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Opinion

Please Advise! Who Won Testimonypalooza?

Let’s compare Jody Wilson-Raybould’s day with Michael Cohen’s.

By Steve Burgess 28 Feb 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve,

Which channel were you watching on Wednesday? There was so much testimony going on I almost expected a soundtrack by Marvin Gaye.

Signed,

Distracted


Dear Distracted,

Testimonypalooza! Wednesday, Feb. 27! Two big stages! Michael Cohen in Washington, Jody Wilson-Raybould in Ottawa — monster allegations in a sea of mud!

It was the kind of news day that almost made you envy the Americans — they had the luxury of undivided attention, since they don't care about us. But Canadian political junkies were required to multi-task in a way that can cause serious traffic accidents while driving. For a while, Cohen and Wilson-Raybould were testifying simultaneously. Keeping it all straight was tricky. As the Ghostbusters once warned, don't cross the streams — swivel too fast between the hearings and you might end up believing Prime Minister Trudeau paid off Stormy Daniels to entertain clients of SNC-Lavalin, which was planning to build Trump Tower Moscow in Quebec and something something calamari.

Both Cohen and Wilson-Raybould gave riveting testimony, but there were clear contrasts. Part of it was about expectations. Whether in politics or at the movies, they make a difference. People who go see Green Book this week are likely to have higher hopes for it after its Best Picture Oscar. Likewise, the impact of Cohen's and Wilson-Raybould's testimony gets filtered through the expectations people had, and have, for their respective bosses.

Cohen's allegations about President of the United States were objectively appalling. Trump, he said, is “a racist, a con man, a cheat.” He confirmed the widespread belief that Trump's whole campaign was intended as nothing more than a marketing scheme, one that inadvertently served to demonstrate what sort of excrement the American people will actually buy if they've seen it on TV. He painted one of the few portraits of Trump that Trump himself probably wouldn't buy.

Of course, Cohen said positive things about Trump too. In response to a congress member's question about a rumoured elevator video in which Trump strikes his wife Melania, Cohen said his attempts to locate the video led him to believe it didn't exist and that anyway, he didn't believe Trump would hit his wife. And there you have it, the likely centrepiece of Trump's 2020 re-election campaign: “Trump: Not a Wife Beater, Probably.”

Awful though it was, Cohen's testimony just served to reinforce the well-established image of Trump as a man who could travel all the way to his botched Vietnam summit simply by sinking lower and lower through the depths of depravity and vileness until he pops out on the far side of the Earth. It was a laundry list of evil, but it wasn't news.

Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony was different. I'd love to know who scheduled it. Did some genius realize that Wednesday was Pink Shirt Day, when parents, students, and teachers band together against bullying? No need for Wilson-Raybould to wear pink as she sat there methodically detailing her efforts to withstand a prolonged bullying campaign apparently orchestrated by the prime minister of this country. Next year students and teachers should ditch the pink clothes and just wear what she was wearing.

Wilson-Raybould was steadfast, resolute, and clear. The story she told was not on a par with Cohen's. It was not a tale of unprecedented wickedness, narcissism, racism, and stupidity at the top. Rather it was a too-familiar tale of pressure and expediency, of compromised principles and go-along-to-get-along backroom dealing. Politics, in other words — the kind of cynical garbage that a certain young Liberal leader got himself elected by opposing.

They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. But when Justin Trudeau campaigned on “sunny ways,” he probably wasn't expecting one of his cabinet ministers to be turning over rocks and letting the sun shine on his own slimy maneuvers. Trudeau was supposed to be different. Sneer at those who believed it if you like, but he did a bang-up job of selling that image. In that way at least, Wilson-Raybould's testimony was more damning than Cohen's. She wasn't talking about a leader whose role in history will be the spectacle of America shedding its Dr. Jekyll facade to stand revealed as Mr. Hyde. She was testifying about a guy who was supposed to be Prime Minister Luke Skywalker.

Still, as Dr. Steve has argued in the past, the political implications of all this are difficult to parse. In the United States, no one still capable of supporting Trump will be swayed by anything at this point. Trump toadies would buy tickets for a dog-fighting ring in the White House rose garden. Republican politics is like a remake of Soylent Green where everybody shrugs and keeps eating.

And Trudeau? The revelation that he and his party are not really anthropomorphic brooms sweeping years of accumulated dirt from the halls of power will be depressing for many. It may even give a temporary boost to Jagmeet Singh and the NDP in some regions. But not in Quebec, where the scandal still seems to be chiefly about protecting those SNC-Lavalin jobs. Trudeau's squeaky-clean image may be irreparably smudged but at this point it's not even clear that the SNC-Lavalin affair will be a net loser for him, electorally. It might hurt him in Ontario. But there may also be Ontario voters who recall the scandal that brought down provincial Conservative leader Patrick Brown. The end result of that affair was the election of Premier Doug “Want Me a Souped-Up Premier Van to Cruise the A&W” Ford. The spectre of Prime Minister Andrew Scheer is likely to keep many Liberal voters in line.

When Testimonypalooza was all over there were dejected fans filing out of arenas on both sides of the border. No doubt they shared a sense of shock and anger but in one sense the reactions must have been different. Americans would likely be thinking — perhaps hoping — that Donald Trump is one of a kind.

In Canada, voters were more likely to come away from the day's revelations thinking that in the end, politicians are all the same.  [Tyee]

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