Saturday, October 9, 2010

Politics of Contempt: The Nixon-Harper Ticket

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

In April of 2008, an article appeared in the UK Guardian entitled: The Canadian Nixon. Even then political observers noticed the similarity in styles between Stephen Harper and Richard Nixon. Both held a high level of contempt for their political opponents and in many ways, the people they were supposed to serve. They trusted no one.

Dimitry Anastakis and Jeet Heer noted their shared characteristics and modes of operation.
The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.

If it's not the media, or the courts, or the Senate, or Elections Canada, it's the Wheat Board, the federal government's own spending power, the bureaucracy, the gun registry ... Canadians should rightly wonder why their head of government has such a problem with so many Canadian institutions. (1)
In the same week Kelly McParland wrote in the National Post of Harper's paranoia and what he described as a "siege mentality".
One of the many online encyclopedias defines “siege mentality” as “a shared feeling of helplessness, victimization and defensiveness” which “refers to persecution feelings by anyone in the minority, or of a group that views itself as a threatened minority.” If there’s anything that typifies the Conservatives under Mr. Harper, it’s the notion that anyone outside the party is to be viewed with suspicion, and even within the party trust is to be handed out sparingly. Beyond the fortified redoubt of the Prime Minister’s inner circle, everyone is on permanent probation. (2)
In 2008, 198 hours of recordings and 90,000 pages of documents were released by the Nixon Presidential Library, and what they revealed of the man, is quite telling. According to Dan Glaister: Recordings show Nixon urged staff to use all means to discredit his political opponents, both large and small.
"Never forget," he tells national security advisers Henry Kissinger .. and Alexander Haig in a conversation on December 14 1972, "the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy, the professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times." (3)
This message could have come from Harper's own lips. But there's more.
Documents released alongside the recordings detail the progress made by his staff in carrying out a presidential order to remove all pictures of past presidents from the White House. An office belonging to a junior civil servant in which he had seen two photographs of Kennedy, one bearing a personal inscription, particularly offended Nixon. "On January 14," wrote White House staffer Alexander Butterfield in a 1970 memo, "the project was completed and all 35 offices displayed only your photograph." (3)
Stephen Harper had all portraits of past prime ministers, many of them works of art, removed from the government block and replaced with photographs of himself. (4) Hundreds and hundreds of photographs of himself. I'll bet there's a memo somewhere stating that the "the project was completed."

And Luke Nichter, a Nixon scholar, says of the 37th president that his was: "One of the most secretive presidential administrations in American history." There's no denying that the Harper government is the most secretive we've ever had.

More recently Jeffrey Simpson is looking for parallels from Lawrence Martin's Harperland.

Simpson calls Nixon: "...the brilliant, brooding, socially awkward, intensely private, conspiratorial Mr. Nixon, who, more than any other U.S. politician, shaped conservatism from his entry into Congress to his resignation as president."

... the interesting comparisons arise between Mr. Harper and Mr. Nixon. By all accounts, and especially those in Harperland, the Prime Minister is not only a partisan, as all prime ministers must be, but he viscerally hates Liberals. His objective is not just to defeat but to obliterate the Liberal Party of Canada. For that purpose, the gloves are off all the time, from nasty attack ads against Liberal leaders to ritualistic, partisan punches from him and his ministers.

Mr. Nixon saw enemies everywhere: in the media, the “liberal elites,” the Ivy League colleges .... He carried enormous resentments, remembered many past slights, and bottled them up inside where they fed paranoid streaks in his character. He was a control freak, and demanded that his staff act accordingly. (5)

Some of the comparisons are abstract, like the episode of the threatening tapes. (6) But the key ones are fundamental. And perhaps there's a good reason for that. Wrapped up in their shared hatred of liberalism, academics and political opponents... And wrapped up in their shared awkwardness and paranoia, is the fact that they are both Republican*, schooled in Republican campaigning and indoctrinated in anti-government governance.

However, there is something else, that a lot of people are not aware of that helps to explain their "unique" political tactics. Both men were "Finkle Thinked".

Ouch! Did it Hurt?

Arthur Finklestein was** the man who worked behind the scenes for Richard Nixon and has been called one of the most secretive, but effective, political strategists who ever lived. His strategy was dubbed "Finkle Think". I've often thought that Guy Giorno tried to emulate him.

Jack Huberman includes Finklestein in his book: 101 People who are Really Screwing up America. And in a column for Huffington Post points out the hypocrisy of Finklestein's recent marriage to his male partner:
It wouldn't be worth mentioning if the consultant hadn't, through most of the 40 years of that domestic partnership, worked on behalf of some of America's most rabidly homophobic politicians; if he wasn't "the architect of Jesse Helms's political rise"; if he wasn't acclaimed as "the guy who slandered the term 'liberal' in American politics"; if he hadn't worked for presidents Nixon and Reagan; helped elect the likes of George W. Bush, New York Governor George Pataki, Senator Alphonse D'Amato, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "To the Right of Attila Sharon" Netanyahu; advised Sharon; helped the Swift Boat Smearers for Bush smear John Kerry's military reputation; and announced that he would be spearheading the "Get Hillary" campaign to defeat Senator Clinton's reelection campaign in 2006.

All that, and more, is on Arthur Finkelstein's resume. If you haven't heard of him before, it's because he made sure you didn't. As CNN reported in 1996: "He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him." Finkelstein has been compared to criminal mastermind Kaiser Sose in The Usual Suspects, who lay so low that some doubted he really existed. *** (7)
And according to Gerry Nicholls who was Stephen Harper's VP when he was running the National Citizens Coalition, Mr. Finklestein also worked for them.

Arthur [Finklestein] was an American political consultant who worked for the NCC, he gave us political, media and fundraising advice. He was, in fact, truth-be-told, one of the chief reasons behind the NCC’s success. He was also the top Republican political consultant, if not the top American political consultant period.

He was also the guy who basically invented the negative ad. His nickname was the “Merchant of Venom.” Now you might be asking yourself, “If Arthur was so great, why haven’t I ever heard of the guy?” Well, let me tell you a secret about political consultants. The ones who promote themselves a lot, the ones you see on TV talk shows and speaking at seminars are not usually the top consultants. That’s why they need to get the public limelight. That’s why they self-promote. The really top consultants don’t need to do that. The insiders know who they are and they are always busy. Arthur fit into that category. If anything he did everything possible to avoid media scrutiny. (8)

So Stephen Harper is not that difficult to figure out. He is not that deep or complex. He is simply the product of Republican strategists, especially one who "invented the negative ad", and is following in the footsteps of a former Finklestein protege.

The new "Merchant of Venom".


*High profile Republican pollster John Maclaughlin takes credit for Stephen Harper's career, including it on his resume.

**Finklestein died on May 28, 2010

***When Guy Giorno had to appear before a commons committee, the media had to have him pointed out. No one knew then what he looked like. He was the same when he did the job for Mike Harris.


1. The Canadian Nixon: Stephen Harper's feud with Elections Canada is just the latest front in his war against government institutions, By Dimitry Anastakis and Jeet Heer, The UK Guardian, April 24, 2008

2. Harper discovers it's easy to find enemies, if you look hard enough, By Kelly McParland, National Post, April 23, 2008

3. Recordings reveal Richard Nixon's paranoia: Recordings show Nixon urged staff to use all means to discredit his political opponents, both large and small, By Dan Glaister, UK Guardian, December 3, 2008

4. Harper gallery leaves MPs speechless: Citizens who really want a national portrait gallery in Ottawa can rest easy. The government already has one, By The Ottawa Citizen, January 29, 2008

5. Looking for Nixon-like tendencies in Harperland, By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, October 8, 2010

6. PM threatens Ignatieff with old tapes`Every day that goes by he's more like Richard Nixon,' Liberal leader says after Harper, By Richard Brennan, Toronto Star, May 28, 2009

7. Arthur Finkelstein Is Screwing Up America, By Jack Huberman, Huffington Post, June 11, 2006

8. Libertarianism and me, by Gerry Nicholls, November 13, 2009


  1. This helps explain the recent gaffes by the PMO... With Giorno and Finkelstein out of the picture, Harper is having to train a new group, and they are getting things wrong at the moment...

  2. Don't forget Karl Rove. He also worked with Nixon.

    You should read this It will show you how crooked Rove is.

    That said, there is no doubt in my mind Harper is a graduate of the "Nixon School of Politics" (Finklestein + Rove). And 41 (who has been CIA chief; Dubya's father) covered his tracks.

    I remember reading long ago in a newspaper that Harper had hired an American strategist. It was rumoured to be Rove, then it was denied. It is probably a trainee or a "spiritual (?) son" of these two despicable persons.