Politics has always been a nasty profession. But Stephen Harper has brought a new viciousness to the way it is practiced in Canada. That viciousness, Michael Harris writes, has been orchestrated by a merchant of venom -- Arthur Finkelstein:
Three U.S. Republican presidents, countless senators and other right-wing world leaders like Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu owe their success to Arthur J. Finkelstein’s brilliance as a communications mastermind.
Finkelstein bases his approach to politics on three axioms:
“Finkel-think” is an approach to new-age techno-politics based on three principles: 60 per cent of people don’t care about the news; perception, not content, is what matters in our dumbed-down age; and the right 15-second attack ad can separate a rival’s head from his shoulders in a heartbeat.
And he has left his mark:
Before Finkelstein, the word “liberal” was a descriptor with many positive connotations, including tolerance and even enlightenment. After him, “liberal” became the ultimate political pejorative. It was used to brand and dismiss progressives as left-wing loons with dubious values and a bad habit of raising taxes and spending the numbers off the credit card. Never mind that the truth was the exact opposite — Clinton/Bush-wise, that is. But perception, not reality, is what matters.
The key to success in political marketing, according to Finkelstein, is to find the magic switch that moves people from rational to emotional mode. No one understands the politics of personal destruction better than Stephen Harper. The wimpy-looking Stephane Dion was “Not a Leader”; the cosmopolitan Michael Ignatieff was “Just Visiting”; and now Justin Trudeau is “In Over his Head”. Not exactly deep stuff — but again, content doesn’t matter.
And that explains the political success of a hollow man like Stephen Harper. But that success has come at a price for the country and for Harper. The prime minister made a Faustian bargain when he hired his Mephistopheles.
It's worth remembering that Faustian bargains do not end well.