We all know that they're as uncharitable, profane, and full of petty prejudices, as the rest of us. But we pretend not to know that, in the same way that peasants pretended not to know that kings, popes, and noblemen shat, belched and swore just like they did.
Even in a democratic age, we pretend that our leaders somehow spring from nobler blood than ours, and we expect them to act that way.
Brian Mulroney himself raised that idea during one of the taped interviews that forms the basis for Peter C. Newman's tell-all book:
In an interview Monday, Newman, 76, said his book is a pre-emptive strike against the publication of Mulroney's own memoirs, which he expects in about a year. The author, who spent 20 years conducting 330 interviews with Mulroney, decided he had to get his unexpurgated work out first, lest it be lost behind a sanitized "official" account.
He said he believes the book captures the real Mulroney -- not the politician who adopted a "cement casing" and believed "he had to be this untouchable zombie to keep people's respect."
"He told me once, 'If they think I'm just an ordinary guy, they won't follow me.' That was his attitude.
"But in this book, he lets himself go. The real man comes out and, by God, he's interesting. And I think if he had spoken that way, and if he had been that real in office, he might still be there.
"It's the way he really is," Newman said of the Secret Tapes. "It's not the way he's going to present himself in his memoirs because he'll be more careful.
"This is the way he really is."
Still, as he sat through the interviews, he remembers being surprised at Mulroney's profanity.
"It shocked me because you expect a prime minister not to use that language. If he's looking towards history and the legacy, that wasn't the language of legacy. That was the language of a boxing ring."
Even a seasoned journalist such as Peter C. Newman, who's seen prime ministers come and go and had more off-the-record bull sessions with politicians than anyone else in Ottawa, still feels the pull of the myth of nobility.
As do we all, else we would not claim to be so surprised at Mulroney's profane utterances, and rushing to the bookstores to buy a book full of them.