Mark Twain, the renowned American author and one of the great raconteurs of the 19th Century, counselled: “When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”
Excellent advice, it turns out, in this political season.
The author’s advice was not just about lies of commission, though, but also about what to do when your lies of convenient omission suddenly turn out to be inconvenient.
But who knew that Bland Andy — by which I mean Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and aspirant for the prime ministership of our boreal dominion — would turn out to have a trunkful of dirty little secrets, with the emphasis on little?
Of all people! This is a guy so bland he worked as an insurance broker, for heaven’s sake!
Except, of course, he didn’t.
Indeed, this turns out to be one of those dirty little secrets. He wasn’t even an insurance salesman. He was barely the guy who ran the till at the insurance store. Maybe he got to sweep up sometimes just before the broker with the keys locked the doors.
Look, you can almost forgive a politician without much of a resume in an age that’s cynical about politicians who haven’t held “real jobs,” especially when they’re promising to drain the swamp, for wanting to make whatever jobs they had before getting elected sound more important than they really were.
But insurance broker? Obviously Mr. Scheer, at least until recently, was a man of small ambition. I mean, OK, nobody would have believed him if he’d said he used to be an astronaut, but surely he could have claimed to have been a chief executive officer or an institutional entrepreneur?
The latter job description is a coinage of Jason Kenney, another Conservative politician who never had a real job outside politics and who was still living in his mom’s basement when Mr. Scheer was raising five children in subsidized housing, albeit pretty nice subsidized houses. I heard Mr. Kenney say that with my own ears. He was talking about being the CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. But, je digresse.
Mr. Scheer could have said that he actually wanted to study molecular physics when he was in college if only he could have afforded the tuition for the PhD. Now that would have been a crackerjack political fib. Who could prove it wrong, after all? Plus, it would have played right into a great narrative working class guy who was really smart.
I mean, if you’re going to lie, you might as well lie with ambition, with imagination!
It’s when the truth is out, though, that things get sticky. And that’s where Mark Twain’s advice comes in.
Consider Justin Trudeau, the real prime minister who did have a real job, even if Conservatives as a class don’t seem to think very highly of schoolteachers. When he was discovered to have worn blackface and not told anyone about it, he owned right up to it, apologized convincingly, and the scandal seems more or less to have gone away even as new videos kept popping up.
When cornered, Mr. Scheer’s instinct, by contrast, was to fudge. We had seen this already with his mumbled refusal to apologize for his views on same-sex marriage, and the light taps on the wrist he delivers to Conservative MPs and candidates who utter racist or homophobic comments.
About that insurance broker’s licence he never got, he said, he was working on it, could have finished the course, but just didn’t have time. Or something. Not very memorable. Not very convincing.
But no biggie. After all, he graduated from the University of Regina … or maybe it was the University or Ottawa, or maybe …
Wait! Apparently the jury’s still out on that one. Maybe he does have a university degree. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it’ll turn up in the files.
While we were waiting for the verdict, though … this just in! Mr. Scheer, the man they call Stephen Harper with a smile, has dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship!
And Mr. Harper, of course, is the politician who went after Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader in 2011, for “just visiting” because he’d held prestigious posts at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, and who ripped Thomas Mulcair, the NDP leader in 2015, for having … wait for it … dual citizenship.
This was never quite said aloud by the Conservatives, but it may be Mr. Mulcair’s problem with a lot of English Canadian voters was that his dual citizenship was with France, not with the United States.
Regardless, while this was happening, Mr. Scheer seems to have just sat there wearing that nice smile of his.
And what does Mr. Scheer do when he goes to tell the truth about his dual citizenship? He says that, ummm, no one asked about it.
This is like telling your girlfriend that, yeah, you have a wife… “But why are you mad, honey? I never mentioned it because you never asked!” This is not a formula for success, people.
Anyway, Mr. Scheer said, he was going to renounce his U.S. citizenship but the dog ate the paperwork. Or maybe it was that he hasn’t heard back from the U.S. consulate in Regina. Whatever, he’s working on it, OK?
So, now, we’re all waiting on the edge of our seats to see what the next little Andy Scheer fib to be exposed is.
This is what Mark Twain, AKA Samuel Clemens, had in mind when he talked about telling the truth to astound your friends and, more importantly, confound your enemies.
Mr. Scheer may still be in the game, but at the moment his enemies are far from confounded.