PM Stephen Harper has breakfast with his cat Stanley, Monday, January 28, 2013
Widespread coverage of the tweet that Stephen Harper had breakfast with his cat, named Stanley thanks to a Facebook poll, has me hissing mad.
No letters from cat lovers please. I favour felines and I'm glad the PM breakfasts with his. Just as I admire Calvin Coolidge for adopting Rebecca the raccoon as a family pet instead of eating her for Thanksgiving dinner.
So why has Stanley got my tongue? Because it's a classic example of the post-modern vacuity overrunning us: contrived, irrelevant and apparently fascinating.
Now you may object that the reason we didn't use to get such tweets is there was no Twitter. And I don't delude myself that, in days of yore, every politician was a statesman who breakfasted with Socrates before dictating elevated sentiments straight to marble, winning the dignified approval of wise and disinterested citizens.
I realize people have been applauding demagogic hacks since Socrates breakfasted with hemlock. And I'm sure, given the chance, Sir John A. would have got off some classic tweets. "Brkfst w btl of whsky. Can't rd label ... labelsh ... Aagin." But they'd have been too raw, not too polished. And back then we at least tried to pretend we cared less whether politicians had breakfast with their cats than with whether they could govern. Apparently that's just too #boring today.
The same day as the big cat-eat-tweet story, newspapers reported in passing that Canada might have JTF2 personnel in Mali protecting our diplomats or something else unless we don't. Oh, and Alberta premier Alison Redford has no clue how to keep spending money in the face of a massive deficit she successfully concealed while fear-mongering about the Wildrose Alliance during the 2012 provincial election.
Or should I say "Alison"? Not that I know her personally, you understand. But I'm meant to feel that I do, because the Alberta PC website link to folksy information about Her Majesty's first minister in Alberta ("a busy mom to 9-year-old Sarah, a fan of country music") simply says "Alison," just as the Ontario Liberals' said "Dalton" until recently.
It now says "leader" pending, possibly, a Facebook poll on what Kathleen Wynne's name should be. But it's "About Kathleen" on her leadership campaign site, along with the highly original slogan "Let's Move Forward Together" but no serious discussion of Ontario's finances. Fortunately Tim Hudak still has a last name. For now.
I grant that Sir John A. could be informal to the point of being hammered in public. But can you imagine a Conservative Party website link "John" to him? And Coolidge didn't walk Rebecca on a leash to curry favour with voters instead of currying Rebecca. This cheesy, false informality is getting worse. And it's successfully distracting us from their actual policies.
Even if Harper had tweeted spontaneously about his cat I would still object to this creeping, creepy casualness. I like my governments diligent not chummy. But the whole thing was concocted to pander to our shallowness.
Do you honestly think Stephen "Pianoman" Harper gives a sweater vest what you think he should call his cat? But apparently some committee decided he'd look less stuffy and more "with it" if "he" did a Facebook poll for his cat's name.
So he did. And now my problem is not that Harper tweeted like a doofus about his boring private life. It's that he did it like a ruthless, cunning political operator.
Evidently the PMO gets a lot of questions about how he spends his day. So we brought this on ourselves. Naturally they set up meetings to contrive, tweak and massage a communications strategy resulting in a tweet about breakfast with his blasted cat and its online focus-grouped name that duly made all the newspapers. As, no doubt, a focus group said it would.
The Ontario deficit, like the Mali mission-like object, could matter a lot despite lacking a cute name. But who cares? We want pseudo-authenticity crammed into 140 characters and we want it NOW.
Taxes? National security? Integrity in politics? Meh. Here's Prime Minister Friendly's cat Focus-Group eating whatever you want to think he did. Or she. Yeah. That's the kind of stuff people go for.