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David Desjardins 13 Sept, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/359051/la-culture-du-mepris
Jean Charest was stepping down live on TV when I flipped to that channel, pausing for a moment to listen to his trembling, tearful goodbye.
Did I smile?
A little, yes. But it wasn’t the toothy smile of someone who delights in another’s misery. Nor was it a smile of empathy. A person can’t be sad to see the end of a drawn-out spectacle where the actors and the director both seem to have been mocking the audience all along.
Really, I smiled to myself, hoping that we were witnessing the departure of a grand master of the genre, a rare breed of politician, in as much as politics is a game of manipulation — one who could ride the desires of the moment and the changes in mood of the people.
And Jean Charest rode like a king.
Rarely have seen a politician become such a master of the art of political “spin,” which is essentially the marketing tactic of dressing a slogan up to resemble an idea, then repeating often enough to make it into truth.
That is what I will remember about Jean Charest: his capacity to fill up the empty media landscape with hot air.
Obviously, no one has a monopoly on this, and Francois Legault has proven to be a formidable adversary in this. But if you remember only one of the pearls put forward by Charest’s team during the recent election campaign, remember his prediction that Quebecois who gave their vote to the CAQ were choosing the “culture of bickering.”
It was all hot air, we said to ourselves as we heard this expression repeated over and over on all the talk shows. And yet, out of the dozens of empty statements made in the last few weeks, this one doubtless made the most undecided voters turn to the Liberal party of Quebec.
Jean Charest tried in vain to persuade us that polls “aren’t worth anything,” but he still used them to direct his campaign. Just before the outgoing premier made his pronouncement about the culture of bickering, a survey done by CROP-La Presse found that undecided voters were hostile to change and instability. According to the survey, they were also mostly poorly-educated, apolitical and with modest income. Easy to manipulate, you know.
That was all it took for Jean Charest, for the second time in a few months, to put the population under to better save the life of his party. First, he took a stance against the student movement, dividing Quebeckers to make them forget their unanimous disgust of the allegations circling his government. Then, he put his finger into the wounds left by these months of tearing friends and families apart, by suggesting that we could expect a year or more of this if we voted for the CAQ.
High art, indeed. Yet at the same time, an expression of extraordinary scorn for the population, and above all, for the weakest, most easily influenced.
I smiled watching the resigning premier whimper for the television cameras, but it wasn’t really joy. There will be others, using the same old techniques. I imagined Jean Charest telling us how he only ever acted in the best interest of the people, and believing every word.
This is how forceful people lead: with the conviction that they are on the right side of justice, never doubting their power. They govern with a sense of moral superiority that never wavers, and never doubts.
I am always taken aback by how politicians can be so proud when vaunting the economy, when celebrating our successes, and can then treat us with such extraordinary scorn when the little games of politics come into play.
Maybe we aren’t just hewers of wood anymore. It’s nice that they think so. But they must still think we’re thick.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
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