Personally, I thought Michael Dukakis looked fine in that helmet. Heck, it came complete with a semi official nametag, and what’s more there was a tank underneath it. Still, the general consensus among the political cognoscenti south of the Medicine Line is that the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate sealed his fate the catastrophic day he slipped that jar on his head.
The Digital Journalist Web site explained it this way: “Compared with the dashing WWII pilot Bush, the little Dukakis came off a clown, and the photo op blew up in his face.” The Bush in question, of course, was the elder one, George Herbert Walker. He used the film clip to devastating effect in a cruel TV ad. As a result, this sort of thing has come to be known in U.S. politics as a Dukakis Moment.
This side of the line, voters may be more forgiving of helmet abuse – leastways, former prime minister Jean Chrétien seems to have gotten away with being photographed in a helmet – worn backwards, no less. But then, Jean was Jean, and you can get away with a lot if you’re prepared to personally throttle protesters and batter burglars with the first ministerial soapstone sculpture!
Still, I think it’s fair to say that any politician who dons a helmet, no matter how good the cause, is taking a grave political risk. I’m no fan of George W. Bush, the son of the WWII pilot and CIA supremo, but he did one thing right: He took his helmet off before he stepped out of that airplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln for his Mission Accomplished Moment in 2003.
All this is a long way to saying I don’t know whether to applaud Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber for his courage posing in a helmet to persuade young cyclists to pedal safely, or to send him a sympathy card.
I’m leaning toward the card. Only time will tell if it’s possible for a Conservative to have a Dukakis Moment in Alberta.
NOTE: Alert reader Brian Dell has drawn to my attention a photograph of Premier Ed Stelmach, similarly accoutered. There is nothing in the photo, which appeared on Oct. 22 in the Edmonton Journal’s Capital Notebook blog, to persuade me to revise my original opinion of the wisdom of politicians allowing themselves to be photographed in military helmets. Even if Mr. Stelmach does not look quite as goofy as former prime minister Chrétien – owing, presumably, to the fact that one of our brave troopers helped him get his helmet on the right way round – this photograph will come back to haunt him. If nothing else, whenever he experiences vigorous attacks from his opponents, there will be those who are unable to resist portraying him this way. Incoming!