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Perfecting the art of the possible

By: Alan Murdock

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am

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I have long been intrigued about the standards used in measuring success in politics. To paraphrase Otto von Bismarck, success in the world of politicians is the ability to perfect the art of the possible.

And surely we are seeing that in spades as we watch some of our most prominent political leaders.

Stephen Harper has just used this strategy with great skill in the handling of the constitutional question regarding the senate. He wanted to change this upper chamber unilaterally – just as he is trying to do with our Elections Act. That is his style. The Supreme Court said no. Still he won. The NDP howling over this matter has derailed public consideration of the Harper government’s much more important string of international trade agreements that have been negotiated and signed without debate. He can now quite comfortably say that there is nothing he can do about the senate without the provinces agreeing. The NDP certainly doesn’t want to shift the focus from itself to provincial government politicians. And such would surely occur if a constitutional debate over senate reform was to begin. The last thing the prime minister wants to do is meet with the premiers. He hasn’t met them in years. Senate scandals are back page news now. Mr. Harper surely has perfected the art of the possible in this instance.

As for President Obama, politically one must admire his decision to defer the Keystone Pipeline ruling indefinitely. There are no votes for him in this one – quite the opposite amongst his California based supporters. The Keystone pipeline will remain in suspended animation for as long as he is in office. This is a man whose total adult life experience has been encased in winning elections. That is his life’s work and strategies which win elections are his gold standard. At the same time, it means that the principles of fair play, moral integrity and even economic benefits for his countrymen are minor matters except in making certain that they are alluded to in formulating political speeches. And President Obama is a practiced orator. He has also successfully handled American voter reaction to the consequences his “red line in the sand in Iraq” and other decisions involving the Middle East. Making bravely worded foreign policy utterances builds up confidence and national pride with his electorate. Retreating from the consequences when his bluff is called has not been a vote loser for him – quite the opposite. Having failed spectacularly in the Middle East without losing a vote, he has a shifted to the Pacific theatre. Good luck to him in handling Chinese infested waters there. Still, he is a master in practicing the art of the possible. He won’t lose any votes over it.

In today’s world of microsecond-paced communications and sound bites, politicians are expected to make instant comprehensive decisions on complex questions. We are too impatient to allow time for critical thinking. We like fast paced talkers.

At the same time, politicians managing the art of the possible without integrity to act as a boundary for the limits of compromise have become too common to let it continue without comment.

Mayor Ford will be re-elected. You read it here first.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.


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