As I watch Stephen Harper almost daily on the television screen, I am reminded of a nature show I watched years ago about the wolverine. It is easy to attach human characteristics to an animal noted for its ferocity and sheer combativeness. The wolverine is mean, nasty, and eager for a fight even when it makes no practical sense. It's the misanthrope of the animal world.
On that TV show, an adult wolverine attacked a porcupine even though, according to a biologist, it certainly knew the outcome. It killed the porcupine, all right, but at the price, quite likely, of its own life: its mouth full of scores of quills, disabled, and facing almost certain infection.
That's Stephen Harper. Like the wolverine, he just can't help being who he is. It's in his blood; it's his nature to be contemptuous of other humans. He managed during the election to control that sneering arrogance that had become his trademark persona, but given the power of the prime minister, his true nature rises, inevitably, to the surface in almost everything he does.
A huge range of people has been subjected to Harper's scorn: journalists, senior bureaucrats, his own cabinet ministers, other political leaders, Canadians stupidly attached to their precious social programs, and peace activists. They are all lesser beings who have earned his contempt just by having the gall to disagree with him. Harper is a control freak, but not because he is insecure””it is because he genuinely believes that he is superior to virtually everyone. All around him are fools in need of either his guidance or his disdain. (He left the Reform party because he was contemptuous of Preston Manning, one of the smartest politicians in recent memory.)
It is a mystery why Harper ever wanted to be prime minister of Canada. He detests everything that Canada became in the postwar period, in his own words: "a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status". He is even disdainful of our political system and once ridiculed it before an American audience.
Most people who feel this way just end up as political cranks””like the Calgary School Yankee wannabes. But Harper's overweening personality has convinced him that it's his role to single-handedly correct the mistakes we and our forebears made. Only someone who actually believes he is smarter than everyone else would think himself capable not just of rewriting history but of remaking it.
There is in this project a special irony. Right-wingers like Harper have always rankled at what they described as left-wing "social engineering". Their visceral rejection of activist, egalitarian government render them incapable of accepting that people could genuinely choose, of their own free will, to create institutions such as unemployment insurance, subsidized university education, medicare, "state-run" child-care, and Crown corporations.
Indeed, this is the source of their and Harper's resolve: they really believe that all of these things were the result of a virtual conspiracy of left-wing bureaucrats (the mandarins of old), who, through stealth and cunning, manipulated a distracted citizenry and "engineered" a political culture alien to human nature. Harper's attitude is revealed in his contempt for the media for their complicity in the liberal project, his scorn for the judiciary (complicit too), and for the "Liberal" federal bureaucracy. The country as it evolved in the postwar period thus has no legitimacy. This is a convenient construct that opens the door to Harper's agenda: 50 years of Liberal/NDP manipulation require correction through a heroic social-(re)engineering project.
His agenda's parameters are clear: a massive downsizing of the federal government's role, an American approach to crime, a junior role in America's new manifest destiny, the cancellation of the Kelowna Accord, the child-care agreements, and a score of programs aimed at global climate change, and an approach to government policy that glorifies the individual and denigrates the community.
And then there's Afghanistan. This adventure will become Mr. Harper's porcupine. The Asia Times reported recently that the resistance in Afghanistan is about to become a full-scale jihad, just like the one that drove out the Soviets. The U.S. knows this, and the U.S. also knows that its ally Pakistan is increasingly unstable, with elements of President Gen. Pervez Musharaff's government almost openly supportive of the Taliban. That's why it is about to cut and run, leaving Canada to get stuck in the latest American quagmire.
Stephen Harper knew all of this. He did it anyway. Like the wolverine, it's just his nature. And like his totem animal, he will ultimately pay a very high price.