A few years ago, if Americans had been asked to name the world's most conservative countries, Canada likely wouldn't have been on most people's list. But as so many previous top contenders, including the USA, slide into socialism, Canada is beginning to shine as a beacon of free-market success. After decades of Liberal Party rule, broken only by eight years of Conservative governance in the 1980s, how did the Canadian public -- hardly right-wingers -- recently end up re-electing Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and giving the Conservative Party a parliamentary majority? And what can the American Right learn from this success?
I recall Harper's humble beginnings as opposition leader. At first, I can't say that I was too impressed. He'd show up to the Calgary Stampede rodeo in ill-fitting leather chaps and seemed to have all the charisma of roadkill. Then something worked in his favor -- a financial scandal ensnared the "natural governing" Liberal Party, leaving Canadians so thoroughly disgusted by the liberals that they were willing to take a chance on a yawn.
This is exactly the same situation conservatives face in America. If there was ever a time in American politics when charisma was overrated, it's now. And it's infuriating to watch the GOP try to play defense and unearth any and every minority or energetic type or energetic minority type it can find to throw up against the incumbent. They're stuck in the 2008 election cycle.
What's needed right now is competence, steadiness, perhaps even -- as with the case of Canada's Harper -- a bit of boring. America could really use an accountant, not a cowboy. Just look at the mess charisma has made of America. Any boring but competent candidate going up against Obama needs to own it, as in, "Yeah, I spend my nights playing with unemployment figures on the back of my dinner napkin. I'm never the life of any party, but I'll put a few more bucks in your wallet."
Know who else couldn't beat Obama in a charisma contest? The guy who safely landed that passenger jet in New York's Husdon River, and perhaps every war hero except John F. Kennedy. "Boring" can always be spun as "enigmatic" or "mysterious," which is what U.S. diplomats called Harper in the WikiLeaks cables.
Harper has not only managed to stay eye-glazingly "enigmatic" and get re-elected with a majority, but he's hung on to his right-wing base while reaching out to independent voters and the mushy middle by staying away from moralism and focusing instead on pragmatism.
I've always been convinced that no one would care much whether Obama was born in Hawaii or on Mars if Americans were doing all right financially. The phrases "Hey, I got a huge tax refund!" and "How many times did the president play golf this week?" tend to be mutually exclusive. It's when people get frustrated that they start nitpicking. So a good rule is to ensure economic satisfaction before even thinking of tackling any ideologically charged subjects.
Harper has understood this. Meanwhile, the opposition leftists preached environmentalism, minority rights, women's rights and every other ideological cause dear to their hearts but pragmatically useless in the everyday lives of voters whose main concern is getting by day-to-day.
Since taking office in early 2006, Harper has cut handouts for everyone -- including businesses, individuals, minorities, women, transsexuals, bisexuals, etc. And he similarly cut spending and waste in whatever form it took, even if it led him up against special-interest groups and career feminists pushing ideology at taxpayer expense -- which it often did. Harper's cutbacks have likely taught them that they can hold down a real job and be full-time feminists at the same time, and the country won't be any worse off.
In some cases, Harper cut nanny-state federal control and downloaded increased choice to provincial governments, giving them more autonomy but also more accountability. Those provincial leaders who then proceeded to misuse their new control have either been tossed out of office already or are facing difficult re-election. And Canadian voters are hardly right-wing, but as Harper effectively opens up the inner workings of the government and lays it all out for voters to assess, they are slowly discovering conservative free-market and limited-government principles in action and warming to what they see.
To paraphrase Sarah Palin, perhaps there is an American Republican hopeful out there somewhere who can see these lessons up there in Canada from where they sit, and adapt them to a winning U.S. blueprint.