Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Changing Mood. . . .

I was communicating lately with another blogger whose work I greatly appreciate about the way the mood has changed in the country in recent weeks. I have found in my own experience, as well as in my historical reading, that even significant political changes occur in a kind of mysterious moment during which the mood changes and with the change of mood significant changes follow as though unstoppable. It happened, I believe, at the moment of the Kent State massacre. It happened during the famous tennis court oath in the opening days of the French Revolution. In recent years it happened to the government of John Major in England when, less than a year into their mandate, chancellor Norman Lamont was forced to go back on a longstanding promise and take England out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which was not only a policy reversal, but it was one that cost the government many millions of wasted Pounds  in what was a total failure. Something tips the scale of people's feelings and Fortuna's wheel suddenly shifts directions.

I am not the only one who noticed the change in mood in Canada that has taken place over the past couple of weeks. I said for a long time that what allowed Stephen Harper to appear to be a kind of Teflon-man for so long was largely the fact that he was a minority PM. This status not only kept his very worst instincts in check, but it also created the illusion that he was not really in complete control so that he could effectively deflect blame for many things that might otherwise have hurt him. The minority status also allowed the government to function in a continual campaign mode with a certain degree of justification. I am absolutely certain that if Harper had had a majority from the beginning he would have been universally despised by the end of his first four years because he would have gone in with his ego full and nothing would have stopped him. But years of minority government taught him the value of more subtlety and caution. However, having said that, Harper's ego has also prevented him from understanding that, as sometimes happens with politicians, it is generally historical chance that has put him in power rather than significant support for his political ideology. And this fact is going to make it difficult for Harper to continue his strange brand of stealthy ideological change. The game has changed and I am not sure that Harper can change sufficiently with it to avoid a seismic political change.

As any careful observer has surely noted, the change is already underway. The way in which Harper is being talked about in the media and on blogs has shifted significantly in only a few weeks. Suddenly people are focusing on Harper as a kind ideological bull in a china-shop who now has absolute power to do anything his wants. As the economic difficulties begin to be drawn out and become more structural, people are already talking about Harper's failure to respond to people's needs. For years now Harper has been selling a narrative of giving more money to corporations which will supposedly trickle down to average people. But with the sudden departure of Caterpillar from Ontario people's attention is suddenly on the 'trickle-down" model that Harper has been selling people for the past few years. Just today the Ottawa Citizen's Saturday headline reads "The World According to Stephen Harper." Newspapers that only a short time ago demonstrated almost unqualified support for Harper are changing their language. Journalists are talking about the "risks" that Harper is willing to take with an attack on Pensions and there are mainstream sources actually talking about the idea of a "manufactured crisis." Meanwhile more than one Conservative MP is talking about the caucus being too controlling and the need to have more freedom to speak. Political parties that have spent years in the wilderness often go through a period of extreme control. But politics, like all other fields, suffers from the effects of entropy and eventually the center doesn't hold.

I don't know to what degree the general mood has shifted and to what degree it is his status as a majority PM that has apparently changed Harper's fortunes. But there is no question in my mind that things are different. The central pillar of Harper's ability to stay in power has been stealth and diversion. His status as a minority leader allowed him to exercise this technique quite effectively, particularly at a time when the opposition was in disarray. But this pillar is gone now. Remember the episode of Seinfeld in which George is dating a girl who has a male roommate and because of his insecurity he manages to convince her to kick the roommate out? Jerry says to George "he was shouldering half the burden, now you are the man and that is not a very good role for you." This, in a sense, is what has happened to Harper and the Conservative Party. The disarray of the opposition and the status of a minority were shouldering half the burden for Harper and his party. But the attention will now be focused much more on Harper and the strategy of diversion and stealth will be significantly more difficult to undertake effectively.

These events also explain, I think, the fall of the NDP in Quebec. I suspect that many people in Quebec are starting to feel the need to get rid of Harper is more important than which particular party they vote for and they are now looking around at their options.

There is a new game in town and though a week might be a lifetime in politics, parties in Western democracies seldom stay in power long without being very flexible, and flexibility is not something that Harper has ever been accused of.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

great post Kirby! I certainly do hope that this is the end of Harper! You would never know that people were upset based on the bs i have heard from con supports though. They make statement such 'he has no choice but to change pensions, there just isn't any money and *every other country has had to do it*' and the other one "This is why Harper got his majority, people voted for him based on *this very issue* etc etc. " So what they are saying is, the whole pension thing was 'well known' and that he apparently campaigned on it, we just 'missed' it somehow!

Owen Gray said...

This could be a turning point, Kirby. With no opposition to temper his impulses, Harper may well self destruct.

But, as our mutual friend -- The Mound of Sound -- has said, the opposition parties must make Harper wear his mistakes.

Unless they do, he will still be able to wear his Teflon suit.

kirbycairo said...

Dear Anonymous,
I don't know where the change of mood will take us, I just know the mood has changed, I can feel it in my bones.

As for the pension issue, I will say this - the Conservatives always rely very heavily on the elderly for support, if they loose a significant portion of that group they are in real trouble. Mulroney went for the pensions and had to back off. But even the attempt hurt him a great deal politically.

There is no doubt that capitalists and the rightwing are going after pensions everywhere. But even in this regard the narrative is starting to change, thanks in part to the occupy movement. There is, I believe, a growing portion of the population that are beginning to think that things have to change and as more and more people retire with no pensions we will feel this more and more. Plus people will begin to see that having a poor elderly population is going to be very costly for our society as a whole. What the right is not thinking about is the fact that their policies will create, in the long term, serious poverty and, eventually a renewal of class-warfare and all the battles that brought the public welfare system in the first place. It will all start over again.

Anonymous said...

Harper probably thinks that he can get away with alienating seniors b/c those 30 new electoral districts will give him that 'permanent majority'. He can keep alienating people, but as long as people who have *always* voted con, keep voting con with the advantage of the new districts weighted in Harpers favour - well he probably thinks its impossible to lose!

Anonymous said...

oh, I forgot to add. I find it funny that the very people who voted for Harper, the folks who cheer when *others* get their entitlements taken away from them - those very folks cannot handle it when it happens to them!

Anonymous said...

hm, and notice now how Harper has his MPs flirting around the idea of abortion? wants to gauge if there will be any public support for an abortion ban...