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Going For Baroque
by Norman Snider

HE STEALS into my office," Peter Newman begins his mini?profile of Joe Clark, "like a wild fawn caught eating broccoli." For connoisseurs of the genre, this is a veritable golden oldie of Newman metaphor, melding the unlikely comparison with the unintentionally surreal. Or how about the figure of speech where Newman compares Canadians to "Don Quixote in a parka singing a cappella blues?" Or the one where he depicts politicians' pronouncements as 11 slithering off Ottawa's photocopiers like limp herring"? Just try to visualize that without suffering instant migraine.

They are all here in this collection of Newman's columns and occasional writing, a sort of linguistic found objects, to be catalogued under the heading of "Canadian camp." All the same, despite his predilection for gaudy language, this collection is supremely worthy of notice because it contains several examples of Newman's ability to invent the characters who populate our national life. For instance, it was Newman who, almost single?handedly, in a column entitled ."The Member From Winston's" created the image of John Turner as the blue?eyed prince of Bay Street, waiting in exile to rescue the country from the anti?business depredations of Pierre Trudeau. "For a growing number of Canadians," wrote Newman, 'Turner is coming to represent the last hope of giving the country forceful political leadership." Well, it is a brave columnist who has the nerve to enshrine his least accurate predictions between hard covers.

In a country where most journalists see their duty as bringing public figures to grim Calvinist account, Newman has indefatigably mythologized a rogue's gallery of swarthy pols and carpetbagging CEOs with the "glowing light" of his undiminished enthusiasm. In sensibility, if not taste, he is Canada's Andy Warhol, displaying a promiscuous adoration of wealth, power, and celebrity, in whatever form they may take. Newman, for instance, can admire Ed Broadbent or Harrison McCain with equal fervour. He has something nice to say about just about everybody, except for Pierre Trudeau, about whom he is exceptionally vicious, writing that the former PM will spend his declining years "collecting Margaret fold?outs." What was the snub, one wonders, the declined interview request, the verbal put?down, that has resulted in such bitterness? or?was it just that Trudeau, along with the likes of John Diefenbaker and Bill Vander Zalm, committed the cardinal sin in Newman's gospel, namely' the alienation of the business community?

All the same, Newman is remarkable among Canadian political or business journalists in his recognition that there is a world of thought that extends beyond the policy paper or the annual report. He will quote from Mailer or McLuhan or Sartre, even if the demands of that strange language, Maclean's?ese, insists that he identify the latter as "a French philosopher," as opposed, presumably, to that other J.?P. Sartre, the one who played defence for Montreal in the early '60s.

Essentially, Newman writes for a mass readership. Unlike other, less successful, worshippers at the fount of power, his tone is not that of an insider, addressing an audience of fellowinitiates. Newman, no matter how close his ties with the Canadian establishment, has preserved something of the wonder and amazement of those multitudes on the outside, pressing their noses up against the glass, admiring the goodies to be found amongst the rich and famous, perennially dazzled by the great. Occasionally, the flattery descends into the realm of the shameless. "Mila and Brian," Newman writes, tugging determinedly at his forelock, "are North America's newest and most glamorous power couple." Even if he wasn't Mulroney's official biographer, that statement alone ought to guarantee him limitless access to 24 Sussex Drive.

The conventional wisdom has it that the most efficient working attitude amongst journalists is an all?corroding cynicism. This collection suggests the precise opposite is true. The journalist who would follow

Newman's example and get ahead in life would be best advised to imitate his limitless optimism and cheerleading tone. "Most of us feel vibrantly alive," he writes, "veins humming with adrenalin, as we begin to assert ourselves."

Yessir, every day in every way, getting better and better.


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