In the House of Commons yesterday, the PM, in his inimitable way, summoned up a veiled threat against Michael Ignatieff by touting "all the tapes I have on him." Announcing it in almost a calm, self-assured manner, as if such activity constitutes run of the mill, legitimate political tactics. Mr. Harper's statement is something that should cause us to stop and think about the implications of having such political leadership in our country: "PM threatens Ignatieff with old tapes."
In a move described as "Nixonian," Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested he would release potentially damaging videotapes of Michael Ignatieff after the Liberal leader called on Harper to fire Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
During question period yesterday, Harper told the Commons he had lots of videotapes featuring Ignatieff, raising the spectre of using them to discredit the opposition leader before and during the next election campaign.
"I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to," he said.
The Conservatives are reported to have hundreds of hours of video clips of Ignatieff speeches and interviews and hope to mine a lifetime of his musings from his career as a journalist, author and public intellectual. (emphasis added)As you read that report, the word that might be coming to mind is "plumbers." In other words, the worst of the Republican attack machine from the U.S.. This is not the first such comparison Harper has elicited to Nixon. Recall:
Yesterday's little remark will do nothing but amplify such comparisons, combined as it is with the negative ad onslaught that's already begun. A Prime Minister, gleeful in clutching hours of videotape of a political opponent, is the last thing we need on our hands.
The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.
Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions.
Update (2:55 p.m.): Look at what those crazy kids on the internets come up with these days...last question posed in the video is the big one.