Dec 8, 2012 12:01 AM ET
There’s something about Stephen. His opponents have many names for him — the majority of which are, alas, neither flattering nor meant to be.
He is a taciturn schemer, a theocrat mole, loose at the top of the Canadian political system, determined to bend Canada to his grim and twisted design, to curb the liberties of Canadians, to push us and our country back into some fevered neocon darkness. Politically, he is **** Cheney’s illegitimate son. George W. Bush’s half-brother. He’s a lackey of the rich, and enemy of all that is good and Canadian. He’s in the pocket of big oil. He hates baby seals.
My, how the spine chills when some people talk and write about Harper.
Then there are the many “faces” his enemies attribute to him, among them Conspiracy Harper, Vendetta Harper, Christianist-Harper — hope of the hard line, Doomsday-waiting Evangelicals, Secret-Agenda Harper, Tool of Israel Harper, Anti-Democracy Harper, with perhaps a little space for Secret Alberta-Separatist Harper. The caricatures belong more to the old style of detective novel when the villains, projections of untethered fantasy, were eerie amalgams of malice, supernal powers, outlandish ambitions and utterly unbelievable. Harper as Fu Manchu, as it were.
Hating, mistrusting or dismissing Harper is not a transient phenomenon. A poll as recent as this week, seven years after Mr. Harper took office (during which he has not, contra naturum, transformed Canada into a gulag or prison house for the poor, artists, liberals, greens or whomever he sees as his opponents) reveal a majority of Canadians think he still has that famous but, by definition, unseen hidden agenda. Even though he is Prime Minister and has a majority, many still believe he keeps that damn agenda up his sleeve. Query: What’s the point of a hidden agenda that stays hidden? Will it still be hidden when he leaves office? If so, what was or is its point?
I do admit that the poll surprised me. A full 75% of sentient voters from the big parties thought him (I’m paraphrasing) untrustworthy. The fervour to believe ill of the Prime Minister is, however, even stronger amongst the naturists, the Earth-worshipping Greens. A whopping 97 % of them do not trust him, and believe that the “hidden agenda” — perhaps like the lost city of Atlantis, or fabled Shangri-La is “real.” Greens are fundamentalist anti-Harperites. That 97% represents not a trend; it’s a fixation.
It’s not just the “hidden-agenda” cliché, though. It’s the man himself. Go on comment boards, Twitter, read the pundits, listen to conversations on the street and you’ll soon see that the pure bile directed at Mr. Harper, the contempt for the man himself, is shocking and remarkable. They mock his build, his clothes, his relationship with his children (the handshake off to school) his hair, his — well, his very being. How wonderful it is that so many believe they are infinitely his superior — after all, they have the best tables at Twitter Café, and he’s only the prime minister.
In sum, the tenure and even the physical presence of Stephen Harper, for very many otherwise temperate people, is remarkable for the virulence of the opposition and personal antipathy he inspires. It’s not just the politics or the policies. It’s him — the person.
It is not abnormal for politicians to be disliked. Nixon was disliked, and his personality — pinched, reclusive, sullen and curiously self-pitying — fed that dislike. Pierre Trudeau, worshipped by some, conjured savage opposition and distaste from his opponents, but Trudeau the man sometimes earned kudos even for those who despised his policies. Brian Mulroney had the strange knack of inspiring those who didn’t know him to really dislike him, and those who did know him — despite his political errors and that unfortunate bag of cash — to see him as even warm, loyal and charming.
With Stephen Harper the emotions he elicits — especially the extreme ones of contempt and near-hatred, have to be a projection of his enemies, far more than an assessment of Harper’s character or policies.
For, step back a little, make a little space, and you will see that in his personal and domestic conduct, Harper is almost stereotypically Canadian. He’s a mild, unobnoxious, hockey-mad fellow. He doesn’t boast.He shuns the spotlight he could be commanding every day. He keeps his privacy and doesn’t insist, like many public figures, in conducting a soap opera around his position or his family. He’d be the ideal neighbour — he wouldn’t just drop in, too reserved for that (which is great), but I’m sure he’d lend a shovel when needed. Probably even help dig out your car if you were stuck, and take your thanks with a self-conscious smile and reassurance that it was no trouble.
So why is it that people are not content just to disagree with him, to label him simply wrong or misguided but must revile him? Why is there such fervour of suspicion about “the agenda” and so much invective and worse directed at him? I don’t know.
I do know the response is unbalanced and disproportionate, and hurts his enemies more than him.
They make Mr. Harper, in their own white-hot minds, bigger and more scary than he is or could be.