Monday, June 27, 2005

A pox on both your houses

Norman Spector’s column in the Globe and Mail today notes that after taking a closer look at our leaders, Canadians may decide that neither Stephen Harper nor Paul Martin deserve to win the next election.

In the Prime Minister, notwithstanding high expectations that preceded him for a decade, we find there's no there, there — just a chequebook in search of a headline. The principal reason Mr. Martin wanted Jean Chrétien's job so badly, it appears, is that he badly wanted Jean Chrétien's job.


Yet, even Mr. Martin's mantra in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on Canadians' No. 1 priority — “We're not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country” — provoked barely a ripple in the media pond. One CBC talking head rebuked a Conservative for mentioning that Mr. Martin's physician runs private clinics, observing that the Prime Minister, too, pays with his medicare card — one reason two-tier health care is surging in Canada, and it certainly is not the solution.

To capture the essence of Mr. Martin's rhetoric, you have to refer to Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton University. “On Bullshit,” a reprint of an academic paper the eminent professor Frankfurt wrote nearly 20 years ago, is a hit of the U.S. publishing season.


“For most people, the fact that a statement is false constitutes a reason ... not to make the statement. For St. Augustine's pure liar, it is ... a reason for making it. For the bullshitter, it is in itself neither a reason in favour nor a reason against. ... The bullshitter ... does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does ... he pays no attention to it at all.”

Mr. Harper's mistake was to have gotten caught up in the strategies and tactics of Parliament Hill. From the minute he mistook that superheated atmosphere for the real country, he was on his own agenda, not the voters'.

Sadly for Mr. Harper, he had been making some progress in increasing Canadians' comfort level with him and with his party's policies. However, instead of patiently continuing to hit singles, he swung for the fences and struck out, as sometimes happens.

So it comes down to this: in the next election Canadians must choose between a bullshitter and a strike-out king.

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