The Wit & Wisdom of John Diefenbaker
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.
This is a book that will appeal to Diefenbaker diehards, just as the volumes on the wit and wisdom of Jimmy Carter and Idi Amin appeal to their fans. Its editor, John Munro, has been the principal historian-writer for Diet’s memoirs, the historical consultant for the CBC series on the former Prime Minister, and latterly, the head of the Diefenbaker Library at the University of Saskatchewan.
As editor, Munro has contributed a pretentious introduction that should deter some readers. Those who soldier on will find the quotes that make up the rest of the work organized alphabetically by topic — Agriculture to Zionism. Reason: the editor has designed the book as a type of index to the Great Man’s ideas, intended for the generations (or at least until his publisher recovers his costs).
In fact, the book reads like the printed version of notes collected by a university student preparing a paper on the Chief. Or better yet, like a book some candidate might have put out before an election to let voters know where he stood. It was once said of the Chief that his idea of heaven was a permanent election campaign, and since he is no longer with us, perhaps this book is all the evidence we need that he has got his wish.
The range of topics covered by the quotes is probably a fair reflection of Diefenbaker’s interests, with the obvious omission of any material on Dief’s enemies — no zingers here on Dalton Camp. Result: a book duller than it might have been.
It is true that as a politician Dief certainly produced some memorable lines, most of which appear on the dust jacket. For example: “My friends, you say ‘Give ‘em hell, John!’ I never do that, I simply tell the truth and it sounds like hell to the Grits.” But it is also unfortunately true that Diefenbaker’s wit was often derivative (recycled Sir John A. and Sir Winston stories), and his wisdom largely conventional. A more typical entry than the preceding one is “To do something for Canada requires raising and continuing to raise the standards of agriculture” (September 26, 1945).
The fact is that Dief was a typical Canadian politician. And as a group, Canadian politicians are famous for neither their wit nor their wisdom. Any connoisseur of this genre would be well advised to look elsewhere — to a cartoonist like Macpherson whose drawings enliven any book in which they appear, even this one — or to a commentator like Allan Fotheringham who, unlike Macpherson, would never knowingly lend his work to help save Diefenbaker from himself.