Friday, August 26, 2011

Pure Dumb Luck

Stephen Harper, party insiders tell us, likes to think that he is the smartest guy in the room. But Lawrence Martin makes a good case for believing that Harper's "triumph" owes less to genius than it does to pure, dumb luck. "Luck is fleeting," Martin writes,

unless you’re Stephen Harper. The prime minister’s case is becoming all the more extraordinary. His opponents fall with a regularity that borders on the surreal.

Martin then goes on to enumerate the extraordinary string of events which have fallen Harper's way since the election:

Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois have self-immolated. Polling suggested they would hold the bulk of seats in Quebec. Now they border on irrelevance, independent of anything Harper, who is not popular in Quebec, has done. The surge of the NDP saw to it.

Not only has the Bloc been removed as one of Harper’s main opponents, but since the campaign ended, the Parti Québécois has fallen into deeper disarray, as has the separatist movement. No prime minister in decades has had the Quebec sovereignist threat lightened to this extent.

As with the Bloc, hardly a soul foresaw the Liberals’ historic collapse to third place. It was primarily the NDP’s doing. Layton’s take-down of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff during the televised debates was a key factor. Since it’s Mr. Harper’s lifelong ambition to crush the Grits, he couldn’t have hoped for more.

 Now Jack Layton's death seems to clear all obstacles in the Prime Minister's way.

It is a pattern which has repeated itself since Harper entered politics. Those of us with a penchant for Greek tragedy might be forgiven for thinking that the gods are punishing us. Perhaps we can take some comfort from Martin Luther King. "Unearned suffering," he said, "is redemptive."

Unfortunately, he had nothing to say about pure, dumb luck.


thwap said...

harper could have been destroyed if he'd been forced to account for the stuff that drives us to distraction:

Torturing and exiling brown-skinned Canadians in places like Syria and Sudan.

Ripping-off wounded troops for their medical car (because of alarming leaps in such expenses ... which are alarming only to people who send soldiers to war thinking they won't get hurt.

I still believe he'll end up in a prison cell one day.

Owen Gray said...

It's still true that even a long string of luck eventually runs out, thwap.

We live in hope.

Anonymous said...

Harper et al spent a great deal of time on the margins. Sometimes, I thought that was because of their ideas and ideals; what they said, what they thought, and how it didn't quite resonate with most of the rest of us. Though perhaps those long periods out of power were due to the "dumb luck" of others (i.e., the Chretien Liberals). Chretien won his second of three majorities (1997) with slightly less of the popular vote than Harper in 2011.

This all reminds me of Machiavelli's distinction between fortuna and virtù. Perhaps Harper has relied more on fortuna than virtù. I suspect that--at least according to Machiavelli's definitions--virtù has had more to do with it. [Machiavelli's use of the word virtù is, of course, only rarely translated as "virtue"].


If "time and chance happeneth to them all", I'm not sure you can count on Harper spending time in a prison cell. If fortuna is behind Harper's strength today, we should hope (and/or pray) for more virtù (and virtue) in Canadian politics.

We need someone bold (fortune smiles on the bold) who also possesses great virtù (and virtue). Perhaps that someone was Jack Layton. Perhaps Canadians had begun to realize that.

I have a very bad (or is it sad?) feeling about all of this.


Owen Gray said...

Machiavelli thought of "virtue" as strength of character, something which -- if his latest book is to be believed -- Dick Cheney thinks he possesses in spades. And, therefore, he also believes he does not need to listen to dissenting opinions.

I suspect Stephen Harper sees himself as similarly gifted. What Harper lacks is the ability to communicate with "the other" -- something Layton learned from Charles Taylor, who attended the funeral yesterday.

Perhaps the sadness you feel is because -- at the moment -- there is nobody else on the scene who seems to possess that talent.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Harper is well known as a control freak. He must have had a moment of panic when there was an extensive applause at Jack's funeral when Stephen Lewis mentioned the mandate for social democracy in Jack's last letter. People were up on there feet cheering and clapping. I am sure Harper was saying to himself "I made this party possible without any controls and this is what I got!! A NDP rally. He had the good sense to stand himself rather than just sit their with a pained look on his face.

I am hoping that when Harper brings forth his less social democratic programs, such as tough on crime legislation, he will face more opposition, a people remember the humanity of Jack Layton.

I was told that he has already abandoned his idea of moving toward an American style effort to fund political parties. I hope so.

kirbycairo said...

There is no doubt that Harper has been graced with a remarkable string of luck but it can only be considered "luck" because the media has been so frighteningly easy on a man who, in other circumstances, would have long ago ended up in a position of abject shame or even prison. For some reason, some politicians seem to gain a strange momentum that creates in the media a fear of confrontation with controversy, something upon which they normally thrive. It has happened quite a few times in recent history to men like Reagan, and Tony Blair. However, it also seems to me that such a public figure often explodes suddenly in frightfully rapid fall from public grace. Of course if the world was a place replete with justice, Harper would end up in prison. But the world is not such a place. Instead a time will come when the public suddenly wakes up to what has been a terrible embarrassment, a government that actively thwarted democracy and undermined the very principles for which the country was supposed to stand. And people won't want to talk about it and will quietly move on to something else.

Owen Gray said...

The recent Murdoch saga is a reminder of how quickly one's run of good luck can be reversed, Kirby.

The fact that the Prime Minister has so far navigated the political minefield is no guarantee that he will continue to do so.

The phone hacking scandal underscores the fact that old skeletons have a habit of falling out of closets -- no matter how hard one tries to hide them behind flashy garments.

Owen Gray said...

If it's true that Harper plans to abandon his attempt to make our election practices more American, Philip,that is a step in the right direction.

Several Harper ministers looked distinctly uncomfortable during Stephen Lewis' eulogy. We'll see if they took away any positive lessons from the experience.