Bromance between Trudeau, Obama
Be still my heart. There may be a budding bromance between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama.
During their first formal meeting in the Philippines, the two leaders appeared relaxed and friendly, brushing aside differences over the Keystone XL pipeline and Canada’s stated intention to withdraw CF-18’s from a combat role in the fight against ISIS.
During that meeting, Obama warmly referred to the newlyelected Trudeau as “Justin.” It resonated as a natural and unforced appellation — in stark contrast to the rather cringe worthy time when former President George W. Bush called then Prime Minster Harper, “Steve.”
Now comes word that “Justin” will have a White House state dinner in his honor sometime early in 2016. The last such time a dinner was given for a Canadian prime minister was for Jean Chretien in 1997 when Bill Clinton was in office.
That the two would find common ground and form a mutual admiration is not surprising. Both men ascended to the highest office in their respective countries at a relatively young age — Trudeau at 43 and Obama at 47. Both ran campaigns that promised a reversal of policies and practices of their predecessors. Trudeau echoed Obama’s 2008 call for “Hope and Change” with his pledge to Canadians of “Real Change.”
In both cases, those were not just empty and opportunistic words conceived as a snappy campaign slogan. They were an attempt to tap into a perceived genuine feeling in each country that previous leadership had failed in reflecting or realizing core values that a good portion of the electorate held.
Both men likewise faced questions about their readiness to lead. Obama sought the Democratic party nomination having not yet served one full term in the Senate. During his primary fight with Hillary Clinton, her campaign ran an ad asking voters who they most wanted to be answering an emergency phone call at 3 a.m. — the clear message being that it should be her and not Obama.
In Canada, the Conservatives were more dismissive than relentless in their attacks on Trudeau’s lack of experience — claiming that Justin was “Just Not Ready.” It is possible that their haughtiness turned off many voters who were either indifferent to the accusation or impressed enough with Trudeau’s performance in debates and on the campaign trail to see the claim as desperate. In many ways, the president and the prime minister have, in theory, reason to envy the other.
Both countries are democracies but that democracy is manifested in very different ways. Obama has to envy the Canadian parliamentary system where the leader relies on party loyalty and controls both the executive and legislative branches of government. To be a Canadian prime minister is to have the power and means at your disposal to implement whatever policies one wishes.
Conversely, when a Canadian prime minister fails to deliver, he or she will find that the harsh spotlight of failure shines brightly and exclusively on him or her. There is no way to pass along the invoice due for broken promises and blame it on Congressional gridlock.
It would be soothing indeed for a prime minister to be able to deflect responsibility — as the American president can — by saying that obstacles to legislation were due to intransigence and partisanship in a House that refused to cooperate with executive wishes and proposals.
On the surface, the two leaders seem to be of one mind when it comes to the importance of fighting climate change, the necessity and obligation of welcoming Syrian refugees and an overall general philosophy that includes nods towards substantive criminal justice reform.
Alas, whatever their common outlooks and political styles, the bromance is destined to be short-lived as Obama will leave office in just over one year. But, fleeting as it may be, here’s hoping that the coming state dinner is scheduled for mid-February.
After all, on Valentine’s Day, it’s best to be with a kindred spirit.
“Obama has to envy the Canadian parliamentary system where the leader relies on party loyalty and controls both the executive and legislative branches of government.”