22 June 2011

Penis Envy

I’ll share a quote with you now from Canadian marathon runner Peter Maher that I found interesting: "Running is a big question mark that's there each and every day. It asks you, 'Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?’"

My answer is I am going to be strong today, and looking around this room, I can see that’s your answer as well.

That’s a bit of Kathy Dunderdale’s speech to delegates at the NOIA oil and gas conference in St. John’s on Tuesday.

Odd choice of words, isn’t it?

Forget that the quote is actually only attributed to the Canadian-born marathoner.  Think about the implications of the words.  It isn’t about the internal struggle to find the inner strength to start a race and finish it or to challenge yourself to go that extra mile. It isn’t about growth and perseverance.


Every day she faces the choice between being strong or being a wimp.

Of manning up or being a pussy.

Dunderdale used a quote that is almost self-consciously masculine in a room where most of the people in it were men.

Men don’t talk like that, of course.  Well, not unless they want to make sure everyone knows how insecure they are. 

It’s like sex.  The more you talk about it, the less you are getting it.

Strength is like power.  If you talk about it, you don’t have it.

Dunderdale talks like that a lot.

She likes to draw distinctions between herself and others.

Stark opposites.

Opposition politicians are too stunned to understand something, but she is smarter.

She could on the steps of Confederation Building be ranting and raving or throwing stones but she is better than that.

It’s part of a theme she’s been on since earlier this year:  Kathy is different.  Politicians need to do that, of course. You win elections by being different from the others in the pack. This is different. These comparisons are something she does even when it doesn’t really fit with the topic.

That’s what tells you she has a need to send this message over and over.  The thing you start to wonder after a while is why she feels that need.  Conventional political wisdom is that she is safely enthroned as both Premier and leader of the provincial Conservatives.  And while her polling numbers are dropping she is – supposedly – way ahead of her rivals. She shouldn’t be feeling quite safe.

Strength and power and the need to point out how she is different are for Kathy Dunderdale what books and reading are for Sarah Palin and Danny Williams.

How she is different might not always be clear, even to Kathy, but she goes to great lengths to point out she is something-er than someone else.

And that’s really part of the problem for Dunderdale.  She winds up defining herself in terms of the person or group she’s dealing with at a particular time. What you are left with is the sense that Kathy Dunderdale cannot define her ideas, her values and her approach to leadership on her own.

The result gets convoluted sometimes like it did back in February when she was the same as Danny but different all at the same time, the more she talked. 

You can see this need to bring up inappropriate comparisons if you can stand listening to her entire scrum with reporters outside the NOIA conference.  It’s only seven and a bit minutes in total.

Dunderdale starts out by saying she and her staff are pressuring the Prime Minister as hard as they can. Then she tosses in the comparison about how she could be scoring political points by grandstanding but she isn’t.  That’s a gratuitous line but note that it’s there as the second point.

Then Dunderdale goes into a list of how she and her staff and getting a message through to this one and that one in Ottawa.  She’ll keep it up as long as she keeps it up.  The goal is to get the federal government to reverse the decision to close a local search and rescue call center.

Then Dunderdale says that while all pressuring and pushing to get the feds to change their mind is going on, she and her officials are talking with Uncle Ottawa about taking over this supposedly essential service from the federal government. Well sort of taking it over, maybe, if they don’t mind,  because in between the message sending thing, they are doing the idea thinking thing.

But having now started out by saying the whole thing was about getting the feds to keep the thing running here in the province, Dunderdale says that right at the moment they are on another tack entirely.  “The piece is, though,” says Dunderdale, resorting to her trademark  way of using jargony words to try and sound smarter, that she and her officials are trying to find solutions.

Then she’s back talking about how she could be out there throwing rocks at the federal government but she is thinking long-term here. And all that dissolves in a speculative bit about how medievally stone-throwingy she might get when or if the federal government doesn’t do one or maybe both of the two clear messages Dunderdale is sending despite the fact the Prime Minister won;t return her telephone calls.

All those shifts from the conciliatory and diplomatic to the possibly blustering and two different, contradictory policy threads in about the time it takes to hard-boil an egg.

Amazing, isn’t it?

If nothing else changes between now and next October, Kathy Dunderdale will likely keep her current job.  How long she keeps it would be anyone’s guess.  If you want to put a bet, try something measured in months, not years.

But once the campaign starts,  Kathy is going to have a hard time of it up against any politician – leader or not – if she can only define herself by reference to who she is talking about at any given moment.  And in a televised debate up against two different leaders with different styles, Kathy might get herself into an even greater identity crisis than she seems to be having already.

- srbp -