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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

(This is more inside-the-Queensway (though, ironically, I live about 100m outside the Queensway) stuff that nobody outside Ottawa likely cares about. For that matter, nobody at all probably should care about it, but such is life!)

I've been following, with much schadenfreude, the circular firing squad that the US Republican party has turned into in the aftermath of the 2008 election, and the tug of war between hewing to the 30% dittohead far-right monster that they created (oh, the delicious irony), and reaching out to the mushy middle that might get them re-elected at some point before everyone who remembers most of the previous decade has died or succumbed to a mysterious strain of contagious amnesia.

The CPC has had a similar, though less dramatic, rift in it (between old Reformers and old Tories) for the entirety of its existence that people like...say, me...are quite surprised to have seen successfully papered over for this long. Power imposes a certain discipline and tends to do unfortunate things to principles, though. So I had an idea of what Michael Ignatieff was trying to do by calling attention to the recent controversy over Brian Mulroney's CPC membership and the treatment of the former PM by Harper and the CPC leadership - the same thing that the Obama White House was doing in March by pointing and laughing at Republicans having to apologise for diffidently pointing out that Rush Limbaugh might be a little bit divisive.

One small problem: pointing out your opponent's schizophrenic relationship with a polarising public figure is only helpful in two broad situations. 

  1. When the cracks in the other party are so unstable that one good kick would break them apart - and therefore, you can gain politically by splintering the opposition. This might well be true with the federal Conservatives, but not noticably worse than it has been for years. I think that there are only two kicks that would be good enough - Harper leaving the leadership for some reason, or possibly losing an election (I say possibly because frankly, the CPC have always seemed more comfortable in Opposition. Shades of Reform there- and, to be evenhanded about it, segments of the NDP: it's easier to be principled when you don't actually have to make any decisions.)

  2. Or, when you're on the right side of public opinion regarding the polarising figure, and can thereby gain electorally by tarring your opponent with guilt by association. To the extent that anyone cares about Brian Mulroney today (as opposed to the 10% approval rating he had when he left office, and what it did to poor sacrificial Kim Campbell, whom, in an amusing aside, my nine-year-old self was looking forward to having as a first female prime minister), it's difficult to argue that more voters think well of him than not. I don't expect a huge backfire on Ignatieff for this, as much as Harper is trying to create one - again, the electorate has more important things to worry about right now.

While I agree that Harper's handling of the situation has been somewhat two-faced and arguably ungracious, behaviour of this sort from the Prime Minister is neither new, nor any more likely to hurt him politically than at any other point during his tenure.

(fake edit: while I was polishing this entry, I came upon last night's post on this "issue" by G&M blogger Robert Silver, which I generally agree with. In true blogosphere tradition, this won't stop me from posting myself.)