Connoisseurs of schadenfreude have had a good time since Oct. 19, enjoying the end of the Harper regime. The pleasure is only enhanced by the Conservatives' response -- a breathtakingly high level of denial, for which the climate change variety was only a rehearsal.
While it certainly appears in many Conservative public statements since the election, that denial was the consistent theme in a recent discussion on CBC Radio's The Current. It involved surviving MPs Erin O'Toole and Candice Bergen and Conservative spinner Tasha Kheiriddin, and while it was billed as "soul searching," it was anything but.
Their conversation began with a quote from Conservative spokesperson Kory Teneycke: "Harper derangement syndrome is a real thing. There's a group of people in Canada who loathe the Prime Minister at a level that's almost a pathology."
The term is far from new. It appeared as early as March 2006 in the Canadian blogosphere, a logical extension of "Bush Derangement Syndrome." Like BDS, Harper derangement syndrome is code for "arguments I can't answer." And while it appeared fairly often over the years, HDS came into its own in the past year.
That, I suspect, was due to the increase in unanswerable arguments against the Harper government, and to see it again so soon after the election tells us that the Tories need much more time for reflection and analysis of their performance.
Lack of empathy? Who knew?
In the panel on The Current, the Conservatives tried reflection and analysis and failed badly. Their defeat wasn't over their policies, which they agreed had been excellent. Instead, it was a matter of failures in "tone" and "style" and "communication." Oh, and "lack of empathy."
Coming out of a regime obsessed with message control, and which hired a whole generation of young public-relations experts, this was hilarious.
If only we'd spoken more warmly and positively about stripping some Canadians of their citizenship, all would have been well. If we'd just hugged our returning vets as we explained how we were screwing them, they'd have hugged us back.
Harper's passive-aggressive style and tone were tailored to convey a consistent message: we're the good guys, they're the bad guys, and bad guys have it coming. The base understood and liked Harper's tone, style and "dog whistle" messages; too bad if the rest of us also understood and rejected them.
And empathy? The base would not have liked him saying: I really feel sorry for those poor, sick child pornographers we want to put in our big new jails.
As long as their diehard base stayed loyal, the other 70 per cent could be safely ignored, insulted, or both. But not wooed or won over -- at best, they might be scared or coerced into going along.
Try again, soul searchers
It's unsurprising that the Conservatives are now starting to criticize themselves. It's part of the script for any defeated party, and the Tories could take lessons from the New Democrats in how to do it.
What is surprising, though, is their reflexive reliance on Harper derangement syndrome, as if the vast majority of their fellow-Canadians were barking mad, and only they were sane and rational. It seems not to have occurred to them yet that Canadians had damn good rational grounds for opposing Stephen Harper, his followers, and all they stood for.
Nor has it occurred to them that intelligent, thoughtful, educated Canadians might reasonably differ with Conservative ideology, and that those differences deserved respect and response. "You're crazy and you have no grounds for disliking Harper" is not even a rebuttal, much less a refutation.
Until that possibility begins to dawn on our Conservative neighbours (as Justin Trudeau rightly calls them), their real soul-search has not yet begun.