"All the ills and all the scourges that afflict mankind come from London!" So Napoleon Bonaparte reputedly said one cranky day. Imagine if you can how bad a day a person would have to be having to say a thing like that. His ill-tempered claim is a good example of a basic law of human personality: Frustration, under pressure, generates stupidity.
There is sometimes something just a little Napoleonic about Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And there must have been considerable frustration behind his ridiculous outburst in the House of Commons on Thursday. After Liberal leader Stephane Dion argued that Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor should resign, Harper responded that O'Connor had spent 32 years in the Canadian Forces, "and when the leader of the opposition is able to stand in uniform and serve his country, then I will care about his opinion of the performance of the minister of national defence."
It's a preposterous position, and Harper must know that. Only 16 out of the 399 parliamentarians - elected MPs and appointed Senators - have military experience. (That startlingly low proportion speaks volumes, we suspect, about the country's defence policy and the quality of debate about it. But that's a subject for another day.)
Harper himself has never been in the military, and he certainly has an opinion about O'Connor's capabilities. And he knows that every citizen, every taxpayer, every pacifist, every relative of a soldier, all Canadians in fact, can, even should, have an opinion about political matters.
Frustration is, to paraphrase W.H. Auden, politics in its natural colour. The "art of the possible" very often means swallowing quite a lot of bile, rather than letting it poison the environment.
Harper has significant strengths as a politician, but he has not learned to stifle certain ignoble emotions. He would do himself a favour by choosing more carefully the outlets for his pugnacity.
Harper's frustration is showing
Frustration, under pressure, generates stupidity