Megapundit: Stephen Harper, dungeon-master

Must-reads: Dan Gardner on getting tough on crime; George Jonas on Sarah Palin; Janet Bagnall on Insite.

On the issues
The dungeon-master approach to youth crime, and the fingers-in-the-ears approach to addiction management.

Stephen Harper’s proposal to allow life sentences for convicted murderers over the age of 14 “seems positively medieval” to “many voters,” Thomas Walkom argues in the Toronto Star, but where the Prime Minister once shuffled Vic Toews out of the justice portfolio for being “too straightforward about his hard-line views on crime and punishment,” now he makes no apologies; his “bitterness,” which is the “most striking aspect of Harper’s political personality,” is laid bare; “the dungeon-master is ready to punish, and he doesn’t care who knows.” This is because, like Lenin—yes, that Lenin—”he feels that the leader, once chosen, has the right to dictate” on any issue, including youth crime, even if it “is well down from its 1991 peak.” (Walkom does concede, however—whisper this part—that “youth violent crime rates are up.”)

The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford mounts a qualified defence of the Conservatives’ get-tough-on crime agenda, on the premise that whatever its flaws—most notably, she believe it incorrectly portrays increasing the “denunciation” portion of sentences as a deterrent—the Tories “aren’t wrong” about the problems that need addressing. Some people get house arrest who simply shouldn’t, in her eyes. And her years in journalism in Toronto tell her that no matter what the criminologists and opposition parties say, it’s simply a more violent city—or at least one with more gunfire—than it was 20 years ago. (We’re not sure if she’s right or not, actually. We’ll look into it.)

Why, faced with the prospect of a stiff prison sentence, would a young Canadian still choose to turn delinquent? Let the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner ask you another question: why would a bunch of smart folks on Wall Street burden themselves with “risky debt that needed constantly inflating house prices to keep from going bad”? The answer in both cases lies in the bifurcated human brain, Gardner explains. The rational part considers the facts, evidence and logic behind any given decision, but it only does so after the unconscious part delivers an instantaneous, emotion-based judgment about the situation at hand and the body it inhabits, more likely than not, acts on it. “It is foolish to simply assume … [people] … are making decisions on the basis of rational calculation,” he concludes. “And it is foolishness squared to make public policy on the same assumption.”

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno says Harper can promise all the youth justice reforms he wants, but he’s still going to have to get them past the Supreme Court. And based on its record on the youth justice issues at play here—publicly naming certain young offenders, trying them as adults and allowing life sentences—she sees little reason for the government to be optimistic… unless, of course, Harper “changes the judges.”

The Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall writes a strongly worded if not particularly original memo to Tony Clement on the subject of his aggressively ideological opposition to Insite, concluding that while one might reasonably worry whether safe injection sites set a poor example for Canadian youth, “letting mentally ill drug-addicts die on the streets of Vancouver is not … a good example for anyone at any age.”

Lorne Gunter, writing in the National Post, provides some valid criticisms of the Liberal platform, for example, that much of the promised cash wouldn’t kick in until the party’s imaginary second mandate, and some thoroughly gratuitous ones, for example, this: “You and I probably think they mean [by infrastructure] $70-billion for better roads, bridges, rail links, border crossings and airports to get people and commerce moving. They are probably thinking new community centres and ethnic halls in every Liberal-friendly suburb at which their MPs can turn up for ribbon-cuttings and photo-ops.” Very droll, that is, and very original.

Who’s screwed today, and why
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson explains all the advantages the Conservatives’ vastly superior fundraising efforts afford them, from securing a modern airplane to pre-campaign advertising and “solidify[ing] attachment to the Conservative tribe,” and the cheques that come with it, with various inane mail-outs. Also giving them an edge, of course, is just how badly, if at all, the Liberals have adjusted to the post-corporate donation era.

L. Ian MacDonald, writing in the Gazette, accuses Dion of “marching to his own drum,” which is just about the worst thing you can do in the “message control” universe of an election campaign. MacDonald’s specific allegations: that Dion’s comment, whatever it meant, that the media had overplayed the Green Shift’s significance was a gift to the Tories; that his attempt to cast himself as a Quebec nationalist “runs against the grain of everything Quebecers have been told about Dion in the last decade,” and represents a rebranding exercise far too complex to be undertaken mid-campaign; and that saying Harper “dreams of closing the CBC” is “completely over the top” and invites people to remember the Chrétien-era funding cuts.

The Star‘s Chantal Hébert believes Jack Layton’s “musings about a post-election governing alliance with the Liberals” are meant to counteract the idea that a vote for him is a vote for Harper, by suggesting the left-leaning parties could, soon after Parliament returns, unite and usurp the Tories. Aside from the sheer improbability of such an event—it seems to us, anyway—Hébert believes there are myriad other problems to such a scenario: namely, the NDP’s and Liberals’ “irreconcilable approaches” to many of the major issues of the day, most notably Afghanistan and climate change, and the fact they’d need the Bloc to prop them up. “In the end,” she concludes, “such a coalition would have less chance of providing stable and coherent governance than the Harper Conservatives.”

Layton’s proposal to inflict more Canadian television upon us during prime time is a rare “loony left” eruption, the Post‘s John Ivison observes, in what has otherwise been a surprisingly incrementalist and realistic campaign (Layton’s professed intention to inhabit 24 Sussex Drive notwithstanding, we assume), lacking the usual “multibillion-dollar spending commitments.” The goal, Ivison suggests, based on a discussion with a party advisor, is to propose various “vote-catching specifics targeted at distinct groups”—artists, families dependent on the manufacturing sector, etc.—which is not at all unlike the Conservatives’ approach. And based on the polls, which show the NDP steady, Ivison says the strategy seems to be successfully heading off the “pinch” many saw coming between the Grits and Greens.

Battlefield: suburban Pennsylvania
The election will all come down to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, John Ibbitson opines in the Globe—especially Pennsylvania, and especially the areas surrounding Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which are in an ongoing state of political flux. Touring around those areas, Ibbitson finds the locals reflect the new reality of the election: “it’s all about race and Sarah Palin.” Will white voters professing an allegiance to Obama defect to the white candidate on election day? Will Palin successfully energize the pro-life, salt-of-the-earth crowd? Tune in Nov. 4…

George Jonas, writing in the Post, believes the women who declare themselves “insulted” over John McCain’s choice of running mate do so because—deep breath; please direct all complaints to Jonathan Kay, not to us—”the sickening speed with which the moose-hunting ex-mayor of Wasilla passed everyone in the queue for Queen Bee made a mockery of any woman who wore out her contact lenses reading books that essentially bored her; or who gave up a sweet guy who wasn’t going places for a nerd or a windbag who was; or who planned her parenthood because a person couldn’t have it all; or one who had it all and could no longer fit into her Dolce&Gabbana.” It proved, in other words, that you don’t need to be all that smart to succeed in politics, and that no matter how many hyper-educated urbanites vote Democrat to help their fellow man, class warfare is alive and well in the United States.

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