Is Pinball Clemons the answer?

A few weeks ago, the Star went ahead and declared Pinball Clemons a sort of Obama-in-waiting. Some degree of chuckling ensued.

The legitimacy (or lack thereof) of that particular suggestion aside, the political appeal of Clemons and people like him (aside from their respective personal qualities) has a lot to do with them not being politicians. Something else is always preferable when the status quo is so poorly regarded.

Of course, were Clemons or someone like him to enter politics, they would be expected to pay their proverbial dues before pursuing anything in the proximity of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Because experience is important.

Even if it only sort of is.

John McCain, for instance, was too experienced. American presidents are generally elected within 14 years of attaining their first major office. All but two of the last twelve men elected prime minister of Canada (that covers the last century) did so within 17 years of first winning federal office. The only exceptions are Chretien (30 years) and Diefenbaker (32 years).

(Note to Bob Rae fans, he was first elected, as an NDP MP, in 1978. So if he became leader of the Liberal party and the next election was in, say, 2011, he’d be 33 years removed. Just saying.)

You could try to construct a graph measuring political experience against political success (however you define it), but you’d probably only end up discovering what you should already know: that politics is a matter of timing and circumstance, there are few constants, genius is fleeting and conventional wisdom is an oxymoron.

But here’s something. The two least experienced prime ministers since 1900 (as defined above) are as follows: Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. The former was elected in Central Nova less than a year before he led the Conservatives to power in 1984. The latter was elected to office on Nov. 8, 1965 and led the Liberal party to victory in June 1968. Both entered politics with impressive resumes, but by modern standards, both were wildly inexperienced.

Mulroney won 211 seats in 1984 and another 169 in 1988. He is the last prime minister to receive 50% of the popular vote. Between 1968 and 1980, Trudeau won three majority governments, his first win with 45% of the popular vote, his last with 44%. Individually they represent perhaps our most compelling, iconic, polarizing, charismatic, objectionable, brilliant, disgraceful, singular, dynamic leaders of the last half century. Their respective parties were left a shambles in their wake, but neither side has yet to match their success.

And another thing. Voter turnout in Trudeau’s five elections averaged 73.7%. In 1984 and 1988, turnout was steady at 75.3%. It has been in decline ever since. (Is that Mulroney’s fault? Maybe. But then turnout spiked six percentage points from 1980, Trudeau’s last election, to 1984, Mulroney’s first. So maybe it’s Trudeau’s fault. Or Joe Clark’s.)

All of which is to say that, while we might not need Pinball Clemons right now, we could perhaps use someone like him.

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