Donald Gutstein

I don’t care for the title. It is misleading, I think, because there is no system of political thought original to Stephen Harper, no “unique brand” as it’s described here. As the cover design illustrates, Haper was the bastard child of Reagan and Thatcher, two towering figures who were in turn simply foot soldiers, or useful idiots, in the neoliberal revolution. There is nothing at all new in Harper’s ideology, even allowing for its application to a Canadian context. This was wonderfully underscored when it was revealed that whole sections of his speeches were simply being cut-and-paste from other right-wing politicians, one from as far away as Australia. Because what difference did it make? They were all reading from the same script.

The only thing that characterized Harper’s brand as something different was that, as befits a younger son, he was even more rigid and unthinking in his application of the received ideology, holding fast to the simplistic tenets of his belief in the face of any and all contrary evidence. Given this level of slavish dedication to a borrowed political script it’s worth knowing something about who wrote that script in the first place. In this focused backgrounder Donald Gutstein locates the source of the neoliberal playbook in the many well-funded think tanks that provide the media with official-sounding column-fodder propaganda and click-bait. A clear pattern emerges (seize the victim label first, then do unto others what you claim they were just about to do to you), as well as a dog-whistle use of doublethink language (for example: “sound science” = “junk science”).  It’s not subtle, but then it doesn’t have to be as its function, like most advertising, is only to confuse or appeal to those who have already bought the product.

A depressing conclusion tells us that Harperism will not be easily undone. Government has been, if not broken, at least badly damaged under Harper’s watch, as was his intent. (And yet we still have a Senate!) Just to get things back to the way they were before the wrecking crew arrived will take resources, unity, and political will, none of which are likely to be in rich supply.