Friday, January 15, 2010

Harper's anti-intellectualism sure worked on the media

There is no better example of the success of Harper’s strategy of anti-intellectualism working in the media than his nonsense dogma about tax leakage. The only person who didn’t fall for that was Diane Francis. Problem is, we are the ones who paid dearly for the media’s financial illiteracy and acute susceptibility to anti-intellectualism. Thanks

Court of public opinion turns on Tories

By Chantal Hébert
National Columnist
Toronto Star

MONTREAL—Over their four years in power, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have won more public opinion battles by dismissing their critics as elite members of a disconnected chattering class than they have lost.

Where past governments have routinely sought to enhance the credibility of their policies by seeking backing for them from academic, editorial or professional circles, Stephen Harper and his government have most often successfully gone the other way.

Rather than pit the sometimes thin substance of their arguments against those of more authoritative critics, they have made a virtue of talking over expert heads, and, if need be, of shooting any contradictory messenger.

Harper spelled out his distinctive approach to future policy debates early on, in a state-of-the-government speech delivered six months after his government's initial swearing-in.

"Rather than funding academics, researchers and special interest groups, we decided to direct our child-care money to the real child-care experts. And their names are Mom and Dad," the Prime Minister reported to a partisan crowd in August 2006.

Since then, anti-intellectualism has evolved into a mantra of the current government, a trend that was likely exacerbated by the selection by the Liberal party of successive leaders with strong roots in academia.

But while the track record of the Conservative government includes more hits than misses on the rhetoric front, some of those misses have tended to be spectacular. On that score, the miscalculation over the arts cuts that sent the party fortunes into a tailspin in Quebec in the last general election stands out.

In that campaign, the Prime Minister compounded his Quebec predicament by portraying the cultural community as a spoiled elite living off the labour of ordinary Canadian.

In Quebec, Harper's attempts to drive a wedge between the voters and the artists ended up reflecting more poorly on his party than on the vocal constituency he was trying to marginalize.

The same dynamics are being replicated in the debate over prorogation.

The latest twist in the Conservative narrative on the decision to keep Parliament closed for most of the winter is that it is a tempest in an elite teapot. In the words of Industry Minister Tony Clement, the whole affair is a "blip on the Richter scale of upset."

But this week, three separate polls put significantly negative numbers for the government on that blip. On the heels of the prorogation announcement, the decisive Conservative lead in voting intentions has evaporated.

So far, the controversy has had the most impact on Conservative fortunes in Ontario, ground zero of the media backlash over the move.

Short of reversing course, the Conservatives' best hope now lies in a swift change in channels rather than in more increasingly clumsy attempts to justify what a majority of Canadians perceive as unjustifiable.

Looking at the polls, it would be tempting to conclude that the so-called chattering class has scored a rare point against Conservative spin doctors. But the more likely explanation is that, as in the case of the arts cuts in Quebec, the Conservatives are losing the prorogation debate on their preferred field of populism.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that for better or for worse most Canadians believe a government day's work involves interacting with the minority Parliament. Against that backdrop, the sight of Conservative MPs indulging in a multitude of photo opportunities at next month's Winter Olympics is more likely to drive home the opposition message than any amount of Liberal attack ads.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.


Dr Mike said...

The Harper Conservatives are masters at "people-speak" as they appeal directly to the public using language short on substance but rich in "flower".

The Tax fairness Plan is the prime example where they made it impossible for the public to gain any insight other than it must be "FAIR" & that we will tax the crap out of an old bunch of rich guys who are a drain on society.

They forgot to mention that these same old rich guys pay the majority of the tax in this country to fund everything the rest need to use to function day to day.

Forcing these same old rich guys to become a drain by killing their income was never mentioned.

Flowery sayings are sure nice but they usually hide something more sinister as was the case with the Tax Fairness Plan.

Why can`t somebody in Ottawa just tell us the truth for a change.

Dr Mike Popovich

Anonymous said...

Hey where did you get the nice picture of Terence Corcoran?

Here's a guy that is supposed to be the editor of a business newspaper but can't figure out what 2 + 2 is. Harper didn't have to work too hard on Terry to fool him.