Leaders are trying to write their own history

"Passion Politique" de Jean Chrétien

Remember a time when retired politicians waited mutely for historians to assign them their proper places in the national pantheon? It's over. Hurray!
Governing, especially in tumultuous times, is a trade always exercised by flesh-and-blood mortals subject to the full range of human feelings. The scholarship of historians, for all its virtues, can drain all the emotion out of the pageant of events.
None of us who lived through two referendums on Quebec separation, and the intense elections that preceded and followed those heart-stopping votes, thinks for a minute that the politicians involved were always acting dispassionately or serenely. It was a wild time. Of course there are scores still to be settled.

Now there's some settling going on, and it's not a pretty sight, even though it's wonderfully entertaining.
First, this fall, came Brian Mulroney, in his massive book of memoirs, tearing into his onetime friend Lucien Bouchard and also into Pierre Trudeau.
Mulroney reminds Canadians that Trudeau was willing as far back as 1971 to agree to a constitutional amendment that would include the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. Yet this same Trudeau, Mulroney wrote bitterly, launched all-out attacks against Mulroney's Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.
Now another prime minister, Jean Chrétien, is out with his memoirs, in which he claims that dithering by his successor, Paul Martin, led to Canada's soldiers being sent to the deadly area around Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Chrétien also memorably calls Martin's advisers and party supporters a "gang of self-serving goons."
And Chrétien claims as his own, not Martin's, the achievement of abolishing the federal government's annual deficit and starting to reduce the national debt. Second-guessing himself for once, Chrétien says he should have fired Martin.
Martin, nobody should be surprised to learn, is at work on his own autobiography.
André Boisclair was not a party leader long enough to merit a full-scale memoir, so he has, for now at least, contented himself with retiring from public life with nothing more than a parting interview.
But he, too, has blame to dole out. Boisclair blasts Bernard Landry for suggesting, just days before a provincial election, that he was sorry he had stepped down as leader of the Parti Québécois to make way for Boisclair. The PQ then stumbled badly under Boisclair, landing in third place for the first time in decades.
Anger, revenge, pride - and an overwhelming desire to put out their version of the truth, reality as they knew it - informed all these leaders' views of history. Those are big, crude emotions, but Canada's political discourse and knowledge are immeasurably improved for them.
These revealing self-justifications, including the blaming of others, remind us that behind the rhetoric are human beings, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Politics and government are too human to be a science.
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