Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Harper’s damnable reticence

Whether it started in the "elite" press or amongst underemployed Liberals and political advisors Harper chose to govern without, it’s catching on with the people: Stephen Harper is not only ruthless; he’s untrustworthy. This could be important, if true. Canadians feel increasingly relaxed about the country and won’t re-elect someone they believe is dull and can’t explain himself.

Political observers who “connect the dots” and Canadians who live in the dark, we’re told, don’t believe what Harper has been saying about his Chief of Staff Nigel Wright’s payment of $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy. They don’t accept that one very smart man made a stupid mistake; they think it’s more likely that 2 very smart men teamed up to make the mistake. And in doing so, by the way, conspired to commit a crime.

I’m not touching the problems of the mayor of Toronto. However, I’m not buying the zeitgeist on Harper, that he lies more than we do and that scandal will bring him down. My bet is that Barack Obama’s Keystone Pipeline decision could cause him far more grief than Thomas Mulcair’s prosecutorial style and Justin Trudeau’s luminescent innocence in the House of Commons.

The pundit world is ridiculously eager to close the file on Harper’s good character while, at the same time, howling for more answers.

Big name political analysts, including Rex Murphy, call the $90,000 payment Harper’s “death warrant.” Pundits back their point of view with an extraordinary poll by an excellent polling company.

Ipsos headlined its latest Canadian opinion survey “Just 13% ‘convinced’ the Prime Minister Had No Knowledge of $90,000 Gift to Senator Duffy.” On the other extreme, 42% are “convinced” that he must have known about the payment. (The survey did note that 44%—a slight plurality—weren’t sure yet whether he was lying or not.) Just think: Roughly 56% of adult Canadians think they know what they cannot now know. 

And they say faith and hate don’t count for much in Canadian politics.

The theoretical argument for the "death warrant" camp is well articulated by Michael-Den-Tandt:

“If we’re to believe Harper’s account of the timing, therefore, we must first believe that not only Wright, but also PMO communications staff, did not warn their boss of the imminent cataclysm. If that’s true, then everything we thought we knew about Harper is wrong. Far from being a control freak, he’s a delegator of Reagan-esque proportions. Except that no one in Ottawa believes that. This is a government in which all lines of power lead back to one office, and one man.”

Harper can’t and needn’t undo what everyone in Ottawa thinks it knows to satisfy me that all initiatives by all his employees—whether they succeed and fail—don’t lead back to him. Control freaks seldom hire talented people like Nigel Wright or Mark Carney, for that matter. Certainly, they don’t last long as Prime Ministers.

This new trigger-happy majority against Harper needs more fuel to hold and grow over the next 2 years. The case against Harper is too fragile. His critics talk about a "cover up" because he hasn’t yet confessed to anything; they talk about a gap in his calendar the way nervous children approach a dark room full of demons.

More work, however, must be done—more must be known—before Harper’s either finished politically or is able to assert his leadership on new issues or in his Party.

Harper is behind; flawless damage control now won’t re-elect his government. Michael-Den-Tandt does get at what stands in the way of a Harper recovery: He no longer gets the benefit of the doubt by a significant majority of Canadians—and influential opinion makers as well. This is making his attacks on his opponents ineffectual and his advocacy suspect as well.

It’s safe now to say the worst about the man.

Harper’s detractors say he’s in this hole because he’s simply too partisan; that he runs a nonstop campaign; that while everything he says is calculated, it's without any genuine spontaneity.

They’ll likely keep saying it.

His reticence about himself and his job has allowed us to come to suspect that he’s not normal; he's not like us. After 7 years, we still remember that he shook his son’s hand on his first day at school in Ottawa. He never explained later that he hugs him when we’re not watching. Furthermore, for heaven’s sake, he’s never once complained about being called a "control freak."

In Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger, Meursault ended up with a death sentence, in large part, because he’d set himself far apart from normal people well before he killed another man in a fight he’d tried to avoid. Everyone remembered that he hadn’t shown grief at his mother’s funeral. His alienation grew because he never stepped outside of himself and his reticent nature.   

If Camus were alive today, he probably wouldn’t feel at home in Alberta or be surprised if Stephen Harper is thrown out in the next election by another one of those ardent conversationalists that Canadians have elected in the past. 

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