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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Clouded Leadership

Political word association:

Respondents were asked to identify what first came to their minds when they think about each major national party. The results are displayed in word clouds found below or in the detailed report found here.

“Stephen Harper and Jack Layton dominate their respective brands,” said Abacus Data CEO, Dr. David Coletto. “The popularity of each party is heavily influenced by how Canadians view the Conservative and NDP leaders.”

While high recognition rates can be a positive factor, dominance by a single leader can also produce problems.

“The good news for the Conservative Party is that many Canadians associate the party with the economic recovery and low taxes,” said Coletto. 

Low taxes, eh? I guess the poll was taken before this story was published.

Suffice it to say, if you repeat something long and loud enough, eventually people will believe it, no matter what the evidence. Keep saying that Stephen Harper is a free marketing right-winger, and voters will believe it to be so, no matter how big the deficit gets or how high taxes soar. 

The word clouds produced by the poll are fascinating. The word "liars" appears prominently only in the Liberal word cloud. Same with "corruption." A very small "honest" is visible in the Tory cloud. "Socialist" and "unions" are both prominent in the NDP cloud, though "unrealistic" is quite small. In the case of the Tory cloud the word "Harper" dominates everything. The identification of leader and party is even stronger for the NDP, with "Jack" and "Layton" dwarfing such trivial words as "people" "taxes" and "democratic."

The word clouds confirm that the Grits have - seven years after the fact - not recovered from Adscam. Having been the party of government for so long, and not having an obligingly incompetent Tory leader opposite them in the House, the Liberals are stuck on how to reposition themselves. Their brand is being defined by an increasingly distant past and the Conservatives' spin doctors.

The historic Liberal strategy for regaining power - placate Quebec and wait for the Tories to self destruct - no longer works. The Bloc acts as permanent de facto negotiator for Quebec's interests at the federal level. No need for a pesky Grit middle man taking his cut. Stephen Harper is, for all his many vices, quite adept at marshalling Tory forces to a common - albeit compromised - goal. 

One of the puzzling things about the Harper Tories is that, despite their leader's backtracking from his once robust rhetoric, the party's base has remained steadfast. The long-wilderness years under Jean Chretien plays its part in this loyalty. The taste of power is always intoxicating. The crude methods of the Liberal party, unveiled during the Adscam investigations, convinced many that the party could not be trusted with power.

Yet, something else seems to be at play. Greed for power and partisan hatred can take you only so far. The blind following of Harper along his unprincipled paths is due to something deeper and older. It is perhaps the recognition that on those rare moments when the Tories have won power, they have botched it thoroughly, and were soon banished into opposition for a generation.

There was Borden with conscription. Bennett's quarrelling with H.H. Stevens. Dief's paranoia. Joe Clark being Joe Clark. Brian Mulroney rolling the dice once too often. The divided Right during the 1990s. Peter C Newman is fond of comparing the job of Tory leader to that of a cat herder. Maybe the cats have gotten less ornery over the years.

While all hanging together, lest they all hang separately, is certainly a fine thing, what's the point?Is Harper's legacy simply going to be that of a more honest Jean Chretien? Or a more able Paul Martin? Same policies but with a steadier hand? Without power, the argument goes, you can't forward your ideas. But if once you've got power you don't implement your ideas, why seek power? A word absent from all three party word clouds was "principles." Something most Canadians would never associate with politicians.


Posted by Richard Anderson on January 5, 2011 | Permalink


Is it just me or does it seem like Harper has likely seen the enemy and it is society's politically inevitable march of entitlement inspired progressivism to bankruptcy and he has decided not to fight it but to manage it relatively better than his alternatives. No end game but the hope that the sovereign default happens on someone else's watch. It doesn't take a genius to see it happening all over the Western world. Wiemar time warp?

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-05 10:44:29 AM

The lazy and their entitlements will end the western world if someone doesnt lead us back out of the wilderness.

Posted by: Clinton | 2011-01-05 3:38:45 PM

Harper and his people are underestimating the level of alienation which putting Fantino into a position of influence will have.

I know several of the people who do major fundraising for the Conservative Party. Not one of them is 'walking away' - but every single one (that I know) is very seriously upset by the 'Fantino move'. To the point where some considered 'tearing up' their party cards...

Of course, under the Harper leadership, information does not flow 'up' easily (effectively). So, I do not expect the party leadership to 'get' why it is their fundraising efforts will begin to falter.

As, with alienated 'fundraisers', they are bound to...eventually.... Yes, there will necessarily be a time lag - making the 'dignosis' that much more difficult.

Yet, any true 'c'onservative and/or 'l'iberatian will understand why a party that gives a man like Fantino, self-defined by a blatantly race-based policing policy, a position of ANY influence will soon loose the financial backing of the populace...

Posted by: Xanthippa | 2011-01-05 5:09:08 PM

@ John Chittick

Yes, you are more correct than I would like to admit. The Wiemar monster is indeed being reincarnated....

Posted by: Xanthippa | 2011-01-05 5:25:36 PM

Harper is really just a centrist. He wins because the Bloc, Liberals, NDP, and Greens are all left-wing parties. Real change will require a new Conservative Party leader. I think that man should be Jason Kenney. He is a true conservative(both economically and socially). Also, he has helped improve Conservative outreach to minority communities. Canada's low birthrate plus high immigration rate is leading to the white population falling under 50% at a faster rate than in the U.S. The party that wins the non-white vote will win the future. Kenney has been effective at pushing the conservative message among these groups(which for racial reasons have traditionally voted NDP or Liberal). Also, he has not played politically correct racial politics like Fantino has done. Instead, Kenney actually goes into those communities and makes the conservative pitch. He gets results.

Posted by: Todd | 2011-01-05 8:02:47 PM

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