Megapundit: Checkers anyone?

Must-reads: Dan Gardner on Afghanistan and opium; Lorne Gunter on the Tory ebb; Rosie DiManno on the white-collar bank robber.

The smartest guys in the room, no more
One outrageously absurd genius theory notwithstanding, the verdict is in: the Tories screwed up royal.

There is a rumour going around among the “Conservative ground troops in Quebec,” Chantal Hébert reports in the Toronto Star, that “to avoid securing a government that is overly beholden to Quebecers for its majority on Tuesday, Stephen Harper’s brain trust took the deliberate risk of snatching defeat out of the jaws of a Quebec victory.” Let us pause here to contemplate the sheer ridiculousness of that idea. Okay, that’ll do. Far more likely, Hébert concedes, is that the war room simply buggered the whole thing up, miscalculating the impact of youth crime and arts funding proposals and realizing too late that Canadians want to hear their leader acknowledge and deal with the looming financial crisis.

Seeing as even L. Ian MacDonald doesn’t see fit to include this losing-as-winning theory in his column in the Montreal Gazette, we feel safe in discounting it entirely. So what happened? Harper’s calculatedly laidback approach during the debates produced an “empathy deficit” that he’s only belatedly trying to make up, MacDonald believes, but it wouldn’t have mattered had his party not so disastrously miscalculated on the youth crime and arts funding fronts. “Suffice it to say that for a lousy $15 million, Quebec’s share of cultural cuts, the Conservatives could be giving up 15 seats,” he writes.

The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson accuses Harper of a different sort of miscalculation—namely, that after “he gave so many tax cuts, kept spending going at a fast clip, and handed billions to the provinces to alleviate the ‘fiscal imbalance,'” there was nothing left with which to assuage voters’ fears, or, if one was to be terribly cynical, to outright buy them off. The financial crisis isn’t Harper’s fault, says Simpson, but he left himself in a very poor position to deal with it. (In other news, we hereby object to Simpson’s characterization of our coming minority government as a “dog’s breakfast” result. It’s just democracy, baby. And it’s fine dining.)

In a speech in Toronto yesterday, Harper tried like hell “to project some heart at a nation’s financial suffering,” observes the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin—”at least as much as any automaton can deliver while reading off a teleprompter.” But in the week that remains before election day, he says Harper “needs to deliver a far more dramatic feel-your-pain performance to reverse his party’s downward spiral in the polls.” And if the Tories’ “disorganized” platform launch and their last-minute “surrender” on vetting the films that get government subsidies, which was “a laughably desperate attempt to pacify Quebec,” are any indication, such calculated, effective moves may not be in the offing.

The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe echoes many of the same concerns, and suggests “the fact [Harper] delivered the speech at the Empire Club of Canada rather than, say, [to] a group of seniors, did little to convince that Harper is truly feeling Canadians’ pain.” Right—because nothing says “your pain is my pain” like a cynical, carefully staged photo-op at an old folks’ home. Hey, does anyone have any actual evidence that Canadians demand public displays of empathy from their Prime Minister? Or that they’d perceive this lack of empathy—as distinct from Harper’s generally phlegmatic demeanour—if it weren’t for the dozens of newspaper articles pointing it out to them? We’re not saying they don’t, or that they wouldn’t. We’re just… curious, is all. The Globe‘s Brian Laghi attempts to address that question, to be fair, but we can’t say we’re much better informed for his efforts.

Sun Media’s Greg Weston, for one, is thankful the Tories didn’t “roll out the gravy train and [try to] buy their way into voters’ hearts” in their long-awaited platform. Quite apart from the optics of switching boats midstream—to borrow Harper’s diluvial metaphor, in which he played the part of Noah—or trying to wring a tear from the “emotionally challenged PM,” Weston says it’s simply the right way to do things. “The middle of a global economic crisis … is no time for government spending sprees.”

Lorne Gunter, writing in the National Post, believes “Canadians are indeed leery of adopting risky new ideas” in the face of the financial crisis, but that this actually works partially against the Tories—because “the unproven theory that has them nervous is a majority government.” Canadians are confident Harper is “the best leader to deal with uncertain times,” he opines, but “they worryhe [will] be unwilling to empty the public treasury to save their investments, home values and pension plans.” And for this, he says the Tories have mostly themselves to blame. “They controlled the timing of this election (and unforgivably broke the spirit of their own fixed-election date law to do so), yet they had no policy platform in place,” he alleges, believing they could “fight an entire five-week campaign on Mr. Harper’s credibility alone.”

All of this hardship serves Harper right, David Warren argues in the Ottawa Citizen, just as it serves right every “risk-averse” Canadian politician before him who refused to be candid, to eschew the path of least resistance, and to speak forthrightly about the “‘social conservative’ issues that I, and the many partisans for ‘western civ,’ care a great deal about.” Had Harper approached Warren’s demographic with the following pitch—”Better vote Conservative, for we will do little or nothing to advance the social-engineering agenda of the anti-Christian Left”—then he might at least have some company as his ship sinks beneath the waves. But Harper’s so-called “steady hand at the tiller is quite useless, once the rudder has broken off,” says Warren, and now it’s every man for himself.

The Post‘s Jonathan Kay imagines Margaret Atwood advising “the next big thing” about life as a member of the Canadian “literati,” in light of her decidedly unedifying anti-Harper screed in yesterday’s Globe. “All those clever left-wing quips you heard flying around your table at last night’s awards dinner—I hope you wrote them down,” Kay/Atwood writes. “It is your solemn duty to traffic them to your public through the op-ed pages of newspapers.”

Talking to the Taliban
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom says Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith’s “candid assessment that NATO can’t win the war in Afghanistan and that its best option is a negotiated peace deal with the Taliban” is “probably the most important story of the week,” because it shows how “obdurate” the West was to ignore such possibilities for so long. Heck, maybe if we’d been a little more patient with the Taliban in the first place, they would have offered up Osama bin Laden without a shot fired. “He was an honoured guest” in Afghanistan, after all, and “Pashtun customary law dictates that a guest cannot be summarily expelled without a compelling reason.”

“The War on Drugs created Afghanistan’s massive illicit drug trade,” Dan Gardner writes in the Citizen, which “funds the insurgency, corrupts the government and destabilizes society”—and yet the opium issue has never been treated as anything more than “peripheral,” and discussion on the subject has been “ignorant and vapid” thanks in large part to the propagandistic input of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, for which absolute legal prohibition is “a cause, a crusade, a faith.” And now this Brigadier says the war is going badly, that we’re not going to win? “Well, pass the smelling salts,” Gardner ruefully quips.

Lunatics, asylum, etc.
The Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall is profoundly unnerved to learn that the people in charge of disbursing the $700-billion Wall Street Bailout package are “the same people … who were so enamoured of the financial instruments that led to the credit collapse.” Do we really want Henry Paulson, who headed up Goldman Sachs at a time when it was simultaneously buying and shorting junk mortgages, in charge of righting the ship?

John McCain’s attempts to pin the financial crisis on Barack Obama and his “cronies and his friends” aren’t working particularly well, John Ibbitson observes in the Globe, and even as the tone of the campaign turns “truly dark” with the GOP’s efforts to link Obama with former leftist radical William Ayers, the Democrats’ modest lead seems to be entrenched. “The reason for the swing is simple enough,” says Ibbitson. “Voters are blaming the Republicans for the economic terror that it feels as though the country is living through.”

The battle of the courtroom reporters
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports from the trial of drug-dealing creep Ajine Stewart, who’s accused of shooting another drug-dealing creep to death in the middle of a crowded downtown Toronto intersection. He claims self-defence, but the prosecution alleges all that was being defended was Stewart’s “criminal lifestyle and gang principles.” Thankfully, Blatchford reports, this does not constitute a statutory defence under the Criminal Code.

We’re as yet unsure quite what the appeal of the Stewart trial is to Blatchford. Frankly, we think she’s conceding a rare victory to her courtroom/Afghanistan rival Rosie DiManno at the Star, who’s all over the case of the six-figure vice-president bank robber. She fills in many gaps in the intriguing story, including brief character sketches from his former colleagues. He “always had extremely bad judgment,” one tells her. “Actually he was kind of a dink.”

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