Lately we have been hearing a lot of comparisons between our new President and some of our former presidents. Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, and even Reagan have come up. One of the most intriguing comparisons I’ve heard, is of President Obama and a famous foreign leader. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was probably the most controversial Prime Minister in Canada’s history. To this day, Canadians are fiercely divided on the subject of his leadership. Although he set out to unite Canada, his premiership led to a cultural rift that is still felt today (even now, he is voted both the best and worst all-time Canadian almost every year). One thing is certain, his 15 years in office changed Canada forever. The political philosophies of these men are strikingly similar, but they came to power in very different times. The world was a different place 40 years ago. I will attempt to show that Barack Obama is left of Trudeau on most issues. Combine this with the dominance of the left in media and Democratic control of Congress, and you have the recipe for a more far-reaching administration than Trudeau ever imagined.
There are many similarities in the early lives of Barack Obama and Pierre Trudeau. Both were brought up in multi-cultural homes. Trudeau was raised by a francophone father and anglophone mother, in a time when the two groups were fiercely split. Obama’s father was a Kenyan economist and his mother was an American anthropologist. Both men were without their fathers at a young age. Obama’s parents divorced when he was a child. Trudeau’s father died when he was a teenager. Both men were educated abroad. They were well versed in the trendy “intellectual” political movements of the time (Trudeau dabbled in Fascism and Ant-Semitism, and Obama attend socialist conferences and was mentored by Communist party member Frank Marshall Davis), and later distanced themselves from those movements. After college, Barack Obama famously worked as a community organizer in Chicago. Pierre Trudeau spent several years working mainly in Montreal as an activist in a various capacities. Both men were law professors for well known universities. As intriguing as these similarities are, they are somewhat superficial. The important connections are the paths they took once they entered politics.
The Road to the National Stage
Barack Obama’s political career took off when he was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 and became a U.S. senator in 2005. After floating around in various advisory positions, Trudeau was made the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Pearson in 1965, and was appointed Minister of Justice in 1967. During this earlier period in their careers, both took controversial and decidedly leftist positions on a variety of issues. Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality (for the times this was a big step), legalized contraception and abortion,and increased gun restrictions. Obama worked to specifically include gays in anti-discrimination laws. He supported providing contraceptives on the governments tab and lifting the ban on partial-birth abortion. He voted against notifying parents when a minor gets an out-of-state abortion, and against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act several times. Although he claimed to support the second amendment, he endorsed the Illinois handgun ban and voted against legislation that would have prohibited wrongful death suits against gun manufacturers. He also stirred up controversy by supporting tougher “hate crime” enforcement, but opposing harsher penalties for violent gang members. Both men legislated left of center. Trudeau votes matched up with his rhetoric fairly well, while Obama tended to campaign as more of a centrist and vote as a leftist.
In 1967 Prime Minister Pearson announced he would be stepping down, and in 1968 Pierre Trudeau ran for the office of Prime Minister. He had only been a member of the Liberal Party for 3 years and a cabinet member for only a year. In 2007 Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President after 2 years in the Senate.
When Trudeau kicked off his campaign, the world was stunned by “Trudeaumania.” He was swarmed by throngs of youths everywhere he went. Women would scream as if they had just glimpsed one of the Beatles. He was loved by celebrities. John Lennon called him “a beautiful person” and said “if all politicians were like Pierre Trudeau, there would be world peace.” The press had never seen a political figure receive this type of star treatment. He even had a catch phrase. It came from a speech he had given at the Liberal leadership convention while seeking his parties nomination, the “Just Society.” Although it was meant as a play on Linden Johnson’s “Great Society,” the phrase did not refer to any specific legislation. Rather, it was a vague reference to the “change” he would bring the nation. He was known to be charismatic and candid (later, it would be well known that even his most “impulsive” moments, like the famous pirouette behind the Queen’s back were carefully choreographed). I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the eerie similarity to “Obamamania.” Both were perceived as champions of the little guy, and the best hope for a more “fair” society. Opponents were fearful of their youth and inexperience( Trudeau was 48, Obama 47), but their popularity prevailed and both were easily elected.
There seems to be a pattern in the world views of these men. In most cases, whatever position Trudeau held, Obama holds a position one step to the left of it.
- The role of the national government-One of the first thing Trudeau did as Prime Minister, was to expand the authority of the office. He believed the role of government included: universal health care, forced multi-culturalism and bilingualism, affirmative action, wage and price controls. We are seeing a more extreme version of these ideas today. President Obama believes the government not only has the obligation to provide health care and various cultural programs, but has injected federal authority into a host of other arenas that were previously off limits. He has expanded his reach into almost every area of the market place. He has inserted himself into lending practices, wages, energy usage, and recently oversaw a bankruptcy dispute. He is also making strides to increase government involvement in all levels of education. He appears to believe in a cradle to grave society, where the government has a program to manage every stage of life.
- The role of judges-Trudeau was a big fan of purposive interpretation, as is evident by his passing of the Constitution Act of 1982. This led to increased judicial activism and a looser interpretation of constitutional rights. This was the bill that eventually led to a judicial mandate that forced the institution of same-sex marriage nationwide. Barack Obama believes the Constitution is a “living document.” While Trudeau’s outlook provided for a looser interpretation of the constitution, Obama’s view allows for judges to ignore certain amendments and act on implied rights, which are based on the judges view of the intent of the Constitution. He is officially against gay marriage, but has expressed support for judges who believe in legislating these laws from the bench. We will soon see if this is reflected in his Supreme Court nominations.
- Fiscal Policies- Trudeau’s social programs came with a hefty price tag. The national debt went from $18 billion(a large portion of which was left over from World War II) to $200 billion(46% GDP). Unemployment and inflation soared under his watch. The costs of these policies seemed secondary to his overall vision of economic equality. He believed his first obligation was to redistribute funds from wealthier provinces to less prosperous ones. Barack Obama also appears to obsessed with the redistribution of wealth, but on an individual level. No matter how many economic models show that overtaxing the wealthy is damaging to a national economy, he appears to be set on a Robin Hood style of economics. When it comes to a federal budget, he has already planned to spend more money than all of the presidents in U.S. history combined. He appears to believe that fiscal responsibility is secondary to his social agenda.
- Foreign Relations– Trudeau was heavily criticized for appearing to be soft on the Soviets, and too friendly with Cuba. In fact, he was such good friends with Castro , that in 1974 a hit-man claimed some New York mafia types had hired him to assassinate Trudeau in hopes of luring Castro to his funeral. Lately, the President has been under fire for his desire to meet with various dictators. Many of us are concerned about his apparent need to be liked by the bottom feeders of international politics. There are however, some striking differences. Trudeau wasn’t known for bad-mouthing his own country when he traveled. Actually, he appears to have had kinder words about the U.S than our President. Although he was interested in warmer relations with the USSR, he understood the dangers posed by the soviets and respected decisions made by the US and NATO to pressure them. Today we have different enemies (the Castro’s are still kicking), and we are unsure if our President will stand by all of the sanctions against them. Trudeau may not have preferred “Peace through Strength,” but he never stood in the way. Obama seems bound and determined to achieve “Peace through Popularity,” even if it means exposing our nation to threats abroad.
Pre-Trudeau and post-Trudeau Canada are very different places. Under his leadership, the size of the government exploded. He centralized power by limiting the authority of the provinces. He left his country with a multi-generational debt that ensured no one would be able to lower taxes or decrease government for some time. From a cultural perspective, Canada has one of the more permissive societies in the world. Although once dominated by strong Catholic and protestant values, the people of Canada are known today for their embrace of agnosticism and moral relativism . Today, Canada has no restrictions on abortion including partial-birth abortion, and no requirement for parental consent or notification for minors wishing to have an abortion. Gay-marriage has been mandated by the courts nationwide. Before Trudeau, Canada was thought of as at least as hawkish as the U.S., if not more. Today, they are perceived globally as being weak, indecisive, and beholden to the U.N.(however, efforts have been made in the past few years to change this perception and restore their reputation on foreign policy). All of these things happened as a result of the course laid out by one man, in a country that was easily distracted by charisma and charm.
There are many things that are similar about the two glamorous leaders. They seem to have had a comparable world view, and came to power in a similar manner. Canada was once a lot like the U.S. and Trudeau changed all of that. His time in office oversaw a shift to a more socialistic economy, a more liberal social agenda, and a healthcare system that leads countless sick Canadians to hop over the U.S. border for care. We cannot allow these things to happen here. During Trudeau’s premiership, he had to deal with fierce opposition. Several of his budgets and laws were voted down. When we examine the current climate, it becomes painfully obvious that we could go through changes far more extreme than anything Canada experienced. The pressure to become more “European” has increased greatly since Trudeau’s day, and Barrack Obama appears to yearn for the acceptance of the European elite. He seems to be further to the left than Trudeau was. He doesn’t have the opposition in congress, which existed in Canada, to keep his ideas in check. We must not assume that as Americans we are immune from this sort of radical change. We are the world’s anchor to free-market principles and Judeo-Christian values. If we start to slide too far to the left, it will be almost impossible to come back. We have to stop looking at how charming our President is, and start looking at why he’s trying to charm us.