Friday, October 05, 2007

"The Brilliant Tactician"

I agree with the Gazette column that argues Harper's "trap" might not be all it seems. However, this line is what I found striking:
"Sometimes, even a brilliant tactician can be too clever by half."

I'm not sure when "Harper, the brilliant tactician" became part of the Canadian political vocabulary, but it seems the assumption has taken root. Can you really prescribe the label "brilliant tactician" to someone, who, despite a budgetary balance sheet to die for, a great economy, an official opposition in almost unprecedented turmoil, can't raise his popularity to the weak minority status he won in an election against a tired, old Liberal Party, bereft of ideas and long on scandal? You mean the fellow who decided to wrap himself in a military mission that wasn't his choosing, despite the obvious political pitfalls? You mean the guy who sat on his hands for months, despite the fact poll after poll showed the environment as a frontburner issue, then released one of the biggest turds in legislative history, from a over her head Minister of his choosing?

Don't get me wrong, Harper has demonstrated certain political instincts and show himself able, but for ever "master stroke" I can point to the "political tin ear" or blunder. In other words, I'm not sure the reputation is warranted. The terminology seemed to take hold as a result of the last election. No offence to our Prime Minister, but he was handed gift after timely gift, all within an overwhelming environment that sought change. Given the conditions, a weak minority is hardly a powerful statement on prowess. If staying out of the way and trying not to look scary while your opponent implodes translates to brilliance, then the term has lost most of its meaning.

I don't under-estimate Harper, but more and more people tend to over-estimate his abilities and just assume. Harper is a tactician, but given all his "moves" and the lack of any progress, I don't think he deserves the master moniker.

36 comments:

garry said...

I have some trouble with such lavish praise of a guy who has always seemed mean, unexpectedly petty, and stubbornly secretive. To me. there is far less to Harper than meets the eye.

Take a look at his recent talk to the Council on Foreign Relations, the US establishment group that defines the direction of American foreign policy. It invites leaders of other countries to come and have a chat, as they did Harper at September 25,2007.

The highlights of this address are as follows:

Harper is truly comfortable with these Americans, far more comfortable than he ever sounds with a Canadian audience.

Harper seems to have no idea of what is truth and what is utter fiction in his remarks. He has Canada stepping up to the plate and leading by example in Afghanistan and Climate Change. We got hauled into the Afghan mess step by chicken hearted step and then started to find a way to worm out of it; we are not getting anywhere in Climate, we are not even ready to set a date when we might, we do not know whether the gov will go for fixed targets or not (he starts in this speech with fixed, but he ends up with ":flexible").

One has to conclude that Harper spends a lot of time in front of the mirror so that it does not matter so much what he says as how it looks or sounds. In one place he falls into "my friends" to address an audience that no Canadian in their right mind would confuse with any sort of "friend"; and he spouts the most appalling list of falsehoods by himself or by what he has told the moderator.

-not all countries are free open like Can and the USA and pluralist and that is the problem

-human rights and the rule of law are paramount in Can and the USA

-Can leads by example in climate
-Can leads by example in Afghan/

-his government (he says "we" but I do not think he means the rest of us) has been bringing Canada back to the world state
-he has rebuild the national Balance sheet (now he came before Martin and the Libs)
-he is building an energy superpower (means he will not try to stop Alberta laying waste the whole Province)

-he is reasserting Can presence in the Arctic (right, with about 30 more rangers at a refueling dock left over from an old mine and a few patrol boats, to come.....sometime)

-On Afghan Canada "was there immediately"

-Can is really part of the UN in Afghan and the proof is 71 dead soldiers.
-in Afghan today there are 6 million in school (we cannot even dare to try to count the schools not yet blown up)

- we must have mandatory caps, well, binding targets, well early targets on emissions intensity, well, flexible targets

And then he claims Canada's social programs that he campaigned to destroy and is trying to do so day by day, as to his credit!
He says "...the Canadian approach, a model of constitutional democracy and economic openness combined with the social safety net, equitable wealth creation and regional sharing arrangements that prevent the start of exploitation still seen far too often..."

-he is also leading by example in the Arctic where he had promised a real ice breakers, did not do it, now talks about a number of little corvette style patrol boats to tease at the ice, and has in fact done nothing but respond in words to the Russians who are showing dramatic effects in the area with tourist prizes.

Don't tell me this bum is shrewd or like a new McKenzie King. He is just another extremist copy writer whose mouth does not even engage his brain.

Anonymous said...

It is for these very reasons that I fret not about Dion.
Let Stephane be Stephane and watch the poll numbers grow.

Koby said...

Harper and the rest of the PMO are brillant tacticians -- far far better than the Liberals. What Harper is not is a brillant strategist. It is important to disguish between the two. That said, the Conservatives have proved to be better strategic thinkers than the Liberals too. Just look at what they have down in Quebec

Koby said...

done not down

Anonymous said...

To Harper people are a game board. Yes, he's a tactician, but a good politician has an instinct to listen and understand the heart of the people.

I don't like being strategized and being treated like a game board. I don't like being looked down on.

Trouble with Harper - he's playing American politics and doesn't understand the Canadian heart or doesn't care.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the former poster. Harper doesn't 'understand or get Canada' and in fact I believe hates Canada which will be his undoing. He isn't a smart man but one that likes to tell people he is smart. If he wasn't such a big fat man with grey hair and instead a short skinny guy people would laugh at him. He's just a nerd and a creep and a mystery as to why such a loser could develop such an ego.

Canadians seem to have bought into the bully mentality but hopefully they will regain their sanity. This man is up to no good and a threat to all that is good in this country.

Canada hasn't seen a more hateful spiteful creep in such a top job. This is a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Liberal poster wrote: Harper doesn't 'understand or get Canada' and in fact I believe hates Canada which will be his undoing.

Is this the new Liberal tack? Harper hates Canada? Right...

Let's be more correct. Harper hates Liberals. That's Liberals with a big L. Or are you saying that Canada = Liberals? That would be even more funny than your original assertion.

Steve V said...

koby

I'd like you to explain the difference between strategy and tactics, because on the surface it really seems like splitting hairs.

garry

"And then he claims Canada's social programs that he campaigned to destroy and is trying to do so day by day, as to his credit!
He says "...the Canadian approach, a model of constitutional democracy and economic openness combined with the social safety net, equitable wealth creation and regional sharing arrangements that prevent the start of exploitation still seen far too often..."

Interesting contrast to Harper's past writings, which apparently don't count anymore.

I guess the broader question, what has Harper really achieved to deserve such praise? Where are the examples of out-pacing the opposition?


anon

"To Harper people are a game board"

Hence the stagnant poll numbers and fragile majority. Manipulating people isn't as easy as some suggest, and the environment file is the perfect example. All the billions, all the press conferences, all the speeches, all the "leading" crap, spewed ad nauseum and where are they? Last time I checked, their approvals on the environment is about the same as it was in the early summer of 2006. The Cons are selling, selling hard, but nobody is buying.

Steve V said...

"Is this the new Liberal tack? Harper hates Canada?"

No, but Harper is on record hating Canada. Do some reading, he is very up front about his disdain. Well at least Harper was, up until his epiphany period, which just happened to coincide with expanding support and vote grabs.

Anonymous said...

That's another problem - Harper "hates". He's focused on his hatreds, not Canadians.

His obsessive hate is a disturbing sign.

We have a democracy in Canada with different political views - whether Harper likes it or not.

Harper needs hate therapy and some exercise.

I don't hate Conservatives - it pity them and I just don't agree with their political views - period.

Harper obviously has some demons he should deal with because quite a few Canadians lean to the Liberal point of view - does he hate all Canadians that have the Liberal view?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Tactician?

Hardly. I cringe when I read and observe what Steve and Jim have done to ordinary Canadian Investors in Income Trusts in the last year.

The latest at CAITI-ONLINE tells a two tales.

First, Mark Carney, the one of the architects of the 'tax fairness plan' (fair to who?) just got kicked up into the BoC Gov's job. Expect more misery if you invest in this country. This guy couldn't find his A$$ with both hands according to Brent Fullard.

Second, the latest video on their CAITI-ONLINE-MEDIA site tells the story of a Private Equity guy from New York who is very pleased with the 'Tax Fairness Plan'. It allows foreign PE outfits to swoop in and grab Canadian resource companies from Canadian Investors for cheap.

You thought you owned them? Think again. Not with the Conservatives in charge.

ottlib said...

"I don't under-estimate Harper, but more and more people tend to over-estimate his abilities and just assume."

Including Stephen Harper himself.

His little double-dog-dare dog and pony show earlier this week proves that. As you so rightly point out the conditions of his election were a gift from the political gods and he failed miserably to take advantage of it.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Considering all that went on before and during the last election I could have run a campaign and won 124 seats. Brilliant strategists should have swept the country. (See Jean Chretien in 1993 for an example.)

As well, again, as you rightly point out the current conditions are pretty good. Although, they are not as good as conventional wisdom would suggest, but he still cannot put any distance between himself and the Liberals.

Steve V said...

"I have said it before and I will say it again. Considering all that went on before and during the last election I could have run a campaign and won 124 seats. Brilliant strategists should have swept the country."

Agreed. I'm not sure why Harper gets credit for running a great campaign, when the whole thing fell in his lap. A fragile minority in the environment Harper found himself is hardly indicative of genius. As a matter of fact, the Liberals probably should have been defeated the election prior, but Harper was such a dud, they received a reprieve.

lance said...

Strategy: Defining goals
Tactics: Defining the various methods used to reach the goals.

Cheers,
lance

Koby said...

"Strategy: Defining goals
Tactics: Defining the various methods used to reach the goals."

That would be means ends Lance


"Strategy is “the long-term plan for the war or the campaign,” and tactics (either singular or plural) are “the day-to-day schemes for the battle or the skirmish.” Adapted to figurative nonmilitary uses, both words generalize: the “big picture/little picture” distinction tends to fade, and common usage makes both words tend to mean “plans for action.” But the distinction can be useful and, for audiences who can take it in, are well worth maintaining."

http://www.bartleby.com/68/59/5759.html

Koby said...

Stephen Harper Canada quotes

1) Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task.

2) Any country with Canada's insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous.

3) On Quebec separation vote “Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion.

4) “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.”

5) “I delivered [speeches] everywhere I went … about the spirit of defeatism in the country”

6) “west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.”

The fact that Conservatives were use the Stand up for Canada line when these quotes existed, speaks to the gross tactical incompetance of the Liberal brass.

Steve V said...

koby

Thanks for the distinction, I tend to think the two overlap.

"The fact that Conservatives were use the Stand up for Canada line when these quotes existed, speaks to the gross tactical incompetance of the Liberal brass."

They played the boogeyman card, to great effect in one election, but rightly or wrongly people tired of it, primarily because the Liberals looked tired and worn, the theme appeared desperate.

Anonymous said...

'the theme (boogeyman) appeared desperate'

And it still does.

IMO the recognition of PMSHs 'brilliance' came with the 'Quebec is a Nation' motion.

Firstly, because he outmanouvered Duceppe, big time, and very quickly.

And secondly, that he was able to get all but one Conservative convinced to stand behind him on the motion, even the redneck Reformers.

Contrast that to the Dion Liberals.

Anonymous said...

oops, last anon was me
wilson

Steve V said...

"IMO the recognition of PMSHs 'brilliance' came with the 'Quebec is a Nation' motion."

Despite the fact it was poorly thought out, ambigious and because of that irresponsible, Harper did achieve his narrow goal, with no regard for consequence. I will say he certainly got the better of Duceppe.

ottlib said...

"Harper did achieve his narrow goal, with no regard for consequence."

That pretty much sums up this government and Mr. Harper does it not?

That is the greatest distinction of the man. Everything for him is a political calculation, with the benefits to Canadians being far down on the list of priorities.

Steve V said...

ottlib

That reality is the one caveat in Quebec. The ADQ actually cares about Quebecers, which doesn't necessarily translate to Harper. One theme that might stop the bleeding in Quebec, if the Liberals consistently make the case that Harper doesn't care about Quebecers, he only cares about their votes, as a means to an end. Frame it as a matter of accepting the manipulation and you might just see a resistence.

lance said...

Steve said, "The ADQ actually cares about Quebecers, which doesn't necessarily translate to Harper."

C'mon on Steve. That's bogus and you know it.

As a _tactical_ manoeuvre it's a different story. I'd suggest the Liberals try it.

After all, it isn't the CPC that are one issue wonders in Quebec.

Cheers,
lance

Aaron said...

I think time will show that Harper's decision to equate the defeat of any government bill as a vote of confidence was a significant tactical blunder.

The throne speech is not real legislation. It is 19th century theater and so it matters little whether one supports it or not. I doubt that by supporting the throne speech anyone would expect this to be an endoresement of particular policy. Conservatives are trying to frame this as a mandate. No one will believe them.

But since every bill is a now a confidence motion and bills are moved through the House at the disposition of the majority, the opposition can choose the killing time.

wilson said...

'Frame it as a matter of accepting the manipulation and you might just see a resistence (from Quebec).'

So, tell Quebecers that they have been fooled, manipulated...Steve, something tells me they might be a wee bit sceptical of that approach, coming from the Adscam party.

How would you convince Quebec that the Conservatives are merely vote buying with their 'feds limited in prov jurisdictions' policy, a vote winner in Quebec, when Reform/Alliance/Cons have been running on that policy for years?

Every time Libs reignite the 'firewalls' message given by PMSH 12 years ago, Quebecers are reminded that he is the real deal.

Steve V said...

"So, tell Quebecers that they have been fooled, manipulated...Steve, something tells me they might be a wee bit sceptical of that approach, coming from the Adscam party."

You don't think the Bloc will use that approach?


lance

"Steve said, "The ADQ actually cares about Quebecers, which doesn't necessarily translate to Harper."

C'mon on Steve. That's bogus and you know it."

The ADQ has Quebecers interests at heart, why people assume Harper can navigate in the same landscape is wanting at best. Everyone in the country sees what Harper is trying to do in Quebec, even the faithful know its a vote grab, why do you assume Quebecers won't see through that? I might add, the polls still show a hesitation, which proves my point.

aaron

Agreed.

wilson said...

'Conservatives are trying to frame this as a mandate. No one will believe them.'

No, PMSH declared the throne speech as a mandate.
Dippers will gleefully believe him.

All commentary is on PMSH, but Liberal eyes should be on their 'friends' on the left.

Libs are sent to the opposition benches, 'Quebec is a Nation' (something Dippers have been chanting for years) and voila... Dippers win a seat in Quebec.
The antiwar/enviro champs party have their first seat in the antiwar/greenest province.

Libs, being in oppostition, can no longer keep Dippers in their 'rightful place', attached to their butt.
Duceppe wants out before he's chased out.

Layton and Duceppe will be in a race to see who gets to be the enviro champion and use the Liberal's 'Kyoto or Bust' bill to bring down the government.

wilson said...

'You don't think the Bloc will use that approach?'

They did last election. Painted Cons as the Alberta rednecks (as did the Liberals).
It didn't work then, it won't work now.
As the survey said PMSH is not perceived as a westerner by half the population.

The days of using Alberta as the 'enemy' are over.
Scarey Harper, Bush, hidden agenda, 2 tier healthcare, antiwomen, antigay (sorry Baird), antinative, antihuman rights, unCanadian....blah blah blah.

Goodale predicted a Conservative government would cut social programs and run a deficit at the same time.

Face it. You Liberals have been winning elections by scaring Canadians to not vote Conservative, not by policy and good government.

That's all you've got.
Getting Dippers to 'stop a Harper majority', this time, might be a little tough,
They have finally figured out that as Cons votes increase, so do theirs.

Anonymous said...

Wilson, Wilson - the polls show and Nic Nanos agrees - women don't like Harper. Without the gals he can't get a majority.

Ask most women - he gives women the creeps.

Here's the perfect description by Andrew Coyne:

Watching Stephen Harper on TV, I couldn't help feeling I'd seen that face somewhere else. It's... yes, I have it. It's Putin. Vladimir Putin. A little pudgier, granted, but the same eyes, or rather, the same look. It's wolfish: equal parts cunning, ruthlessness and hunger. Both men are sometimes described as icy, but a wolf does not regard his prey with indifference. He's ravenous. And at Wednesday's press conference, it was all Mr. Harper
could to keep from licking his lips.

900 ft Jesus said...

glad you made this post. I never saw Harper as brilliant or event all that smart. I'm sure Dion and Layton could corner opponents through trickery and could attack by spreading lies, but they choose not to use such "brilliant" tactics, generally.

anonymous at 6:17 is right. Lacking a normal emotional range, harper cannot grasp human nature, thus missing a critical factor in strategic planning.

Steve V said...

"The days of using Alberta as the 'enemy' are over."

What the hell are you talking about?

Calgary Junkie said...

It looks like the last thin reed you guys have to hang on to is that "you are still statistically tied in the polls".

But no need to remind you that there is a long way from the "talk" of supporting a party on the phone to the "walk" to the voting booth. The Quebec by-elections are a good example of that. The polls, based on a sample of about 1000 voters in each riding were way off compared to the actual results.

But all this debate about how good a tactician, strategist, etc Harper is will only be settled after the next election. Until then, it's all spin on what he has done/not done.

Scotian said...

I've always been of the opinion that Harper is a decent to brilliant political tactician but a crappy strategist, and his actions in government since have only underscored that for me. Take the Grewal scam for an example of being tactically smart and strategically stupid. Harper made brilliant tactical use of that despite either not knowing it was a forgery because he didn't do due diligence or because he knew and didn't care for three weeks. However, as soon as the forgery was made public knowledge he was in a position where he could be toasted for endorsing a fraud about criminal allegations against sitting Ministers of the Crown and the PMO itself. That he successfully managed to bury it by claiming no CPC wrongdoing whatsoever despite the chain of evidence proving there had to be CPC wrongdoing since from moment of recording to release they were only in CPC hands is the only reason why this example did not destroy him then. It was a case of being tactically smart and strategically stupid beyond belief.

The Quebec as a nation being another example, brilliant tactical politics but with no consideration of the longer term strategic implications of such a position for the nation. Indeed, the main problem with Harper is that he does not place the interests of the nation first but the interests of he and his party in gaining majority no matter what the costs to the nation in the process, hence why he is so comfortable with the culture war approach to politics imported by him from the GOP.

Harper is also a good example of someone that is smart and intelligent but has narrowed his focus/worldview so much that he is best described as being narrow of scope in his thinking. Harper is also clearly convinced of his own intellectual superiority, especially in terms of political intelligence, which is why he runs the CPC in such a top down dictatorial fashion, more so than any other party leader I have ever seen in this country on the federal stage in 40 years. The combination of these traits is what will most likely be at the root of Harper's downfall, because they create intensely large blind spots and holes in his perception/thinking, which is likely also why he so often misreads what Canadians really think/feel on issues, especially social welfare and justice issues.

Harper had the perfect storm last election against the Liberals; by rights he should have done nearly as much damage to the Libs as the Libs did to the PCPC in 1993. Instead he got (as of election night) a ten seat weaker minority than the Martin minority government he replaced. That is not the proof of genius; if it proves anything it proves the opposite, along with a very strong mistrust of Harper within the electorate. Everything Harper has done since then has basically confirmed that he is not a brilliant political mind, just a really aggressive and amoral practitioner of politics, and if one is willing to abandon any morality in search of political power one can for a time look powerful and unbeatable but it always comes and catches up with you in the end. If it were not for the damage I believe he would do with the power I would be content with just waiting for this to happen to him instead of opposing him so strongly, but unlike Harper and all too many CPCers I happen to love and cherish Canada as it is and see it as the best nation on earth to be privileged enough to live in. Too bad Harper can't understand why this is, if he did then perhaps he might actually have proven himself to be worthy of the office he currently holds.

Steve V said...

"But no need to remind you that there is a long way from the "talk" of supporting a party on the phone to the "walk" to the voting booth. The Quebec by-elections are a good example of that. The polls, based on a sample of about 1000 voters in each riding were way off compared to the actual results."

LOL, as a matter of fact, they actually gave a good indication of what was to come. Pretty funny that you say the polls are all there is to cling to, when Harper seems to live by them.

Scotian

Well said. All I can add, is that for every tactical genius episode, there is one where Harper failed to read the landscape. It's a mixed bad in my mind.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

At least one to one, indeed I'd wager there are significantly more examples of his bad calls than his good calls. Additionally most of the so called genius he demonstrates and is considered such by his followers tends to have been lifted from American GOPers and not originating with his intellect/mind. It just goes to show how easily CPCers will swallow anything their leadership tells them, in many cases because it is more important to defeat the Liberals than it is to have any actual policy goals and aspirations for the nation. Indeed, at its core the CPC appears to be far more of a hate filled angry reactionary party out to prevent the Libs from having power than anything remotely resembling a political movement IMHO.

Steve V said...

" tends to have been lifted from American GOPers and not originating with his intellect/mind."

Exactly. Plagarism isn't indicative of genius.