Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Little Wooden Boy

When you're a clown like me, you see the same things everyone else sees, but you see them a little differently.

All you have to do is communicate your observations to the people around you, and they laugh.

They laugh because they now see what you saw. Maybe they noticed it before, but now you have thrown light on the subject.  Now everyone can see what was previously hidden.

For example, pretty much everyone and their brother has compared Dalton to Pinocchio. The comparison itself is pretty well known by now, and it's a pretty fitting description. He looks like Pinocchio. He lies like Pinocchio. He has that wooden awkwardness in front of the camera that he's never been able to shake, just like a certain little wooden boy. But I think the Pinocchio analogy works for a different reason, and it becomes clear if you ask one question:

Who is this guy who we call our Premier?

When people try to describe Dalton the person, I usually hear descriptions of *what* he is. He's the son of a prominent politician. His brother is a popular MP. He's the Premier. He's from Ottawa. He's married with four kids. He flip flopped on this or that promise.

None of that tells us anything about Dalton the person.

Is he a particularly good debater?

Is he a red or blue Liberal?

Who are his political heroes?

What was his relationship with his dad like?

Does he like to play any sports?

Most people couldn't tell you the answers to these questions, including most well connected political people. We act like Harper is a real mystery, but at least we know he can play the piano.

The Premier is a complete cipher. If Dalton was turned off and put in a closet at the end of the day like an appliance, we'd never know. It'd probably even fit well with what we know about him.

We try to characterize him as Premier Dad, who's always sternly telling us what to do and never letting us think for ourselves, and then we turn around and try to characterize him as a weak flip flopper who can't keep a promise to save his life. So which is he? No Dad worth his salt would be flip flopping all the time.

When I look at Dalton, I see a man who is so utterly dominated by stronger people around him that his personality is completely subsumed by them. I see a puppet on strings.

Michael Bryant was an up and coming star in Dalton's cabinet. Then suddenly he got handed the tricky Indian Affairs file and was gone soon after. Why? Because, they all said, he was overshadowing the Premier.

George Smitherman was Dalton's attack dog and Deputy Premier. You tangled with Furious George at your peril. Then, he quit to try and become Mayor of Toronto. And again, everyone said it was because Furious George was becoming the 800-pound gorrila (guerilla?) in the room and that his eHealth antics were becoming unhealthy to Dalton's reputation.

Greg Sorbara was one of Dalton's top consiglieres. He beat the rap after being investigated by the RCMP for shady dealings. Then, suddenly, after the 2007 election, he was gone. This was an election in which he had a major role. Why quit so soon afterwards? Did he not get the credit he felt was due? Or was there no more glory to be had as Dalton's right hand man? Remember, this is a man who wanted to be leader of the Ontario Liberals, but lost to Lyn McLeod. And you never stop wanting to be leader....unless you don't think it's possible....or unless people won't let you steal the Premier's limelight.

What these examples show is that it's pretty easy to completely eclipse the guy who's supposed to be the captain of the S.S. Ontario Liberals. Nervous advisers, and not-so-nervous ones, will do quite a lot to keep some overzealous lieutenant from cutting the puppet's strings, it would seem.

Now think about Dalton's recent summer of flip flops. As the Toronto Sun duly  notes, it's not clear if the ship is being captained by anyone at all.

I am a partisan conservative, but it isn't a stretch to imagine that Dalton's strings are being pulled by the opposition at this point.

Among the more ridiculous suggestions I heard during the Ombudsman's recent skirmish with the McGuinty government was the claim, made by an amateur Liberal performer with whom I am on decent terms, that the Opposition actually pressured McGuinty into reappointing a "corrupt ombudsman", and that the ensuing fracas was their fault, not his. An ombudsman who has been hugely damaging to McGuinty's authority to govern, and whom McGuinty could have fired, but didn't.

Now if that doesn't make Dalton look like a puppet on a string, I don't know what does.

"I've got no striiiings....to hold me down....."

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