding for our votes. Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau take turns risking their credibility and our cynicism. They have come to expect the worst of each other and they’re seldom disappointed. As they cakewalk across the hustings, they are reminiscent of nothing so much as a couple of misguided hoofers on the vaudeville circuit who take bow after simpering bow long after the audience has stopped applauding.