Haters, as a wise philosopher once observed to his followers, gonna hate. By this token, a fair number of eyebrows were raised at the news that Justin Trudeau, merely 42, will publish his memoirs later this year. You have to wonder if he’s done enough living, apart from half a decade in Parliament and an MA in Twitter. Is this a case of premature autobiography? I believe there’s a pill for that.
Perhaps the Liberal Party Leader could look for comfort to a fellow Canadian – who happens to share not only his name but also his impressively bouncy locks:
“A lot of people think I was an overnight success, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. Sure, it’s only been five years, but it has also been a lot of hard work that took time, sacrifice and relentless dedication.”
See? No one thought Justin Bieber should be writing his memoirs, either, and he managed to publish two by the time he was 18 (the quote above is taken from his 2012 memoir). And Mr. Bieber wasn’t even the leader of one of Canada’s main political parties or scion of one of its most famous political families. He’s just a kid with a lot of gold records and impressive aim when peeing in a bucket, but by 18 he’d published two volumes of his pensées, titled First Step 2 Forever and Just Getting Started.
It is a small tragedy that those titles are already taken. So, apparently, is Bossy Pantsuit, which Hillary Clinton jokingly said would be the name of her forthcoming memoir. It’s a funny old coincidence that the second volume of her autobiography will be coming out this year, just as everyone expects her to prepare for an election campaign, and Mr. Trudeau’s will be released in the fall, a year before Canada’s federal election. What crazy timing! It’s a good thing his publisher has promised a “candid” biography, and not one of those book-shaped things that are mainly just a hunk of campaign slogan slapped between two slices of platitude.
When you think of it, the majority of political memoirs fall into one of two categories: bridge-building (when the career is on the rise) or grudge-settling (after the bridge has collapsed). The latter is obviously more fun, but it’s in the former where Mr. Trudeau will find lessons for the canny political memoirist:
Admit failure. Okay, maybe Mr. Trudeau’s joke about Ukraine wasn’t so funny, and that comment about admiring China was impolitic (brave, but impolitic). No matter; it could have been much worse. Listen to Barack Obama, writing about his crushing 2000 congressional defeat in his memoir The Audacity of Hope: “My own mistakes were compounded by tragedy and farce.” His approval rating at the beginning of his campaign was 8 per cent, which suggests the idiocy of hope more than anything else. His opponent’s son was murdered during the campaign. Mr. Obama lost that race by 31 points, but we all know where he ended up. Everyone loves a (temporary) loser. There are always exceptions, of course: Richard Nixon wrote 1,000 pages of memoir, RN, without admitting blame for his downfall. Minima culpa is its own category.
Have an epiphany while running. No one has a blinding realization about his political destiny while sitting on the couch watching The Bachelor. At the beginning of Olivia Chow’s new memoir, My Journey, she is at the end of a five-kilometre run when she thinks, “Canadians are generous; we believe we can create a fair and balanced society. So how can we come together to form a government that reflects our values?” In The Audacity of Hope, Mr. Obama’s run takes him up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: “I think about America and those who built it. … My heart is filled with love for this country.” Both Ms. Chow and Mr. Obama were preparing to run for office when their books came out. It’s a metaphor that works. Run with it.
Embrace your inner hedonist. Mr. Trudeau drew flak for admitting he’d smoked pot at a dinner party, which hardly makes him the Courtney Love of the political scene. It barely qualifies him to be mayor of Toronto. Look at the confessional precedents: “I have enjoyed the company of women,” Senator Edward Kennedy wrote in his memoir, True Compass. “I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three.” In A Journey (not to be confused with My Journey, see above), Tony Blair worried that 10 Downing St. had turned him into a tosspot: “Stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it. [Alcohol] had become a prop.”
Of course, these confessions could hardly hurt their authors: Mr. Kennedy was dying when he wrote his book, and Mr. Blair found religion after publishing his. What voter these days is really going to care if a politician has taken an illicit puff here or there? Hell, in some parts of the country it’s a path to re-election.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how old the storyteller. What matters is the freshness of the tale.