Last night, two separate pundits on the At Issue panel made reference to Stephen Harper's supposed reputation as a tactical genius. The "checkers vs chess" narrative that had become the common assumption of most in the media class. It was interesting to hear more voices now questioning that narrative, and it seems to me the media is finally starting to re-examine the fallacy of believing that Stephen Harper is always one step ahead, his motives mysterious recipes of well thought out strategy.
What everyone is starting to realize, a theme which many of us have stated for some time, whenever confronted with the undeserved adjectives, Stephen Harper and his team are really quite ordinary. The Harper approach is really quite predictable, quite pedestrian in terms of forethought, really more reactionary than visionary. Above all else, Harper really came to power more as function of right time/right place, rather than some juggernaut, that laid waste to less capable opponents. I would submit, all Harper had to do was stay out the way, ride the wave of change (more people cited this desire in voting preference than any affinity to the Conservative program) and reap the benefits. It amazed me that the media heaped such praise, considering the fragile nature of his mandate, despite the optimal conditions. But, it was here that the narrative began to cement itself, and the media has reinforced it every since.
This isn't to say Harper is inept, or that the Conservatives don't have talented people, but given where we are now, it is clear that the attributes were clearly overstated. For his first year in office, Harper faced a Liberal Party without a leader, completely retooling, completely off balance. It doesn't take much exceptional ism to carry the day in that environment, certainly nothing of the stuff of "legend". In the aftermath of the Liberal convention, the Conservatives probably scored their biggest tactical victory, pre-defining Dion before he could define himself. All the other "out flanking" maneuvers since have really been more a by-product of Liberal fear, rather than any brilliance. In other words, given the circumstance, you didn't need much skill to navigate the hyper-friendly terrain.
The Harper narrative first started to get a second look, once he was actually tested, once events occurred which were not scripted, we saw the "team" react to the unexpected. Easy to sit back and map strategy on a 2 dimensional board, quite different to gauge your aptitude when you are forced to react on the fly. It was here, when surprise entered the equation that the Harper "brilliance" began to unravel. The economy starts to falter, these geniuses think it would be a good idea to go after a newly re-elected Premier in the most populous province. A raid occurs at Conservative headquarters, and these brainiacs react like rank amateurs, hurling gasoline on the fire at every turn. Cadman, Bernier, the CWB, etc... No progress in Quebec, no progress with ethnics, no progress with urban voters, no progress with women, stuck, nowhere, all their lofty plans have borne little fruit.
The final nail, and this is where the media seems to have realized, the reaction to this Green Shift. Only a Conservative partisan could argue that their reaction has been effective, even people who hate the proposal also agree that Harper has fumbled to date. What has happened, another narrative has cemented, one less flattering, that of a mean-spirited, low brow, juvenile approach to every issue, a situation of going to that well once to often. Is it really a testament to strategic aptitude, that you have only one response for every issue that confronts you, you always offer the same negativity that insults people's intellects?
It would now seem that the mirage has evaporated, Harper and company might be able, but they are far from something anyone should fear. As a matter of fact, in many respects, the Conservatives are politically "tone deaf", they don't seem to understand what is required to expand their support, what they need to do to improve their image. The inability to recognize their own weaknesses, to just forge ahead with simplistic arrogance, is nothing to admire. It is encouraging to see that the media is finally readjusting how they view Harper and his actions. R.I.P "The Master Strategist".