Monday, January 26, 2009

Potter or Scrooge?

In his review of last Tuesday's inauguration, Frank Rich noted that, in the midst of the general euphoria, Dick Cheney "in his black hat and wheelchair, looked like the misbegotten spawn of the evil Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life."

As Canada's Parliament returns to the House of Commons today, it will be interesting to see if Stephen Harper's near death experience has wrought any changes in the man. For literature and film provide two templates in this regard. There is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge from Mr. Dickens, and Henry F. Potter from Mr. Capra.

When introducing his tough-on-crime agenda, Mr. Harper sounded a lot like Scrooge, complaining bitterly, "Are there no prisons, are there no work houses?" But after a visit from ghosts -- particularly the ghost of Christmas Future -- he apparently underwent an attitude adjustment.

Carefully targeted leaks have tried to convey the message that Mr. Harper has undergone some kind of conversion -- from modest surpluses to a deficit of $64 billion over the next two years. The devil, of course, is in the details -- particularly the details surrounding tax cuts. In the past, conservatives have turned to tax cuts the way the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding turned to Windex: they are unshakable in their belief that tax cuts cure everything.

That would now appear to be the case in Washington. Republicans say they will not support Mr. Obama's plan because there are not enough tax cuts. They have been in denial for a long time. And, even after the election, they continue to push an agenda which voters have soundly rejected. Perhaps that is not at all surprising for a party which currently is looking for someone to lead the Republican National Committee. One of the candidates recently sought support by sending out copies of a song entitled, Barack the Magic Negro.

The difference between Canada and the United States is that, after elections in both countries, new people are in charge in the South, while the same old crew is in charge here -- although the same old crew almost sent themselves packing just before Christmas. Canadians are well aware that the Prime Minister can change his clothes -- from suit to sweater. Whether or not he can truly change his mind is another matter.

Is Stephen Harper Ebenezer Scrooge or Henry F. Potter? Dick Cheney truly fits George Bailey's description of Potter -- "a warped frustrated old man." What Canadians want to know is whether or not Stephen Harper fits Potter's description of George Bailey: "a warped frustrated young man."

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