Friday, 5 June 2009

"Out of the Depths, Have I Sought Even Deeper Depths, O Lord!": Stephen Harper's De Profundis, Part One

One of the drollest of neo-conservative follies is the belief that government can and should be run "like a business". This formula--often taken seriously even by those alive to the futility of trying to run a train like a yacht--presupposes the notion that the ethos of selling as dearly as possible what one has made as cheaply as possible is both the key to sound national stewardship and the very essence of ministerial integrity.

This notion totally inverts the facts, of course, as does every article of neo-con faith: the optimal way for a government to pursue its rational self-interest (defined by maximising its return and minimising its costs) is to do precisely nothing on behalf of the electors it ostensibly serves: according to pure market values, it is illogical for a federal government to waste its four-year span of electoral impunity working on behalf of a people whose assent it no longer requires and who haven't the power to penalise the incumbents no matter how wasteful, arrogant, or inefficient they are; instead, the logic of pure self-interest requires government caucus members to use their four-year executive monopoly to enjoy and invest whatever personal equity they can extract from their position, particularly by cultivating the kinds of corporate contacts that will enrich them after their legislative mandate elapses or is withdrawn.

If this sounds uncomfortably close to the way Canadian governments actually operate, it is only because governments from across the ideological spectrum all do tend to behave like businesses, as will any human system that confers instant privilege, power and wealth upon ambitious social climbers with weak or expired commitments to any notion of civic responsibility.

"Running a government like a business" means producing as much wealth as possible for the party's shareholders (i.e. M.P.'s , party members and camp followers) whilst doing as little on behalf of tax-payers as possible--in other words, doing precisely what causes Canadians to throw out governments in disgust every eight years or so. This is not a formula for "efficiency" or "accountability"; it is a formula for the sad, dreadful status quo, and its dreary consequences are not the result of political "failure" in the strict sense but of an intentionally elaborated programme.

We need to keep all of this in mind when assessing the performance of Stephen Harper's regime: what appear to be its failures and scandals are actually the perfectly normal and predictable output of the CPC's business model of governance. In fact, it is on this most fundamental level that the CPC has arguably performed at its best, at its most creative, and at its most inspired.

Honest analyses of "Conservative" crises will reveal all the symptoms of an aggressive, disciplined approach to the "government-as-business" model: not content with safe, narrow, low-yield disasters, Harper's government has always sought functional depth in its flagrancies and has been content only when its wretched incompetence and venalities have achieved synergistic cross-platform interoperability.

The Lisa Raitt fiasco serves as a recent example. A Liberal version of this scandal would have seen the offending minister misplace a binder full of classified documents, resign in disgrace, and then quietly reappear in cabinet later when the smoke cleared; the typical Liberal inability to innovate, improvise and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances would have allowed this event to pass by without having its full potential exploited.

In sharp contrast, the CPC recognised the polyvalence of the Raitt affair and acted decisively to make sure that Canadians were exposed to the full wattage of its surreal brilliance. First, we heard that the binder was lost; then we heard that its information was classified not because it was dangerous to the state, but because it was dangerous to the party--revealing as it does that the cost of funding Atomic Energy of Canada will likely cost tens of millions more dollars than the government said it would in its January budget. Then we heard that the government fired Raitt's 26-year-old assistant for the misdeed without even bothering to establish that it was she, not her boss, who actually committed the misdeed.

Now, that is how incompetence is done when you really mean it: never be satisfied with the force of just the most obvious dimension of your stupidity; always strive to add value and layered functionality to it. In this case, we have a party caught withholding information the public deserves to have while misusing a classification protocol designed to protect the state while being caught in an act of colossal budgetary ineptitude while betraying ignominious cowardice in its invertebrate refusal to respect the tradition of ministerial responsibility, by which heads of departments have always held themselves accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

Astonishing. That's a four-part invention of uselessness; a tetra-fuck-up. That's the kind of pioneering drive CPC shareholders expect from their party, and, in our increasingly competitive global market environment, it's the kind of drive they deserve.

19 comments:

Aeneas the Younger said...

"... presupposes the notion that the ethos of selling as dearly as possible what one has made as cheaply as possible is both the key to sound national stewardship and the very essence of ministerial integrity."

The essence of the problem.

Ti-Guy said...

and has been content only when its wretched incompetence and venalities have achieved synergistic cross-platform interoperability.

Nice.

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

I think your comment is quite perceptive.

And if true, we will get the chance to test your model as we move forward. Please make some predictions.

I do question the failure and scandal rate you imply in your article. My recollection of governemnt is this one has been less scandal prone than previous ones. But of course that's open to point of view.

Ti-Guy said...

My recollection of governemnt is this one has been less scandal prone than previous ones.

A government that came to power by bribing the commissioner of the RCMP to open up an investigation during the middle of a campaign?

It's been downhill since then. And where have al the billions in surplus and increased spending gone, anyway? What has it brought us?

Billions. Stolen!

This this most corrupt government I've seen in my lifetime.

Sir Francis said...

My recollection of governemnt[sic] is this one has been less scandal prone than previous ones.

This this most corrupt government I've seen in my lifetime.

Some people gauge corruption in terms of dollars wasted or stolen. Others gauge it in terms of principles violated and integrity trammelled. On the former level, the CPC era is perhaps not exceptional (though, at three years old, it's still young). On the latter, it's in a league of its own.

Now, Part Two will drop us even deeper into the pit. The topic? Two words, one rancid little twit: Larry O'Brien.

Ti-Guy said...

though, at three years old, it's still young

I'm still wondering where all the billions have gone? What have we gotten for it?

Sir Francis said...

What have we gotten for it?

Hey, we've gotten some kick-ass attack ads, an "appointments commission" that sits around and plays Sudoku all day, some second-hand German tanks (with air conditioning!) to help Karzai hold Kabul, and a huge bail-out package that rewards GM for having shat out thousands of unwanted SUV's for more than a decade.

What else do you want, milk and cookies at beddy-bye time?

Ti-Guy said...

I actually didn't even want anything more from the government. Just improvements to what we have; health care, education, public media and public infrastructure. I figured the Harpies could handle that. Boys, was I wrong.

Sir Francis said...

Heh. Whenever the Harpies hear the word "public", they reach for their Pocket Library editions of Atlas Shrugged.

Only a movement as warped as the CPC could vitiate the federal treasury whilst simultaneously "going Galt".

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

Would I be correct in saying you don't trust the ethical or monetary principles of the present government?

You were a little subtle and I wasn't sure whether I was interpreting correctly?
(sarcasm off)

What you are asking for (and maybe me too) appears not to exist. It didn't exist under Mulroney, Chretien, or Martin. Perhaps you are asking for too much.

But even if you are, do you truly think Ignatieff, Rae, Holland, Findlay, McCallum, Volpe, Jennings, and the like are less ethically and monetarily challenged?

It seems to me that mob has already been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, why would we give them a second chance? For monetary and ethical reasons, I would take the group we've got over the Liberal offering.

Sir Francis said...

What you are asking for (and maybe me too) appears not to exist.

Democracy is an act of collective will. What I'm asking for can exist but only if we demand it. Our representatives are not going to give it to us out of the goodness of their little hearts.

I would take the group we've got over the Liberal offering.

We need to start thinking of our polity in philosophical terms rather than partisan ones. I resent having to give Dominion-provincial power over to any group that, gang-like, prizes f├╝hrerprinzip obedience, inner group cohesion and ideological homogeneity over the national good.

I'm at the point now where the only party I'm willing to trust is the one whose members most consistently behave like an undisciplined rabble, which at least gives me evidence of some capacity for independent thought and action.

We really need to ban political parties; they're hollowing out our democracy. They're just glorified combines and trusts--vehicles of civic racketeering, if you will.

Ti-Guy said...

Tomm: Why don't you read the post before you respond?

Aeneas the Younger said...

"We really need to ban political parties"

Now, you get it. We need to return to the old ways. The pre-Peel days.

Ti-Guy said...

We really need to ban political parties.

We need to have sensible political discussions that don't rely on grand pronouncements like this that are not likely to happen, anytime soon.

What we need to do is ask ourselves why the hell the average voter sounds more like Tomm than anyone remotely sensible. In relation to that: I just listened to Robert Fulford's 2003 lecture "A World Reconfigured: Politics and Perceptions Since 9/11" via podcast which TVO's Big Ideas sent down yesterday, for some unknown reason (I think they screwed up).

My God, what utter nonsense; it was nothing but a regurgitation of White House talking points with neoconservative received wisdom thrown in for texture. His arguments were barely convincing at the time. With the benefit of a few short years, they seem positively lunatic now.

Nothing will ever change for this country as long as we have people like this explaining reality to us.

Frankly, I think I'd suggest disenfranchising a few so-called intellectuals first before recommending we ban political parties.

Sir Francis said...

My God, man! You actually expended minutes of your life you'll never get back listening to Fulford? The mere act of reading him confers an honour no one should be willing to grant. Fulford is worthwhile only as the eponymic model for pejoratives, as I've already made clear.

We need to have sensible political discussions that don't rely on grand pronouncements like this that are not likely to happen, anytime soon.

I'm sure Plato's editor brought that up as he tsk-tsked over the basic surreal naivet├ę of The Republic, but I think the "grand pronouncement" of ideals is necessary to public discourse, particularly as ideals usually proceed from first principles, things too often forgotten in our obsession with mechanistic rubricism and procedural trivia.

Some crucial questions: does the nature of our party system cultivate a healthy network of civic engagements, or does it not? Is our party system salvageable, and can it halt the erosion of legitimacy that worsens with every dreary, puke-inducing election, or is it and can it not? Are we prepared to countenance significant systemic changes to the way Parliament fulfills its representative purpose, or are we not?

Any programme of progressive Parliamentary reform would need to have what I consider the right answers to those questions for me to take it seriously. "Reform" initiatives that merely tinker with functionality while perpetuating or exacerbating the systemic failures such reform is meant to redeem are utterly useless. Case in point: Harper's abortive "Senate reform" initiative, as incoherent and negligible a pile of Parliamentary facetiae as I've ever seen. Luckily, Harper has discovered that the current degenerate system suits his purpose just fine.

Sure--you and I would love to see a general improvement in Canadians' overall cultural literacy, but, sadly, that wish is no more fanciful (and perhaps quite a bit more fanciful) than the wish to see political combines disappear. At all events, though inconceivable political catastrophes happen routinely, inconceivable political felicities--though rare--can happen as well, under the right conditions.

Aeneas the Younger said...

On top of that, we do well to limit the franchise - as the misuse of it has had the effect of concentrating the power with the "wrong" elite.

Ti-Guy said...

My God, man! You actually expended minutes of your life you'll never get back listening to Fulford?

I was tricked into by TVO. For a good 15 minutes, I thought it was a lecture he had given recently and I was morbidly obsessed with the idea that he was not changing one clause of his lunatic narrative no matter what evidence came to light.

thwap said...

When you put it that way, the CPC is pretty remarkable. What an achievement.

WV="legizede."

I'll bet you could do something with that.

Sir Francis said...

WV="legizede"

Legizede: past participle; from Latin "legi" ("legal") and English "zed" ("Z" or "zero", thus "nothingness"); the quality of being legislated yet meaning absolutely nothing (ex. Stephen Harper's "Accountability Act").