Paul Martin may have earned his reputation as Mr. Dithers. But, as Geoffrey Stevens points out, he possesses something that Stephen Harper and Vic Toews lack -- grace under pressure. Toews' wild diatribe about "standing with child pornographers" was not the first such Conservative outburst on that subject. Back in 2004, in what Stevens calls the "frenzied finale" to that election campaign,
the Conservatives, then in opposition, issued a pair of press releases attacking their opponents — then prime minister Paul Martin and the Liberals and Jack Layton and the NDP — for being in favour of child pornography
There was a kiddie porn/murder trial in Toronto in the news at the time, and the Conservative war room saw an opportunity to exploit the public's revulsion. They issued a gratuitous press release headed: "The NDP Caucus Supports Child Pornography?" and a second: "Paul Martin Supports Child Pornography?" That release stated: "Today, Martin says he's against child pornography. But his voting record proves otherwise."
Challenged by reporters later that day, Harper did not give an inch. "I'm not going to, in any way, give the Liberal Party any break in its record on child pornography," he said at a campaign stop. "It is disgraceful, they have had multiple opportunities to do something about it, and they have refused. ...I will attack them on it, and if (the Liberals) want to fight the rest of the election on it, good luck to them."
Martin's response was simple and direct:
"Look," he told reporters, "this is personal. I am a father and I am a husband, and he has crossed the line. He should apologize.
"Martin didn't get an apology. However, the Tory war room did retract the release attacking Martin, although not the one attacking Layton and the NDP.
That response says a lot about Paul Martin. It says even more about Steven Harper. Martin possessed grace under pressure. Harper doesn't know what grace -- under pressure or otherwise -- is.
Incidentally, "grace under pressure" was Hemingway's definition of courage.