- Paul Wells
Stephen Harper has never been accused of being warm and fuzzy. He HAS been called, repeatedly, "very smart." The facts back this up; through careful planning, skipping short-term wins to focus on the long-term prize and by supporting and accepting support from social/ideological groups that aren't necessarily to his personal liking or interest, he has managed incredible political success. In the process, he has expanded his tent; his planned firewalls surround increasingly larger and more diverse populations.
Ron Paul has found success by appealing to a certain group of socons. He isn't dumb; what he has difficulty with is taking his social discomforts out of his strategy. He reacts first, then confabulates justification after. He may have some rabid followers, but his appeal to fear withers under the light of scrutiny. Anyone who stops to think about the “and THEN what” feels increasingly uneasy and ultimately, turns away. This is why he will fail.
Rob Ford, like Sarah Palin before him, is a "maverick." He is governed by instinct and emotion. Ford believes in himself completely; the lack of rationale behind this confidence is systematically manifesting itself for all and sundry to see both politically and in leaked disclosures from his personal life. While a lot of folk still confabulate justifications for their support – a far more difficult but emotionally easier task than saying “maybe I was wrong” – Ford’s support is shrinking. He was voted in on a wave of anger - anger that simply isn't long-term sustainable.
Harper: smart, less emotive/reactive, long-term successful. Paul: smart, but primarily emotive/reactive - not gonna last long. Ford; all emotive/reactiveness; his win had nothing to do with what he brought to the table and everything to do with the social-pressure/stress-influenced mood of the day. Beyond these examples, there are countless others of hard-right politicians or candidates who never gain enough traction to be known beyond their own communities. These folk don’t succeed, period.
I am not a political strategist, but I hear tell strategists spend their hours considering constituency groups worth courting or pissing off for wedge politics, weighing the pros and cons of any given position and plan their strategy and tactics around what the tea leaves tell them. This is an art, though, not an exact science; great emphasis is placed on what has been seen to work elsewhere, or in the past over increasingly long time frames.
So, look at the long-term trend. Go back a hundred, a thousand, thousands of years. What you’ll find is a global, incremental move towards the centre of what we identify as the “right/left” spectrum; increased social responsibility, increased acceptance and nurturance of diversity, diminished violence as a political tool, a gradual slide away from what is now called corruption, but when time was could simply be called “getting ahead.” Behaviour is becoming more pro-social; the extremes of egocentric behaviour aren’t being considered and discarded, they’re falling off the table entirely.
The reason for this is a combination of cost/benefit analysis informed by inherited experience, facilitated by increased longevity. People want the most bang for their buck; they want to know with increased certainty what’s going to happen next, so that they can plan accordingly. Planning, to be effective, involves consideration of internal and external dynamics. This requires the suppression of reactionary instincts and, as Stephen Harper has done, looking for how to achieve the long term goal at occasionally the expense of short-term satisfying but fleeting victories. We generally distinguish between “emotional” and “smart”; there is even a growing distinction between the accumulation of knowledge and the application of wisdom. Planning involves cognitive intelligence and suppression of emotion; emotion unchecked leads to poorly considered and ultimately fallible positions.
Here is where it really matters for Conservatives. The things the Right generally stands for – tough on crime, jobs as the best social program, keeping threats at bay (capital punishment, narrow foreign policy, survival-of-the-fittest competition through free markets and shrinking government) are all emotional issues. It’s one thing to appeal to these issues, but to capitalize on them and whatever else is going on in the social zeitgeist entails planning and the management of emotions; in the language of the day, thinking smarter. If you disagree, riddle me this – would Harper ever seriously consider putting capital punishment into his tough-on-crime agenda? If not, why not?
We may go through boom and bust cycles, but the bottoms keep getting shallower and the highs, higher – or the reverse, depending on which part of your brain you consider the matter with.
There are sociological, biological, even genetic rationales that further explain the whyfors of this trend, but the trend itself is clear – the more people plan, particularly at the social leader class, the less reactive and more proactive (which is as good a definition for "smarter" as any) they become.
Tories of today have every right to claim themselves as the Party of the Centre – because the extremes from which they started no longer exist.