People who inhabit the same job for most of their lives have a problem. They are bound up in their job. Their personal identity becomes interwoven with what they do for a living. Miner, cop, tradesman, autoworker, farmer, academic, pilot, or any other occupation with from which one can derive status and meaning creates a certain type of vulnerability among individuals who belong to a particular cohort.
Men, I think, sometimes find themselves particularly vulnerable when that occupation-identity dynamic is bound up in with their subscription to a patriarchal social norm. If they, as breadwinner see themselves as in charge of their household, parent and spouse with an authoritarian presence, they're even more at risk.
They are thrown into crisis when something happens and they lose their job. Many go through a tremendous and very personal psychological upheaval. Some of these men never recover. Some take out their loss on their families, some turn to substances, some go into a deep and lasting depression. Some kill themselves. Farmers in the UK, auto and natural resource sector workers in Canada, discharged professional soldiers: the social services professionals who deal with some of these men can describe the acute coping problems many of them face.
Stephen Harper is a man of such an occupation-identity compound. He has never done anything else besides graduate school and politics. He is man of singular conviction, setting out to force Canada kicking and screaming into a little tiny misanthropic box. Unlike many of his present peers or past prime minsters, he has no prior career to fall back on. He has no law degree or history with a firm like Mulroney or Chretien. Although he has affiliated with some freakshow academics and lectured a little he isn't a former prof like Layton, Ignatieff or Dion. He's certainly never been a labour union activist. Nor does he have a history as a corporate executive other than being sympathetic to their interests as a politician.
He cannot go any higher than politics than he is now other than as leader of a majority government. This is all he's got and this election might well be the make it or break it moment of his life.
If he loses here, his days as leader of the Conservative Party are very likely numbered. Could a man such as he tolerate the backbench or a cabinet position like Joe Clark, Paul Martin or other leaders who lost their position? My guess is not likely. All evidence suggests that he's an iron authoritarian who does not abide others well, possibly including those within his own party. I doubt that he has many real friends of the sort that will help him out if he's finished here. I'm not sure a man of such conviction, whose life is and has been so bound up in forcefully and manipulatively remaking an entire nation into third rate dictatorship could settle for a gig on some corporate board or another, or a faculty position in the Calgary economics department. He'd have trouble choking out an unbiased Canadian Politics 101, especially when four fifths of the class attack him on day one.
This election has not gone his way at all. His main rival is that he no longer the Ignatieff, but the socialist across the floor who may well defeat him. All his fearmongering about coalitions and the like has failed to deliver him a clear critical mass of polling that would guarantee him a majority. The record turnouts at the advance polls betray his talk of this being an election that Canadians don't want as a lie.
The actors have gone off the script, and the ultrascripted Harper is flailing about. When you watch him beg the ideological core of Liberal supporters to vote for him, I think you're watching a man in full desperation. When he suggests that he might thwart law and convention by not relinquishing office, he's showing fear. This vote is not just a political crisis for Harper, it is also a deeply personal one.
Should he lose on Monday, or whenever the potential constitutional storm passes, he'll have failed at the only thing he's really done. What becomes of him after that is anyone's guess but it likely won't be pretty.