By Ted Rushton
Unlike Americans, who rate their politicians with varying degrees of saintliness and deviltry, Canadians have a more basic and expressive rating system.
It’s either “bastards” or “boneheads, as Will Ferguson deftly explains in his treatise on Canadian history: ‘Bastards & Boneheads — Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present’. The “bastards” are those who accomplish goals such as new programs which require new regulations and new taxes; “boneheads” are those who do little or nothing to benefit the average Canadian, in other words they leave people alone.
For example: the Canadian postal service is now on strike. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being hailed as a “bastard” because he intends to force a settlement through arbitration. He could have been a “bonehead” by doing nothing and giving all Canadians an extended holiday from monthly bills, junque mail, advertising brochures and similar “snowflakes” pouring into their mail boxes. He faces opposition in parliament from the New Democrats and Liberals who are endorsing the bonehead approach to settling this labour dispute
In American politics, President Barack Obama is a “bastard” for successfully implementing a national health care program — just as he promised during his 2008 election campaign. Americans tend to call politicians “bastards” if they carry out their campaign promises; those who fail to carry out these promises are “statesmen” because they recognized the demands of a higher national purpose — i.e. the need to be re-elected.
American “bonehead” politicians are different than those in Canada; President George W. Bush is a “bonehead” for launching America into enduring wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which have failed to benefit the average person. Obama is a “bastard” for tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden; Bush was a “bonehead” for allowing bin Laden to remain free, thus ensuring his re-election “to fight terrorism” and protect America from bin Laden.
The U.S. would do well to adopt the “bastards & boneheads” system of political classifications. At present, presidents such as Ronald Reagan have been elevated to “sainthood” status while George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are demi-gods, at the very least. This creates a problem of elevating current and recent presidents to a god-like status; in the Canadian system, everyone would be a bastard or a bonehead.
It’s why Canadian politics is so superior to the U.S. — except for how it works, the people who are elected, the results in general and public satisfaction. In Canada, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney — noted for serenading President Reagan with is rendition of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ — achieved an 8 percent public approval rating.
No American president, not even Shrub himself, has managed to achieve a similar mark in his job performance.
It’s what makes ‘Bastards & Boneheads’ such a gem. This is real politics, not the 30-second TV ad version of political issues, debates, campaign promises and hot air.
“If I were in charge” is a favourite exercise of those who never were in charge; so let me start by saying, “If I were in charge, I’d make this book mandatory for every high school class.”
For one year. Pass or repeat. The next year’s assignment would be, “Is Will Ferguson a Bonehead or a Bastard? Explain!”
Bastards succeed, Boneheads fail. Ferguson credits Trudeau, who imposed martial law and censored the free press in 1970, as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers. He rates Diefenbaker, who sought to create a Canadian Bill of Rights, as a Bonehead. If this doesn’t make sense, you are definitely the type of person who should vote.
In Canada, such analysis is opinionated, hard-hitting, outrageous and always thought-provoking. It’s why Canadians have such a reputation for humour. Ferguson’s day job is as a humourist — perhaps he’s now demanding to see the prime minister’s birth certificate to learn whether he was born in Ontario or Harperlandia.
In the U.S., Will Rogers used the actual words of politicians for his political humour; Ferguson offers few political quotes, though he pays tribute to Trudeau for that ultimate Canadianism, “Fuddle-duddle”. Who else but Canadians would substitute two six-letter words for a common four-letter Anglo-Saxon word beginning with “f” and ending with “k” which is not “flak” as in the Saxon language.
After all, Trudeau would never stoop so low as to say, “My fellow Canadians!” Instead, he told the postal workers who went on strike when he was prime minister to, “Mange d’la merde”.
In the U.S., Maureen Dowd and Molly Ivins used scalpels to slice and dice political buffoonery; in contrast, the Canadian approach has all the charm of a wet cod slapped against the side of one’s head. That’s “cod” as in “fish” and not as in “cod piece” — which conceivably might relate more to “mange d’la merde”.
In brief, Ferguson comes across as an “assot”. (Look that up in your Funk-and-Wagnalls! Or in your ‘Insulting English’ dictionary by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea.)
In conclusion, if I were in charge, I’d assign his book as a mandatory history text in all Canadian schools. It’s a blunt realistic reality check on the hazards and rewards of service to one’s country. Ferguson proves the pen is truly mightier than the campaign speech.
In time, “bastard” may become a complement for some American politicians. “Bonehead” is already being used to describe the low-spending, many wars and cut taxes for the rich philosophy of some politicians. Perhaps the rest truly are bastards.