Violent ejections of idiocy: A people’s history of ‘bozo eruptions’ in Canada

Stuart ThomsonStuart Thomson

It is a surefire rule of politics that at any given moment, somewhere in Canada a bozo is about to erupt.

Just as a political campaign is looking to flip the script, or turn the corner, or recapture the narrative, some bozo will ruin it for them, prompting damage control, tearful apologies, or, in the most severe cases, a resignation.

Even the prime minister is not immune to this enduring custom of politics. In 2014, one of Justin Trudeau’s MPs was secretly recorded accusing the leader of a bozo eruption. Trudeau responded by calling the MP a good man whose frustrations were understandable.

John McKay, the MP in question, may have been guilty of the first meta-eruption, since his own bozo eruption was an accusation of a bozo eruption.

Google trends pinpoint the Trudeau-McKay incident as the most high-profile usage of the term in Canadian history and it’s been widely used in Canadian politics for nearly 15 years.

But there may not have been bozo eruptions at all if not for Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 and a rapid response staffer who declared she was responsible for dealing with “bimbo eruptions.” That phrase rattled around political circles for a decade until it was adapted by Stephen Harper’s 2004 campaign to describe the explosions of poor judgment happening among their candidates.

The bozos — the campaign staff said amongst themselves — just can’t stop erupting.

Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan, who worked for Harper in the early days, said he would love to claim credit for it, but admits only to happily adopting it. Ten years later, Flanagan ran Danielle Smith’s Wildrose campaign in the 2014 Alberta election, leading to one of the most memorable stretches of bozo eruptions in Canadian politics.

Bill Clinton, left, with his wife Hillary at a campaign event in Manchester, N.H., Jan. 24, 1992. Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

Pressed by reporters to explain gag orders on people who lost out in the party’s nomination contests, Smith accused the media of conflict of interest.

“I mean, you can continue, I suppose, hoping that one of them is going to have a bozo eruption, and I suppose maybe that’s what you’re upset about,” Smith said.

Two days later, Smith endured a bozo eruption that squashed her chances of governing Alberta.

A bozo eruption is distinct from a gaffe, which has been famously defined by the journalist Michael Kinsley as when a politician accidentally tells the truth — “some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

Mitt Romney said his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs,” in a gaffe for the ages. Romney is very, very rich but politics requires that he pretend not to be. The admission that, when he’s not running for president, he’s cruising around in Cadillacs was an episode of accidental truth-telling that sparked days of damage control.


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