Out of touch to the very end.
In the all-important last week of the campaign, when voters finally are paying full attention, Harper, Iggy and to a lesser extent Duceppe have gone or stayed negative.
Surely by now their teams know this campaign switched two weeks ago into a likeability contest, and that Layton was winning it.
The solution they hit on - and this script could only be written by scabs during a writers' strike - was to become even less likeable by going entirely negative with attacks on the NDP.
For two weeks, the MSM has been correctly asserting that the "angry man" pose has been backfiring in this campaign.
It's at this point you have to wonder if anyone with influence in the Harper and Ignatieff camps ever talks with everyday Canadians. Or monitors the MSM, never mind Facebook and Twitter. Because Canadians have been anything but shy in the messages they've been writing on each other's FB walls and in their Tweets and in what they tell TV reporters on the Sparks Street Mall and the jogging trail in Stanley Park. They crave something different from what the two mainstream parties have been saying - some imagined possibilities.
Lee Atwater discovered one day in the summer of 1988 that Willie Horton, a recidivist convict released on parole by an ill-advised Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis, was all the talk among everyday Americans. Atwater first learned this in a bowling alley. He then checked out a few donut shops, VFW posts and other spots where "real" Americans congregate to confirm this. Immediately on returning to his office at presidential candididate George H.W. Bush's campaign HQ, Atwater ordered up a series of devastating Willie Horton ads. And to this day, Willie Horton is part of the political lexicon, a term to describe how a mediocre candidate can beat the daylights out of a popular opponent.
The talk of Canada these past two weeks has been of (a) change and (b) a more optimistic future for the world's most nearly-perfect country. And of how conventional politics has been stale and to some extent dysfunctional in failing to embrace this more challenging vision for the country.
Canadians recently saw dramatic change among our only neighbors. And they want it here, where Barack Obama still has an 80% approval rating. Obama, you notice, doesn't do "angry man," except when a distinguished historian and friend is arrested for the crime of being in his own house.
Canadians are plain sick hearing about limitations to what Canada can achieve. And they're numb to, and angry with, being told what to do by perceived elites who threaten them with the End of Times if they vote the wrong way.
We were told in 1988 that our prosperity would evaporate if we failed to embrace free trade with the U.S. We were told in 1992 that Canada would break apart if we didn't vote for the Charlottetown Accord on constitutional accommodation of Quebec nationalists. (We defeated it anyway, and Quebec hasn't separated in the 19 years since.)
We were told in the early 1990s that the IMF would have to bail us out, Greece- and Ireland-style, if we didn't accept collective sacrifice and hardship in erasing our admittedly outsized deficit. In the mid-1990s, every municipality in the GTA opposed amalgamation in a referendum, and Tory premier Mike Harris smashed them together anyway.
The NDP warned us throughout the 2000s that free trade was killing upward of 200,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario alone. Which was true, and compounded the misery of the Great Recession of 2008-09. In response, we were told by the elites - the two mainstream political parties, the MSM, and the Chamber of Commerce types - that globalization is inevitable, beyond human control, and good for us.
Those same elites - a toxic combo of celebrated Fortune 500 cover-boy CEOs given to piratic impulses and lax government regulators - cratered capitalism in 2001-02, and then very nearly euthanized it altogether in 2008-09.
Of that we were told that everyday North Americans and Europeans were largely at fault, having lived beyond our means, and allowing ourselves to be talked by unscrupulous mortgage brokers into buying more house than we could afford. Millions of those homes have been foreclosed upon, and harsh austerity has been imposed on us. And the reckless speculators truly to blame captured their windfall riches before the collapse and inexplicably were spared orange jumpsuits. None of the lax regulators were fired. Their ilk have stayed on to maladminister workplace safety at the Big Branch Mine disaster and BP's Deepwater Horizon drill-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
We are, in a nutshell, sick of being lectured too. Yet this, in the final hours of the campaign, is what the Tories and Grits have chosen yet again to do. More proof to those restless for change that (a) the Tories are arrogant and out of touch. And that (b) the Liberal alternative must be a clone of the Tories, since it's also arrogant and not interested in what we have to say.
It's not that Layton is a fresh face, as Obama was. He's been on the national stage as NDP leader for eight years. In town halls and the stump, Layton has not been as quick on his feet and passionate as Iggy. He still doesn't have the gravitas that Harper has achieved simply by being PM for five years. The national NDP could easily have been kept to its niche-party status. But its three principal rivals this time collectively held the door open for it. Or perhaps it's the times that have changed, and the father-knows-best approach that used to work just doesn't this time out.
In any case, the Tories, whether returned to government or not, will be held, as always in its history, to 40% of the vote, more or less, in a best-case scenario for that party. And the Grits will have self-destructed by slipping for the first time in Confederation to third-party status.
That didn't have to happen, of course, and I'm kind of stunned it has. I grew up with Trudeau and Keith Davey, who could regain the momentum in a faltering electoral contest - or a losing 1980 Quebec referendum campaign - in the third period. Mulroney did the same in the bitterly contested FTA election of 1988. In truth, politicians have been conditioned to rapid-response techniques long before the MSM began only in the Internet age to adopt them.
You ask how this most unlikely 2011 outcome could have happened? We'll read the entrails soon enough.
But one thing we have known since Harper first appeared on the national scene, and from the time of Iggy's first, failed Grit leadership bid, is that neither man takes advice easily. I've mentioned in previous posts my 20-year friendship with Layton. I'm no close friend of the NDP leader. When we're out together shooting pool once or twice a year, I have noticed (a) how strangers feel so comfortable chatting him up in subway stations, sports bars and variety stores, almost always addressing him as "Jack." And (b) how intently Layton listens to everybody. It's the way we act when we don't know where the next great idea is going to come from, a crossing guard or a lawn bowler. When we don't see this inclination to listen in certain of our acquaintances, family, co-workers, these become people to avoid. They know all the answers. To talk with them is to waste their time.
Heaven help such folks if someday they do need something from you. Your vote, for instance.