Saturday, June 13, 2009

Raitt's apology, and the boys in the PMO

I didn't get to see Lisa Raitt's tearful apology Wednesday as I was in the car driving back to Toronto, but knowing her family history on the subject, I don't doubt its sincerity. The only thing I question is its timing.

I was flabbergasted to watch question period Tuesday afternoon and see Raitt and Stephen Harper refusing to offer an apology for the cancer is sexy comments, even ridiculously trying to turn it on the opposition, accusing them of crass politics. I was even more surprised when I watched John Baird get up and apologize for his f* Toronto comment, or at least indicate he had called Mayor David Miller to apologize.

It really made me wonder just transgressions rate apologies in Harperland, and which don't.

Later that evening I ran into a Conservative blogging colleague in a local pub, and we discussed the day's events. And I asked him, why didn't Raitt just say of course I know cancer isn't sexy, I was speaking about the issue and I see now that was a poor choice of words, my family has been touched by cancer itself, and if anyone was hurt or offended by my poorly chosen words, I sincerely apologize.

An apology on day one would have really taken the air out of the story. Of course, you'd still hear about it from partisans like me. But Canadians, by and large, are a forgiving bunch, and an apology would have gone a long way. Most would have accepted it. My Conservative friend mentioned an apology being an admission of wrong-doing that would only embolden the opposition, but I sensed he was a tad perplexed by the strategy as well.

The next afternoon, of course, Raitt apologized. The timing, coming after a round of media interviews with cancer survivors and families of cancer victims, ensured the apology was viewed through a political lens. It made it seem forced, whether that was fair or not. It also extended the media coverage of the story by a day, while a speedier apology would have seemed both more sincere and would have ended the story sooner.

Which made me wonder, just who made the initial call not to apologize? Was it Raitt, or was it the PMO. My money is on the PMO. I think Raitt had the instincts to know right away an apology was needed, and I think the Harper boys have consistently demonstrated they're too stubborn to admit the smallest wrongdoing. Raitt also wanted to resign after the binder incident, but Harper refused that too. His control seems tight.

And this is backed-up by an enlightening passage in this column by the Halifax Chronicle Herald's Stephen Maher (yes, he of the infamous Raitt tape):

Once she was caught in the 24-hour news cycle, she was suddenly not very popular with her cabinet colleagues or the guys who run the Prime Minister’s Office.

They tried to hang tough for a day, but her comments angered cancer patients, so on Wednesday, in a truly ugly scene, she issued a tearful apology on TV, mentioning her own family’s battles with cancer, finally satisfying the public desire for contrition and emotion.

The apology was a day late, journalists complained, at which point someone in the PMO told CTV that Ms. Raitt didn’t apologize the day before because she was crying in her office all day.

Since she stood and answered questions in the House — fighting her corner with dry eyes — we can assume that’s nonsense, a nasty thing to say about a woman in distress, aimed at protecting the geniuses at PMO who forbade her to apologize on Tuesday.

The Tory bosses seem to have contempt for Ms. Raitt now, and are prepared to put everything on her, just as press secretary Jasmine MacDonnell took the fall when Ms. Raitt left her briefing book at CTV.
More disturbing, though, is the way the boys in the PMO tried to discredit Riatt once she was becoming a liability. And in such a sexist way as well. Can you imagine these guys saying the same about a male minister? Not a chance.

Apology notwithstanding, Raitt's political career, once so promising, is unlikely to recover from this incident. Re-election will be a longshot. And as much as she has made mistakes, her situation was worsened, and her instincts overridden, by the testosterone-fueled frat boys in the Harper PMO. That she will have to end up paying the price for their arrogance and their stupidity is really a shame.

One wonders how the rest of the Harper cabinet feels about the way this all went down.

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Carrie said...

Another blogger thought Raitt seemed irritated having to share her personal experience with cancer. That made me see her tearful apology in a new light. Prior to that, I was thinking the tears were more because Harper yelled at her.

I don't agree with the sexist remarks against her. Her eyes were so puffy during QP the day after the apology that it looked to me like she probably cried for hours. It was a tough thing for her.

Still, I well remember what she and her "workers" did to Garth Turner during the election. How she used anything to spin for sympathy and to display false integrity. For that, I'll be glad if her political career is over. Because she is more like Harper than people realize.

Just my view of all of it.

Jennifer Smith said...

During the campaign, Raitt had a habit of bringing her family into it whenever anyone criticized her or Harper. "Of course I'm concerned about childcare - I have two little kids!" "Of course I support the arts - my husband is a comedian!" I guess it's par for the course, but this just seemed like more of the same.

Raitt actually showed her face in Milton the other day (I have video), and the first thing she said was, "I'm very glad to be home". And all I kept thinking was, "Live by the sword, die by the sword". These folks have made a fine art of gotcha politics, media manipulation and pushing the news cycle, and from her own words it appears this is her top priority as well. So for her to complain when that same shallow approach works against her is a tad disingenuous.

She could learn a few lessons from Leona Aglukkaq.

Cathie from Canada said...

Very perceptive post. Thanks for this analysis.