Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Harper Lacks Political Instinct

The great advantage to winning is that it masks flaws. Circumstance, strength of the opponent, opportunism and a bit of luck can all dictate fate. It is human nature to heap unbalanced praise onto a victor, while simultaneously vilifying the defeated. Rarely is someone as incredibly adept as the post contest analysis argues.

Within this context, we understand the giddy accolades afforded Stephen Harper after the election, where his political instincts and prowess were lauded. Forgotten is the fact that he faced an opponent irrepairably wounded by a suspect legacy, an electorate ripe for change and some timely accusations outside of his control. Despite what is now "conventional wisdom", I don't see Harper as anything close to a master politician. This doesn't detract from a good campaign, with tight propaganda, but it does put his victory into perspective. I would go so far as to say, that given the massive favorable circumstances, a small minority is more a factual statement on Harper's limitations.

The Emerson fiasco demonstrates, in almost unbelievable terms, the complete and utter lack of natural political instincts at Harper"s disposal. No matter which way I try to rationalize this decision, it always comes out a dud. There was never any political advantage to be had, only blatantly obvious pitfalls. How can someone be so politically tone deaf to not see the hypocrisy on every level? Why appointment a "turncoat" in concert with the added indignity of an "unelected" official?

This affair is a colossal misstep by anyone's measure, primarily because it is entirely self inflicted. Harper chose to make these decisions during his "coming out" party. These moves defy logic and show no comprehension of appearances. Good politics is the art of perception. Harper has provided an insight into a man that lacks simple political instinct.

Previously, I have argued that the Liberals had best delay their leadership convention and focus on retooling the message. Harper's unprovoked blunder should speed up the process exponentially, because clearly the preordained good will and breathing space has evaporated. I can now envision a scenario where this government falls flat on its face and loses confidence quickly. If Harper can make such disasterous decisions on a political softball, it doesn't bode well for his posture moving forward. Harper has negated his ethical pedestal and lost his edge with media and opposition alike. I just shake my head that this man failed to see the consequences of his actions. It really is astounding.


Anonymous said...

Good observations, and a conclusion not many “pundits” have yet drawn! Part of the reason is that many observers are reeling in shock at the hamhandedness displayed by Harper. They are still in shock, anger and dismay that this man – who ran such a controlled election – perhaps has feet of clay. But should this be news?

Harper’s Achilles heel over the past two elections has been the question of trust. Many voters examined his views, going back several years, and came to the conclusion that this leopard had not changed his spots. And when he tried in the latest election to sidestep the issue of his beliefs, by simply saying he had “evolved” but his fundamental philosophy was unchanged, may voters were stopped in their tracks. Had he changed? Can this man be trusted?

Then he ran an election campaign designed to focus more on the Liberal’s record – perfectly justifiable – than on his party’s platform. A tightly controlled election that even had some rightwing candidates hiding in kitchens to avoid interviews with the press about their social beliefs. And a leader who avoided questions, sidestepped some, ignored others. The pattern of avoidance, selective discussion, and ignoring of legitimate questions by the fourth estate, raised yet more concern among many voters: Can this man be trusted?

How long before those who formerly voted Liberal and switched to give the Tories a chance, discover though Harper’s actions that he is really just Joe Clark II? And when buyer’s remorse sets in, we can expect the swing back to the Liberals to be more than just one or two percent.

My money is on a majority Liberal government within 12 months.

The Liberals just have to choose the issue for bringing down Harper’s government very carefully. The Bloc will support a no-confidence issue which they can sell inside Quebec. The most likely issue is one grounded in social terms, rather than economic or federal-provincial division of power terms.

Steve V said...


"Then he ran an election campaign designed to focus more on the Liberal’s record – perfectly justifiable – than on his party’s platform."

It was wise to focus on the Liberal record, although it really was a political no brainer. This fact makes the arrogance of these cabinet appointments all the more questionable. Harper's moves show a complete disregard for the reality of his mandate. The support was always soft, which is why you tread carefully and don't alienate.

I am willing to bet the first post-election polling shows a historic low in terms of a honeymoon. The fact that even the most partisan Conservatives can't rationalize these appointments, speaks to Harper's massive blunder. Cynicism is alive and well, with plenty of justification.