Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas, claimed that George Bush the Elder was born with "a silver foot in his mouth." Justin Trudeau runs the risk of being tagged with the same epithet. His reference to China last week was another example of his tendency to speak before he thinks. Andrew Coyne writes:
It’s just … weird. He was not challenged to “say something positive about China,” to which he might have replied with the standard hope that “prosperity and trade with the West will in time lead to a relaxation of the regime’s grip” or a backward glance at “the success of the market-oriented reforms that have lifted so many Chinese citizens out of poverty” or even, if he wanted to be edgy, a rueful “we might not like it but you have to admit their dictatorship has a certain brutal efficiency that poses a challenge to the democracies,” which would be mostly wrong but not completely crazy.
Trudeau the Elder also said provocative things. But he did so purposely. You get the feeling that this was not a gaffe as defined by Michael Kinsley -- when a politician unwillingly tells the truth. Instead, writes Coyne, Trudeau's gaffes suggest shallowness -- the ramblings of a man who is not a serious thinker.
Will gaffes be Trudeau's undoing? That remains to be seen:
The next election is nearly two years away. There will be many more chances to take the measure of Mr. Trudeau, who will have many more chances to demonstrate his capacity to grow and mature. One gaffe does not disqualify him from office, nor even do four or five. But the more evidence they are given of his flightiness, the less willing Canadians will be to hand him the keys to the car.
Stephen Harper may be driving Canada into a ditch. But, if Trudeau leaves Canadians with the impression that he too will careen to the ditch, they won't change drivers. Particularly when they know that the other driver has a silver foot on the pedal.