Cereal, herpes and Topic No. 1

Stewart MacLeod,Allan Fotheringham September 1 1986

Cereal, herpes and Topic No. 1

Stewart MacLeod,Allan Fotheringham September 1 1986

Cereal, herpes and Topic No. 1


Stewart MacLeod

Anyone with a passing grade in reading knows that in this repertoriai rat race called journalism, where a surfeit of fingers recycles a shortage of facts, there is invariably an In-Topic of glaring overexposure.

And before we turn to today’s great In, the redesigning of one Brian Mulroney, you might recall the “God-isdead” marathon debate of 10 years ago. That was definitely an In-Topic. With the probable exception of Reader's Digest, every magazine in the world was dredging up theologians, scientists and psychics who, without one additional fact in hand, penned millions of words and banked millions of dollars based on someone’s idle thoughts. That, of course, was before the rediscovery of herpes and the subsequent fears that our greatest threat lay not in the hydrogen bomb but in seas of running sores.

As it turned out, AIDS quickly reduced herpes to a form of medical Trivial Pursuit. And there is no doubt that our intense interest in the drug problems of American society queens two years ago would have had a longer run had we not turned our collective attention to the discovery that people beyond the age of retirement actually enjoy sex. So for the last 18 months we’ve been virtual voyeurs of the passionate proclivities of octogenarians: “Dear Ann Landers: My 93-year-old lover is coming on too strong

“Dear Exhausted: Count your blessings, and talk to your minister----”

“Dear Ann: He is my minister.” Incidentally, international In-Topics can be quickly identified when any three publications at a supermarket checkout counter mention the same subject. Canadian In-Topics are usually those in which CBC interviewers insist on talking with Toronto newspaper representatives—leaving Out-Topics to the world’s regional publications, such as the Red Deer Advocate or The Times of London.

Sorry for that digression, but it was merely to lay the groundwork for today’s In-Topic which is, beyond dispute, the reinventing of our Prime Minister. The reference to senior sex was merely, as TV evangelists like to tell us, “an illustration.”

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.

Anyway, right now, despite some scattered distractions, such as Ed Broadbent’s annual predictions about an impending NDP breakthrough or the monthly straw polls on John Turner’s leadership, the In-Topic around the nation’s capital is clearly the New Brian Mulroney. As John Diefenbaker liked to say, usually about the public’s affection for him, “It’s everywhere.”

What we’re getting from this year’s summer doldrums is a daily windfall of words about an unprecedented remodelling process—one that will present the nation with a swept-wing Prime Minister, a firm, directed and decisive high-roading leader who wouldn’t be caught dead sharing a tuna sandwich with a touring Korean banker.

No more scandals, no more namecalling, no more unnecessary identification with scuzzy politics. One head-

The reference to senior sex was merely, as TV evangelists like to tell us, intended as (an illustration’_

line, this in The Toronto Star, used the term “boardroom leadership” to describe the new prime-ministerial approach. The Ottawa Citizen talked about a “midterm makeover.” “The most noticeable change,” someone wrote, “is that the PM will simply be a lot less noticeable.”

That, of course, would be very noticeable.

Assorted advisers, officials, aides, colleagues, friends and probably some enemies have been busy explaining how it’s necessary to leave the messy trench warfare of Parliament to others—notably Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, who deserves much better—and have The Boss identify himself with nobler affairs of state— perhaps free trade negotiations, constitutional discussions, tax reform. All heavy-duty stuff.

We have been told, many times in fact, that he will be “cooling the rhetoric,” picking fewer fights with the opposition, perhaps making less frequent trips into Parliament—a practice he would have no difficulty perfecting— and, if possible, travelling more to for-

eign countries where, barring the loss of an arm-wrestling match with a hooker or being nicked by an errant bayonet, it’s virtually impossible to get a bad press.

The Prime Minister, they say, gets a real bang out of a good press.

Meanwhile, we have read, read and read that more authority will be delegated to key ministers to spread the good news and, presumably, absorb the bad. “The public,” said one story, “will see Mulroney mainly when he can safely solve a problem forthrightly or end a controversy decisively by putting his prime-ministerial foot down.”

And after reading a dozen or more stories with roughly the same message, not to mention an equally repetitious batch of TV conversations on the same subject, I am pretty well convinced something of the sort must be in the works. However, it seems only fair to admit that during an earlier In-Topic blitz, I was equally convinced that breakfast cereal, when eaten with warm milk, causes herpes.

But what most remains to be convinced about is the Prime Minister’s willingness to undergo a refit. He’s not only a chatty chap, he enjoys the sharp end of partisan politics and, furthermore, he’s good at it. And amid all the plentiful prose about remodelling, it was faintly fascinating to hear his comments on his own popularity: “I run ahead of the party in all areas of the country.” While not every breathing Tory might agree with this assessment, notwithstanding the authority of the assessor, it doesn’t sound like someone in search of personal redecorating.

Trouble is, there is no way to establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, whether Mr. Mulroney will go into a public relations dry dock before the fall and winter season. No public figure has ever admitted the need for such an overhaul, and the present Prime Minister doesn’t look like being the first exception. And should he refuse, after the subject has been so profoundly In, just imagine the sudden and embarrassing journalistic vacuum that will occur. You just don’t develop a replacement In-Topic overnight—not even something so gripping as deciding whether Canadian culture is on, under, above or beside the free trade negotiating table.

Spare us.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.