FOULDS: Very few have “it” — but what is “it” that they have?
Like his father before him, Justin Trudeau tends to elicit swoons or scorn when his name is presented in political talk.
And, like his famous father, whether Trudeau brings hope or harrumphs depends a bit on where in Canada you are uttering the name.
Dismissed by some and deified by others, Trudeau’s entry into the Liberal Party of Canada’s leadership race has definitely created a buzz.
But, does Trudeau have “it”?
Does he have that intangible connection to the electorate that draws them to him? Can he transfix and excite and create that electrical charge across the nation?
Maybe. Maybe not. If he becomes Liberal leader, we will see.
Not many politicians have “it” as “it” cannot be taught or learned or bought or earned.
“It” simply is — and so powerful because it is so rare.
Defining “it” is difficult, but you know “it” when you see “it”.
Barack Obama has “it”.
As did Bill Clinton.
Ronald Reagan and Pierre Trudeau had “it”.
Add John F. Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt to the list.
Among major North American leaders of the past century, that’s about it for having “it”.
Some politicians think they have “it”, but they don’t.
Bill Vander Zalm and Stockwell Day come to mind, but mega-watt smiles and tight wetsuits are not enough on their own to constitute “it”.
Jean Chretien, Ralph Klein and Glen Clark came close, but they were more common man than mesmerizing.
One did the work of his RCMP detail and used his own hands to dispatch an annoying protester; one spent many an hour quaffing beer with constituents and one remained an affable east Vancouver kid, even while wearing suits in the premier’s office.
It’s hard to say what makes one politician have “it”, while so many others don’t.
It’s more than the style in which they deliver clever words written by others.
It’s more than arriving at an opportune time in history.
If you watched Clinton’s remarkable speech last month at the Democratic National Convention, you saw the king of “it”.
Clinton took various dull facts and figures, mixed them into his speech and actually succeeded in making a policy argument sound fascinating.
It remains the finest performance of this presidential campaign.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal in May 2008, Harvard professor Joseph Nye tackled the issue of political charisma, noting that, while Kennedy was all the buzz, not all buzzed for the man as he failed to capture the majority of the vote in the 1960 election.
Still, for whatever reason, Kennedy had (and still has) “it”.
Nye also pointed to Winston Churchill who, he said, was not considered an “it” leader when the Second World War began in 1939.
A year later, Nye wrote, under the stress of war, Churchill became charismatic in the eyes of the British — before being voted out of office four years later.
Nye cited studies to determine whether having “it” originates in the person, in the followers or in the situation.
The studies Nye perused pointed to all three.
“Voters should be aware that charisma tells them something about a candidate, but even more about themselves, the mood of the country and their desire for change,” Nye wrote.
So, as Obama attempts tonight (in the second of three presidential debates, beginning at 6 p.m.) to recover from his dismal performance in Denver, will he rediscover “it” without the aid of a teleprompter or speechwriter?
Will he show definitively he has “it”, regardless of the situation?
Will Trudeau do likewise next year as he seeks the Liberal crown?
It — and “it” — remains to be seen.