When Nelson Mandela died, Stephen Harper eulogised him as a “great moral leader…He left prison with his mind closed to any settling of scores and his heart open to those he had fought against. He demonstrated that the only path open to his nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness.”
In Friday's Globe and Mail, Gerry Caplan used that standard to compare the present prime minister of Canada to the former president of South Africa. The comparison is enlightening:
Mr. Mandela practised magnanimity. Harper proudly declares: “I couldn’t care less what my critics say.”
Mr. Mandela practiced the politics of generosity. Harper practises the politics of mean.
Nelson Mandela ends a lifetime of unimaginable adversity without bitterness or need to settle scores, Stephen Harper emerges from an apparently model middle class background driven by bitterness, resentment and an obsessive, paranoid need to get even with mortal enemies who had done him no harm. As The Globe’s John Ibbitson put it, “some days the PM seems to be about nothing but grudges.”
Mr. Mandela leaves prison on warm and respectful terms with the warders who guarded him. Mr. Harper grows up inexplicably driven by visceral fury against Liberals/civil servants/elites/scientists/environmentalists/progressives/dissidents/journalists, none of whom had ever personally hurt him in the slightest way.
Mr. Mandela’s great achievement was to unify his impossibly divided nation. Mr. Harper’s electoral strategy has always depended on dividing and polarizing Canadians.
Mr. Mandela laboured to reconcile all South Africans to the new rainbow nation. Mr. Harper has never been interested in anything but the “base” – the 40 per cent of Canadians who are potential Conservative voters.
Nelson Mandela was always uncomfortable when others held him up as a moral icon. "I'm no saint," he told them. “I never was one, even on the basis of the earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.”
You'll never catch Stephen Harper making such an admission. But, compared to Mandela, Mr. Harper is a very small man. There is no comparison.