Conventional wisdom has it that the Internet is dumbing us down and making politics more partisan. Sound bites are more effective than substance. The punditocracy that shapes these truisms is, needless to say, pretty certain they apply most powerfully to people in the hinterland, especially those with a history of voting for the right.
That is why the election of Naheed Nenshi, a 39-year-old former business school professor, as mayor of Calgary, was a watershed event that should be of interest far beyond Canada, where he has already become a political superstar.
When Mr. Nenshi earned his upset victory last October, the first flutter of outside enthusiasm was about the fact that an Ismaili Muslim son of South Asian immigrants who moved to Canada from Tanzania had been chosen to lead the capital of the country’s conservative heartland.
The next wave of excitement was inspired by his campaign’s sophisticated use of social media to overturn Calgary’s old-boy political establishment. This Twitter revolution, with which we are now so familiar thanks to the oil states of North Africa, made a splash in the land of the blue-eyed sheiks thanks to clever tactics like a funny YouTube video of people struggling with Mr. Nenshi’s name.
But when I spoke to Mr. Nenshi recently in the elegant sandstone building that houses the mayor’s office, he told me that outsiders are missing the point. The real significance of his election, he said, is that it proves voters care deeply about big ideas and will elect the leaders who take the trouble to engage them. This is true, he insisted, even outside political and business centers such as New York, London or Toronto.