Monday, June 25, 2007

Stephen Harper's Non-Stop Photo Op

NatPo's John Ivison wrote an illuminating piece on Stephen Harper suggesting that, for Harpo, style trumps substance.
"...while Stephen Harper's Conservatives have proven adept at crafting a long-term strategy, they have looked embarrassingly inept when dealing with events they don't control.

"Mr. Harper has redefined how politics in Canada is practised by adopting the permanent campaign model elevated to an art form by former U.S. president Bill Clinton -- a strategy that blurs the lines between campaigning and governing.
"In his first 17 months as Prime Minister, Mr. Harper racked up 153 public events, 85 of them outside Ottawa, according to his Web site. This works out to nine events a month, more than half of which were on the road.

"By comparison, Paul Martin held 143 events in two years (outside of the 2004 election campaign), of which 39 were out of town. This breaks down to six events a month, fewer than two of which were outside the national capital region.
"Conservatives have been much more adept than their rivals at using marketing techniques to evoke feelings, both positive and negative. They have highlighted Liberal failures, used national symbols such as hockey and micro-targeted swing voters with policies and tax cuts.
"The success of this strategy explains why the Conservatives were nudging 40% support in late March. Yet their numbers have nose-dived since then, and one recent poll had them trailing the Liberals. The most obvious reason has been the inability of Mr. Harper and his immediate circle in the Prime Minister's Office to react to events beyond their control.
"The plan in crisis situations has been to avoid the media. One MP said the only advice the Prime Minister's communications director, Sandra Buckler, was able to offer to caucus was the location of the back door.
"A run of bad headlines has turned the Conservatives' biggest asset -- their leader -- into a liability. In recent weeks, Mr. Harper has negated much of the natural advantage of governing by taking combative positions, such as his dare to the provinces to sue the federal government over the Atlantic Accords.
"A number of Conservatives say Mr. Harper's aggressiveness is a cover for fundamental insecurity. 'He's the nerd, the chess player, who in his own mind is smarter than the other kids. He's got a chip on his shoulder that he and the kernel of people around him are against the world and he gets angry very easily,' said one source.

"This trait wasn't a problem when he was leader of the Opposition, a job that demanded a vitriol Mr. Harper did not need to contrive. But no prime minister can control all the moving pieces of government and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, he is the one who has to defend the position. Mr. Harper's instincts are not defensive -- he prefers to get his retaliation in first -- with the result that television news clips have regularly shown him looking like an irate hockey coach protesting an unjust penalty."

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