I once remember Andrew Sullivan, that tireless blogger and commentator on American politics, distinguishing government from politicts in a very interesting way. Government, he said, is an incremental process involving detailed legislation and backroom negotiation. Politics, on the other hand, is something more theatrical and personality-driven. It is about convincing people to share in a certain vision for the country, province, state, or town, and moving them to action. This is usually accomplished with a combination of rhetorical sensibility, admirable character, and a healthy balance of populism and independence of thought. The master of Politics is what we might call a leader.
This brings us to our current election, where the Prime Minister has the reputation of being a strong leader. The Conservative Party continues to brand Stephane Dion as not up to the task of leading, while describing Stephen Harper as being unquestionably prepared for it. And a large part of the country seems to agree. Andrew Coyne of Maclean’s had something to say about this in a recent column and in a blog post:
“But is that all there is to it? What do we mean by a strong leader? Strong in what sense? Leader in what sense? The word “leader” suggests someone who will lead us to something or somewhere. Yet Harper’s whole time in office has been spent reassuring the public he has no plans to lead them anywhere, that under a Conservative government nothing much would change — they would govern much like the Liberals, only without the corruption. His message so far in the campaign has been much the same. There’s been little sense of where he would take the country if re-elected, and little likelihood of one emerging. Indeed, he is at pains to emphasize his belief that the election will probably return another minority Parliament — the very one whose dissolution he had lately demanded.”
So why do we persist in accepting this definition of Harper? Could it be the lack of real competitors to the title; our low standards; a dispiriting mix of the two?