Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Harper: The Great Strategist?

How often do you read the following, in reference to Harper:
No matter what you might think of Stephen Harper's policies, his strategic abilities and sense of the political jugular are not to be underestimated.

The Harper, "strategy master", has become conventional wisdom in the media. More and more, I question this characterization. The view seems to have started after the last election. No doubt, the Tories ran a tight, focused campaign. However, you can't look at this fact in isolation. The Liberals were awash in negativity, a by-product of too long a reign, scandal and uninspiring rhetoric. In other words, Harper winning a narrow minority was largely predictable, given the landscape. Important to remember, it's not like Harper swept the nation. Harper won because of a "kick the bums out" sentiment, not some masterful strategy to paint Canada blue. I think the media overstates Harper's political "brillance".

The above quote is taken from an article that cites Harper's attack ads on Dion as evidence of his prowness. How can you conclude this, when today we read headlines as ridiculous as "Embattled PM says he now accepts need for climate-change action". Think about this, on a day when scientist conclude the debate long since over, we have the Prime Minister at the back of the line with the stragglers saying "I'm in". Stephen Harper has been a trainwreck on the environment file since this government took office. Harper hand picked an incompetent to manage a massive file, failed to see the obvious growth of the issue, completely blew it on the international stage in Nairobi, released one of the most disasterous pieces of legislation I can remember, re-hashed old ideas, threw billions around with no political payoff and is today, one year later, still on the defensive, trying to convince us all that he cares. This is just pathetic desperation:
Harper vowed Canada would attend a global summit that hasn’t even been called yet — a conference on climate change that some in the United Nations are demanding.

“I have not received an invitation from the United Nations Secretary General. However, if we did, we would accept,” Harper said.

How does anyone find a deft politician in this shit storm that looks like amateur hour? Harper' strength is his tight control, but this ability isn't necessarily a good political fit. Issues are fluid, events largley unforseen. How a politician reacts is the best way to determine instincts and capabilities. In recent weeks, Harper looks increasingly desperate, like a beaver tending to a failed dam. I don't think Harper has ever had any grasp of this issue, as the frequent missteps attest. Harper the master tactician, methinks this is media inspired mirage. The gang that can't shoot straight sounds better.

26 comments:

Olaf said...

The mismanagement of a single issue, doesn't a poor strategist make. Let's be honest, no one saw the environmental shit storm coming. Look at the polls from last year: I don't think the environment was even a top ten concern of Canadians. Now it's overwhelmingly #1.

Harper handled the shit storm poorly (as unforseen shit storms are often handled), but basically everything else he has done has been politically brilliant, if less than thoughtful policy.

Imagine if this outburst of public/media attention had occurred 2 years earlier when Martin was PM. I have a feeling Harper would have changed his spots then and there, grilled the government on their dismal record, and we might even have a majority government right now - assuming that the polls translate into votes, which is still a dubious proposition. Thank your stars that this was the unseasonably warm winter.

Anyways, point is that Harper is one of the better tacticians we've seen in a while, as Wells' book attests to.

After the last election, all you heard was 'never again will the Liberals underestimate Harper'... never again...

Steve V said...

"but basically everything else he has done has been politically brilliant"

Olaf, you mean in the first few months when he basically had the stage to himself? I would appreciate some examples of brilliance. His big move on foreign policy was to cozy up to the most unpopular politician in American history, looked upon with complete disdain by most Canadians.

Emerson, Fortier, Khan have all blown up in his face for the most part.

The polls show erosion everywhere, except in the "motherland" ;) The more Canadians get to know the government, the less they seem to like. Brilliance? One year out, inherit the envy of the world in terms of economy and fiscal health and you have less support than at your election.

"Let's be honest, no one saw the environmental shit storm coming."

You could see the lather building, if you were paying attention. Hey, even the "do nothing" Liberals put the issue center-stage right from the onset of the leadership debate. .

Olaf said...

Steve,

His big move on foreign policy was to cozy up to the most unpopular politician in American history, looked upon with complete disdain by most Canadians.

He didn't do anything of the sort. This is one of those perception vs. reality sort of things. He hasn't had a Shamrock Summit moment, or anything close to it. How exactly did he cozy up? Harper should be praised if only for not making anti-american comments on a weekly basis.

The polls show erosion everywhere, except in the "motherland"

He's done quite well in Quebec, and has regained ground there. Plus, he handled the nation fiasco brilliantly from a political perspective. Plus, the budget is coming up...

Hey, even the "do nothing" Liberals put the issue center-stage right from the onset of the leadership debate.

Which was what, 2 months ago, after the polls indicated the shift? Congrats on the foresight.

One year out, inherit the envy of the world in terms of economy and fiscal health and you have less support than at your election.

Martin had this as well, it ain't easy in a minority government.

Whatever, think what you want, but Dion better focus on policy, in my opinion, because if they're going to "play politics", Harper will roast him on a spit.

You can make a case that Pierre Trudeau was a bad politician, based on many mistakes he made, and decisions that blew up on him. But on balance, he was brilliant.

Perhaps I have too much faith in Harper's strategic acumen, but I truly believe that you underestimate him at your own peril. "Never again" they said...

lance said...

I disagree Steve. I actually debated whether or not to post this comment, then I realized that most people could put it together from the posts at my place. Besides, my only political affiliation is the non-partisan blogroll.

I think the environment file is being played exactly as Harper thought it would.

Look at what he's done. Clean Air Act that was tough on non-GHG pollution. So effective that it can't really be criticized. Result, GHG is the outlet for vehemenance. He _knew_ that no matter what the CPC did it would be slagged, so he left the "enemy" an out.

This is classic Sun Tzu.

Secondly, because he knew the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens with the new leader (Sierra Club) where going to hammer him on Kyoto that means he had to have a response.

Enter Jack. I wonder just how long the CPC were courting Khan. Do you?

Jack is being pressured from left and right. Jack forces the debate of the CAA into committee, now Jack has the limelight.

Not the CPC, not the Liberals. Of those two, who does Jack threaten? Who is threatening Jack? Who are the CPC's sworn enemies? What better way to attack the Liberal vote except from the left?

So now, jump forward to present day.

You have two completely disgraced major parties slinging mud back and forth, signifying nothing, but their incompetance on the file.

The Libs almost didn't bite the hook. Enter ads that _directly_ attack Dion on the environment. Credibility shot. Enter the letter, CPC credibility shot. And it isn't just QP. Witness the blood feud between BT's and Liblogs over the ads and the letter. Both parties are dropping credibility every minute.

Ask yourself this, given that the two main parties are equal with respect on the environment file (as witnessed by the recent poll) who gains when the left (3 parties) is fighting amoungst themselves over Kyoto?

Not a strategist. Indeed.

Cheers,
lance

Scotian said...

Lance has a valid interpretation given the facts as they are, I'd say. Please note though Lance this does not mean I agree with it simply that it is a reasonable one to believe in the absence of absolute personal first hand knowledge of some type. However, there is a problem here too Lance, Harper for all his intellectual ability as a strategist has had a long history of misreading the Canadian political dynamic and building up an awful lot of bad blood against him not just by other politicos but by ordinary people with his condescending holier than thou attitude. He was/is a man on a mission and he believed then as I believe he does to this day in it and unfortunately one of the things that left him with is some significant blind spots.

The problem Harper has is that he is too much of a control freak by nature to do what works best to compensate for such a problem/limitation. If you know you have blind spots and you can at least get a rough sense of where they are by indirect observational methodology (like planet hunting looking for gravitational evidence instead of the planet itself) of some type and then find those that you can trust to tell you when you are out of touch with reality because of those blind spots.

I don't think Harper has anywhere near as good a read on the fundamental Canadian cultural dynamic as he and many CPCers though nowhere near all think he/they do, even the older more monocultural one that has existed in this country from the outset. He has been too heavily influenced by our southern neighbour's view of politics and conservative beliefs in many respects and his mission is to bring us their great gifts. He is a strategist, and a reasonably good one, although the best strategist in the world still will screw up big time if they are unable to compensate for their own limitations and that is where I think Harper comes up short for the recognition of great/brilliant strategist.

General:

I may be opposed to Harper and his political beliefs but that does not mean I hold him personally or his skills in contempt. One of the most galling things for me about the way Bushco has operated for example is the way they do hold their enemies in contempt and because of that created the blind spots with the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan are exploiting so successfully. I respect Harper's capabilities and have said before that it is a very good thing for the voting progressive movement/majority in this country that it is the blind spots that make him as vulnerable as he is as opposed to his innate abilities otherwise I fear Harper would succeed long enough to enact much of his core political agenda of the past 2 decades.

I do think Harper tends to be a better tactician though than strategist overall. Take the way he handled the "nation" issue last fall, while in the short term it is tactically brilliant by neutralizing the issue instead of feeding it as often ended up happening, in the long term it may well have conceded more than we would have wanted to if the Separatists get back in and the Quebecois mood turned ugly for some reason. So I am not comfortable considering him a great strategist overall, although he does learn to work around much of his limitations after each defeat for the next set of battles, the problem is though now he has built up a record and one that is quite mixed. Which given the last election question was accountability/ethics and the Harper CPC ran a very intense morals campaign for two years straight until they finally won does not serve them well.

The income trust decision clearly has left a permanent stain; the only real question will be the size and darkness. Fortier is a very questionable thing to have done from the outset and his lack of visibility and public accountability (if only in being asked questions he dodges like other Ministers have to as is supposed to be in our system) has been extraordinarily low for a senior Cabinet Minister, let alone the one handling PW/pork and patronage. Emerson left a bad taste for many because of the timing and the complete lack of any conflict between him and the Liberals except the loss of the election and his cabinet seat (when you add the symbolism of the very first day of the very first CPC government in our history having these two events of Fortier and Emerson tagged to them is particularly bad long term strategy as I said at the time). Some still find the softwood deal a sellout, others find the environmental about-face hard to stomach after listening to Harper be Canada's most high profile manmade global warming denier including for his first year in government, well ten months anyway.

While one might argue this is politics as usual under the old ways, especially Liberal ones by the words of the CPC government itself on many occasions, that was *NOT* what it had promised. It had promised something new and better, something that would be more than razzle dazzle and some thin slices of meat while trumpeting it as the greatest thing in Canadian history (How many times have we heard this government say it is the first ever to do this or that or that it is committing unprecedented amounts of money/resources for this or that? That is something one should not be as heavy handed with, a certain amount is considered normal and expected, if not always preferred but acknowledgment of reality but this is well in excess of that I'd say) and being so much better than its predecessors in Chr├ętien and Martin.

Harper is capable and competent in many ways, and if he were less of a control personality I think he could be the great strategist some do already. I'll give him credit for being good to very good, but his inability to correct for blind spots coming from his ideological beliefs shaping his worldview/perspective of the Canadian political dynamic and the deeper levels/layers is lacking which ultimately is a significant vulnerability and failing in any great strategist. I do believe that will be in the end the thing that brings him down when it happens and when people look back and try to figure out why. Well that and at heart he has been selling the same core hard core American conservative rooted approach to government for 2 decades like with this fundraising letter until months before the last election. If he is as capable of changing his public face on the global warming issue's importance as he has so far like this then it is equally plausible to believe he did the same with toning down his core principles and focused on where he had overlap to work with more centrist Canadians, even though that overlap was the fringes for him and about a third or so from center to the right for the centrists (broad generalization with all inherent limitations thereof acknowledged) to vote for him.

Yet in the perfect storm at his back he built what is if not the weakest one of the weakest minority governments in our history federally. Even though he had effectively no risk of the government falling save for something extraordinarily explosive resonating in the public he record for his first year is weak and shows ability to work tactically with the NDP and BQ on confidence and signature issues (Accountability Act, budget respectively) yet no real ability to form even an informal stable alliance with anyone. The main reason he was able to do so with the NDP was commonality of interest, driving stakes through the Liberal Party/brand to try and kill it or at least main it for some time to come to strengthen their respective political positions. That does not need a great strategist to see nor to manipulate.

Now, if he can manage to give Layton something that if not meets Kyoto specs is extremely close to it he could well accomplish much of what he appears to be trying to do under the theory Lance and others I've seen have put forward. The problem is though for him to do so would be literally akin to him swallowing the same degree of public pride as say Bush would if he came out to say he was totally wrong about Iraq, it was a mistake from the outset and that he had been taken in by his VP whom he trusted for expertise in foreign affairs. I see that as very hard for Harper to do, not just personally but for his closer followers to accept as well. Not to mention the reverberations in the wider Conservative base. There are also his connections to the National Citizens Coalition and the Albertan Energy Sector which would not react well at all with such a drastic shift, and coming on top of the income trusts I suspect would cause him incredible damage in Alberta and the west and for the CPC itself as Mulroney did for the PCPC.

Well, those are some of my thoughts on this, sorry to have rambled on so much Steve V, good night.

lance said...

Scotian, I'm not sure if that was a rebuttal or in addition. Either way, I think you're accurate.

You put more weight on the tactical than I do, I think PM SH lucked into those. The two cabinet positions were definitely tactical and not strategic. If you want my opinion, its the tactical that will be PM SH's downfall, not the strategic.

I do believe that PM SH will get beaten. I think he'll suffer humiliating defeat. That's a fair and easy assessment though; what politician doesn't? More accurately, what right wing politician doesn't?

As far as my theories go, you're absolutely correct, without intimate knowledge there is no certainty and in the end, they are just theories.

Given the topic of Steve's post, both you and I, from different perspectives (dare I say ideologies), have made allowances for far greater strategic thought to the motives of the gov't than the original post.

That should be sufficient to highlight Olaf's last sentence, I think.

Cheers,
lance

ottlib said...

Lance that out you are talking about is an acid that is slowly eating away at the Conservative Party's political fortunes.

Stephen Harper was badly out maneuvered by Mr. Dion on the Khan defection. You could tell its timing was not to Mr. Harper's liking and it made what should have been a negative story for the Liberals and made it a Conservative train wreck.

For the first six months of his term Mr. Harper could do no wrong. That is the short definition of a political honeymoon.

However, since the summer Mr. Harper has had one misstep after another. Bad decisions on matters of policy and politics and it is being reflected in the polls.

lance said...

ottlib, I'm not interested in getting partisan on this.

If you think Khan was a victory for the Liberals...well, I just don't even know how to answer that.

Cheers,
lance

lance said...

As another example, read whigca's top post.

His post link doesn't seem to work.

Cheers,
lance

Scotian said...

Lance:

I was agreeing with your facts that you used to reach your conclusions and saying so, but I wasn't endorsing the conclusions you came to from those facts. That is all.

Overall, I suppose you could characterize it as in addition to yours as well as a rebuttal of the premise that Harper is a great political strategist. I agree it is his tactics that will in the end bring him down but you are forgetting that those tactical moves are being made in support of his overall strategic vision. If your overall strategy is wrong then the tactics you use in its service are more likely to be so as well, indeed the use of such tactics may well as you appear to believe look brilliant in the short term yet come back to bite hard over the longer term.

My bottom line though is still the same, Harper is not the brilliant "playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers" strategic wizard that more than a few online CPCers see him as.

As for Olaf's final sentence, that is something I follow as a basic principle. I would prefer to err on the side of overestimating the capabilities/skills of those I am in opposition to than underestimate them, that is only good sense IMHO. Indeed, I don't underestimate Harper, never did. Just because I am dead opposed to him and his beliefs does not mean I underestimate his abilities, if I did underestimate them I would not have been in active opposition to him for the past decade and some. Mind you, what Olaf said about Harper I think also is at least as applicable to Dion, which is yet another reason why I think Harper took the unusual step of attack ads outside the election cycle.

Dion was not the candidate of the old powers/establishment of the Liberal party despite the attempts of the CPC to try and claim he is now. He was recognized as a true believer in his views on global warming, he has brought together a party that has been bitterly divided for over a decade, more like two, appears to have unified it behind him and made mostly good moves since assuming leadership. The telling Khan to make his choice which side of the aisle he preferred to be on is a good example of this. It was clear that Khan was going to shift well before he finally did, but Harper would have wanted it to happen at a time of maximum political impact and he did not get it. Worse, it looked a lot like Emerson in motivation/nature, expediency and power hunger than anything remotely resembling principles, which is also why when the CPC/Khan tried to sell the Dion made him chose between the Liberal party and Canada spin despite the clear dishonesty of such (he was asked to choose between two parties, I thought Cons did not think it was appropriate for any political party to claim to own Canadian values) it failed so badly. This was confirmed by no less than Stockwell Day on his blog when he told everyone that Khan had decided to cross before the Cabinet shuffle and was waiting for it so as to not have to face speculation that he crossed in expectations of a cabinet reward like happened with Emerson.

I think Harper thought he could ride the Liberal scandal record for longer than he can. If he hadn't been on a constant morals campaign against them since the birth of the CPC it would not sound quite as old at this point. When you combine that with the fact they have been the government for a year now and are still sounding in their rhetoric like they are the Official Opposition to the Liberal government it leaves many unaffiliated Canadian voters bemused, confused, and generally unamused with the CPC.

Incidentally, I think the Harper CPC had best stop attacking Dion's dog with their rhetoric, not only is it mean spirited it looks extremely juvenile, and the CPC has enough image problems in that regard in the electorate to be continuing. However, I doubt they will, indeed it is their inability to tell when a favoured partisan rhetoric has gone well past its best buy date that tends to really undermine/undercut their ability to control their image/perception and why Harper is seen as so mean spirited and a bully by many.

Anonymous said...

Just think how indignant Harper and his RAT pack would be if the Liberals attacked his cat's name - which happens to be Cheezy - as in cheezy politics or cheezy government and call it a day?

Steve V said...

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Harper isn't a capable tactican, only that he isn't the chess master that has become conventional wisdom.

Interesting thoughts on the environment, I guess it is still an open question.

WesternGrit said...

One word: Mulroney

Harper is no genius. He barely made it through grad school - at a school known to harbor extreme conservative views. Sure, he was a policy "wonk" (whatever a "wonk" is), but that did not make him an expert strategist. He is an ideologue - and neo-con ideologue, and this is what he excels at.

What Harp did in the last election was to buy/attract the support of Bush's best glitzy campaign men, and the remnants of the Mulroney machine (remember Mulroney?).

Genius? No sir. Benefactor of a nexus of foreign neo-Con advisors (wouldn't Bush's interference in a foreign election spawn an international incident - or war - elsewhere???), and the dregs from a corrupt and morally bankrupt Mulroney government that were still smarting about their extermination at the hands of the Cretien Libs.

Ed said...

I'm often interested to read comparisons of Mulroney (remember when it was funny to call him Muldoon?) and Harper.

I never thought much of Mulroney's politics, but I found him to be genuinely competent. Same goes for most of his ministers. Perhaps I was too young at the time to fully appreciate their nuance, but I'd take Mulroney and Michael Wilson over Harper and Flaherty anyday. They just seem so much more capable and accomplished.

Harper is, I suppose, capable, but he is not a political genius. The election campaign he ran was many years in the making. Everything was carefully considered and managed.

Let us not forget the issue that has put Harper in so much trouble. We had a weird winter. A tacical genius ought to have been able to contain that, but now they are desperate and flailing.

Scotian said...

In one respect though Mulroney was at least as dangerous to the long term health of the Canadian federal political system. He deliberately recruited soft nationalists/separatists to run as PCPC candidates for MP in 1984 and 88. This directly led us to Meech Lake and when it failed not only massively reignited the separatist movement in Quebec (which had lost steam by the end on the Liberal government in 1984 and had it raging white hot by the time the Libs came back to power in 1993) caused those same separatist PCPC MPs to leave en masse and form the Bloc Quebecois, which has been a significant problem in our federal politics ever since.

Harper's dangerousness comes from his radical decentralization beliefs for the Canadian federal government. He will radically devolve federal powers away from the government making implementing national programs like Medicare and national child care impossible for any succeeding government. So I would argue that Mulroney and Harper do have this commonality in this respect at least.

Steve V said...

Did the Conservatives win the last election, or did the Liberals lose? The same question applies to the Democrat victory in November? I think we place too much emphasis on the "great" campaigns, when really the results are entirely predictable, given the political landscape.

Harper had easy targets, the Liberals were awash in scandal, looked like a fat, idea-challenged monarchy. The election was clearly there for the taking, allowing Harper to orchestrate a safe, slogan driven campaign. What was the central thesis of the last election, I would argue it was a referendum on the Liberal record. I'm not sure how that translates into Harper the great strategist, more accurately, he showed some prowess in exploiting an opportunity provided.

I don't think we should under-estimate Harper, because he is slick. However, I don't think it wise to over-state his abilities, because I see ample evidence of glaring weakness in his strategy.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

I agree with the preceding comment of yours completely. The CPC didn't win the election, the Liberals lost it. If the CPC had gotten a majority or even a strong minority (140+ seats) it could be argued the CPC agenda/message was more responsible than a throw the Liberal bums mood out for their becoming government. Indeed, as I have said to you in the past the fact that Harper was unable to do any better than he did despite the perfect storm working in his favour tends to show not just that this was almost totally a dump the Libs message/mood election result instead of a support for Cons election result but also that his much vaunted strategic genius is based on nothing but faith and not on fact/reality.

This is why I don't consider him a strategic great, although to be fair he is a decent strategist, his problem rests more in his ideological filter over his perceptions of the Canadian cultural/political dynamics than in any inherent incompetence as a strategist. However, this swooning over Harper as nigh unto a God that we have seen from far too many CPCers (not just online but offline and within the caucus) is just downright creepy, both in terms of connection to reality/accuracy and in terms of well treating any political leader as such.

Good post Steve V, but then you rarely have a bad one IMHO.

ottlib said...

Lance:

You put forward an argument supporting your claim Mr. Harper is a political genius and I then put forward an argument to refute it.

So how does that make me partisan but not you?

As scotian points out you put forward some good points but I cannot agree with your conclusions.

I will freely admit that I am a Liberal supporter and that has effected my judgement to a certain extent. However, that is to be expected. No one is ever truly objective.

It is obvious that you are a Conservative supporter and that your judgement is effected by that fact. If you can admit that then I would just say we have to agree to disagree and move on. If you cannot admit that then you are just a hypocrit.

Oh yes I will clarify my statement about the Khan defection. It was not a victory for the Liberals and I never claimed it was. It was a loss for them but that loss was grandly overshadowed by the train wreck that the Conservatives found themselves in as a result of the defection. As well, that train wreck was brought about by Mr. Dion outmaneuvering Mr. Harper on the timing of the defection and the subsequent mishandling of it by Mr. Harper.

Steve V said...

"Indeed, as I have said to you in the past the fact that Harper was unable to do any better than he did despite the perfect storm working in his favour tends to show not just that this was almost totally a dump the Libs message/mood election result instead of a support for Cons election result but also that his much vaunted strategic genius is based on nothing but faith and not on fact/reality."

Scotian, when you think about it, the stage was set for a Kim Campbell like wipeout. As you said, the "perfect storm" conditions and we see one of the weakest minorities in history.

Also, it's noteworthy that the election result seems more and more a ceiling for the Conservatives. Harper also enjoyed another perfect storm, for the majority of his first year in office. A voiceless opposition, increased revenues and a strong economy, which has allowed for "taxcuts" and massive spending initiatives. The conditions were such that Harper should be flirting with a majority, instead he clings to a 50/50 proposition.

Dana said...

The brilliance of Harper is a Parliament Hill insider meme that got carried out of Ottawa on the wings of those courtiers known as the national press.

Some senior poobah of something or other murmured something incoherent about Harper and brilliance which got repeated by a junior poobah as proof of said junior poobahs insider status.

And off it went.

Now it's accepted wisdom.

Steve V said...

This tidbit is timely, especially this line:

"The mere word that the Mounties were examining the matter had a devastating impact on the Liberal government of Paul Martin, who was already struggling to overcome the Quebec sponsorship scandal inherited from Jean Chretien."

Perfect storm indeed.

dana

Someone at The National Post probably came up with it.

Dana said...

Steve, in much the same way that Dick Cheney had a rep as a national security guy...once the meme takes root it doesn't get noticed that he's been wrong about every single thing he's ever said on the subject.

Scotian said...

"Scotian, when you think about it, the stage was set for a Kim Campbell like wipeout. As you said, the "perfect storm" conditions and we see one of the weakest minorities in history.

Also, it's noteworthy that the election result seems more and more a ceiling for the Conservatives. Harper also enjoyed another perfect storm, for the majority of his first year in office. A voiceless opposition, increased revenues and a strong economy, which has allowed for "taxcuts" and massive spending initiatives. The conditions were such that Harper should be flirting with a majority, instead he clings to a 50/50 proposition." Steve V

6:29 PM, February 01, 2007

Yes, exactly right. Harper had the last election and his first year (especially his first six months) with every possible advantage a politician could ever reasonably expect to go into with and hold and more than they usually end up having to work with. Yet instead of growing his support by the end of that time he has shrunken it significantly. Now, I have heard many times about how polls would show the Libs up and then lose several points once the election was called and therefore it is not as bad for the CPC as it may look. The problem with that approach is one fundamental assumption has been changed; the Liberals are no longer the government. If I recall correctly this is a pattern that tends to happen to a governing party more so than any one specific party.

The way it looks to me the average Canadian gave Harper the benefit of the doubt over the first six months, even on questionable acts like Emerson and Fortier, out of their inherent fair mindedness. Then with the summer Israel-Lebanon war and how Harper handled that he caused some real consternation in the public, even among some that thought the former government sided too much with the Arab/Palestinian side of that equation and turned a rescue mission from a war zone into a personal photo op. Indeed, I think that last one actually had more resonance and left an impression than many would have thought given the amount of times I have heard someone mention it as a reason for starting to have troubles continuing to give Harper the benefit of the doubt. Apparently it reminds them too much of how Bushco operated in controlling/shaping his image, and while I would expect political junkies like you or myself to make that connection when I hear it from non partisans that pay little attention to politics outside of election campaigns, well that says something to me, that the Bush/Harper media resemblance is being noticed by more than the politico watchers of varying stripes.

Now he has to actually govern a minority government with a fully functional Official Opposition, something he has not had to do yet, and this session of Parliament will be very instructive on how he does with that. His decision to start it off with negative ads aimed at Dion I think will add a sour note to everything afterwards for him much the same way Emerson/Fortier did on his and the CPC's first day ever in power as a government. Ultimately though this I think comes down to fundamentally misreading the nature of the average Canadian. I really do not think Harper has ever had that much contact with them in any meaningful sense of the word, that the circle of friends and family he has had through his life leave him more than a little sheltered in that regard. Worse, I think it got much narrower once he entered adulthood and signed on with the Calgary School and by now is really disconnected and is one of the main reasons why he is making such bad misreads on certain differences between Canadian and American political cultures and what will work within them.

If anything Harper's much vaunted strategic abilities are the only thing that have let him get this far despite the blind spots and limitations his ideology have imposed on him. Not to mention the fact that this ideology (especially if it were fully explained as it used to be by Harper in his own words until he realized that doing so would prevent him for ever becoming PM) appeals to a small minority of no more than 30% of voters (not citizens but those that actually vote) at best and likely significantly less. So the fact that so many CPCers feel this need to create this image of Harper the ubergenius towering over all the mediocre losers still playing checkers while Harper plays chess seems like a major insecurity complex to me. That somewhere deep down they know better but to have to admit that would mean having to admit other unpalatable realities and if they were good at facing those ugly realities in the first place they wouldn't need to lie to themselves so much in the first place. It means nothing when one's friends/allies/followers hail your brilliance, it is quite another when your opponents/enemies do and while Harper is long on the former he is incredibly lacking in the latter (note to CPCers/Trolletariat: Media do not count, they are not fairly classified as an opponent/enemy).

Taken together that does not paint the picture of a great strategist, far from it really.

Steve V said...

scotian

well said!

Scotian said...

*blush*

Thanks, I try...:)

The sad thing for me in all of this is that I first see human beings caught up in yet another set of variations on basic themes throughout our history/nature. I don't see evil grasping manipulative creatures that only look human; those are few and far between. It is an easier way to look at those we oppose/fight and in its own way quite xenophobic as it is a way of dehumanizing those you feel you must oppose (when it is in real time/life) or deal with when examining human history. For to accept this great well of evil/negative acts as mostly the result of humans being human and not intentionally evil in nature/motivations is too much for some to take and therefore they do the dehumanization to protect themselves, which alas also severely limits one's ability to see things clearly enough to make decent appraisals/descripions and usually without that person being aware of this limiting factor. I grant it is not the easiest way to look at ourselves but I find it the most honest/accurate if a bit depressing at times. Still though it also makes our accomplishments and our highs look that much better to me so it balances out for me.

Now, because of this combined with things like my family connections to the political world, intelligence analysis training (informal but from a very top level cleared member of Canadian intelligence), my own experiences in interacting with multiple layers and levels of the socio-economic fibre of our society, and some other unique traits I was given the mixed blessing to have thanks to the lottery of genetics/birth I appear to be fairly good at reading the complex dynamics of human behaviour. It requires a lot of information as well as knowing what to look for and the ability to build up sufficient information sources from across the spectrum, but it also allows one to build up better and better pattern recognition parameters on less and less data/source points (with the conditional qualifiers attached of course until verified/disproved later) the more one uses this conceptual methodology. Of course it is not infallible, but it's accuracy rate from what not just I but others consider it is well over the 50% mark.

It is because politics appeals to me and always has since I was 7-8 years old that I like to watch it so closely, and it is because of the other elements that I like to think I am a decent political analyst, if not a professional one. It is also from having that sense of political dynamics/balances of the parties as well as the process from the outset (although back then I didn't understand what it was I was doing nor a lot of what it meant, but what I did grasp immediately really impressed the adults around me that were involved in politics) that helped me recognize just how different Harper and the Calgary School adherents are from the norm of the Canadian political dynamic. It is also because of the way I read political dynamics that I can see exactly how damaging his self described plans for this country from the late 80s until 2005 would be and why I was so horrified by the sellout of the PCPC. The PCPC was grounded in a Canadian focused set of premises first, they were Canadian Conservatives. The Calgary School and many of their followers are not, and not only are many of their kind of conservativism's premises rooted in American movement conservatism which includes Straussian although not limited to it but it is also not rooted in placing Canada and Canadian interests/beliefs/needs first.

The way the private sector is regarded and the for profit as a first principle approach, the need to shrink government massively, that the federal government has far too many powers to it that need to be devolved, these are not rooted in our heritage/culture, they are imports. While I am not automatically adverse to importing political tools I do insist they be considered for what kinds of effects they will have in our context both the advantages AND the disadvantages and not used if too destructive. This is one of the reasons why the Dion negative ads caused such a reaction when released, it basically guaranteed a series of back and forth he said/did then - he said/did then negative claims about the other's records and Canadians are not fond of that sort of thing even in election campaigns let alone outside of one. The liberal media bias/conspiracy myth, this is something that is frightening in its acceptance in not just Conservative fringes but the very center of the CPC itself, the PM. Whether he comes out and says it completely and explicitly or not what he has said and done makes clear not just his dislike for the media (not an unusual feeling for any PM given their jobs) but an active belief that they are working actively against them except for a certain few trusted ones like Ezra Levant.

Taken together these things are truly revolutionary for our political culture. While being so close to the Americans both physically and in social origins (both Brit colonies and rooted in immigration first from Europe and then the rest of the world) and exposed so much to their beliefs/culture in the media age we are still a significantly different premised society. For us peace, order and good government have been our founding and guiding motto, and the respect for the rule of law, the need for politeness for complex societies to function smoothly, and the need to carefully watch out for ideologues seeking power and examining their ideology very carefully before letting them gain it (personally I wouldn't let any regardless of the ideology but I am not talking about just me here) are central/core to the average Canadian voter. Compromise and mutual assistance is rooted in our culture as much as from need to deal with our environment (both literal and metaphorical kinds) and woven into our social contract. The right to many different opinions and the voice to express it with so long as one does not become an active danger/risk with their behaviour.

I believe these values worthy of protecting, and they are my heritage, from family and from this nation on a larger scale, just as they are anyone else born here and anyone that moves here and commits to this land with their futures and I believe well worth fighting to keep. Not only to keep but to improve upon implementing as newer means become available as well as to respect the underlying principles. I have said many times in many places that I believe Canada is an invaluable nation because of it being a social lab where multiple cultures, including several dominant/colonial powers rooted ones live together in peace while still respecting both the beliefs/cultures of others while protecting the rights of all citizens equally. Half of being able to make something is to know it is possible in the first place, and that is a service I feel this country is uniquely qualified to provide, at least so long as we stay on the path we have followed from our birth, which this Harper conservativism is not going to do unlike even the old Clark PCPC.

Sorry, I've been a bit rambly lately; I haven't been sleeping well lately, pain issues being more of an issue than usual. I tend to ramble/babble more easily when I am getting a bit sleep deprived. Well anyway I hope you find some of this particular ramble insightful/interesting about how/why I look at things. Bottom line really is that I have complete faith in human nature in every sense/respect/aspect both positive and negative and all that exists between the two.

Steve V said...

"I haven't been sleeping well lately, pain issues being more of an issue than usual."

Sorry to hear that Scotian, hope all is well :)

p.s- Ramble away, always insightful