Out with the pointy heads, in with the khakis

By:  Rachel Marsden

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on how Stephen Harper can spruce up his image. With all the best Conservative strategists yelling at him from the nosebleeds while helplessly watching his fumbles, and the party's position on same-sex marriage probably not winning him many friends in the gay stylist community, Harper desperately needs some good makeover help. I'd like to add my own two cents: As Canada's only right-wing political pundit with a background in both fashion modelling and political strategy, I figure the burden to deliver this particular Hail Mary pass is mine.

- First, purge your team of any pointy-headed "Calgary School" academics with no track record of battle wins -- like your close advisor, Tom Flanagan.

Karl Rove -- George W. Bush's right-hand man and arguably the most successful political strategist in the business today -- never even finished college. Instead, he spent his younger years honing his craft. Similarly, Reagan/Bush strategist Lee Atwater, of the infamous Willie Horton ads, was no bookworm.

As Mike Murphy -- strategist for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Ontario premier Mike Harris and the U.S. presidential campaigns of Bush Sr. and Senator John McCain -- told me this week: "Academics tend to overthink things."

Murphy's top recommendation goes to Machiavellian former Harris strategist Tom Long, whom he calls, "the best conservative political strategist and thinker in Canada by a long Manitoba mile."

I agree. As political journalist Henry Adams said: "Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education."

- Toss the anger shtick in favour of using a little more humour to get your points across. Contrary to what Liberal pundit Warren Kinsella suggested this week on this page, that doesn't mean going so far as to pretend you're thrilled with the mess Canada has become under the Liberals. But anger only works in politics if you're seen as too old (U.S. Sen. "Mad as Zell" Miller) or too confused (Jean Chretien) to do any damage.

- Stop talking as though your wife is your chief advisor on issues ranging from the budget to Belinda. It makes it look like your real advisors don't know what they're doing (which, in fairness, they often don't. See above).

Can you imagine President Bush saying, "I was just talking with Laura this morning about how recent developments in the War on Terror might impact my economic strategy"?

There's a way to show that you have the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval: It's called a wedding ring. You weren't wearing yours during last year's televised debate. If you're going to talk about the value of marriage, you may want to throw on the uniform when appearing on national television.

- Wearing a suit isn't your problem. Wearing it while playing football or hanging out at a barbeque is. Did Pierre Trudeau do back flips into swimming pools or go canoeing in a suit? No. Normal people don't do this.

Not since B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell has a guy with a middle-class upbringing been so inept at convincing people that he's not a silver spooner. You give off the vibe of someone who may actually go to a baseball game -- but would ask the hotdog and soda guy if he could score you some spotted dick.

The next time you're finger-painting with grade-schoolers at a photo-op and one of them approaches you with messy hands, don't ward him off like he has leprosy. No amount of driving your daughter to ballet lessons will scrub that image.

Do things that come naturally to you, but don't make them look fake. So if you really do like football, for the love of God, go change into a sweatshirt and shorts before hitting the pitch.

And while I'm on the topic, knock it off with all the gratuitous pandering. No funny hats or outfits at ethnic rallies. Wearing a bandana cap on your head will not convince anyone that you're Indo-Canadian. It will just make you look dorko-Canadian. From Michael Dukakis in his "tank" outfit to John Kerry in a NASA bunnysuit and Gilles Duceppe touring a cheese factory in a hair net, these dress-up adventures usually lead to disaster.

- Let the lefty media hate you. They hated Nixon, Reagan and Bush Jr. with a passion, and it did wonders for their careers. Standing behind a strong vision will at least earn you respect.

Even if you're destined to go down to defeat, Mr. Harper, you should still keep all this in mind. All corpses -- even political ones -- deserve to go out in style with one last bit of makeup.

Speaking of which, I'd also recommend slimming relaxed-fit flat-front khakis with a brown leather belt, a blue hued broad stripe dress shirt (roll up those cuffs!) and mildly coloured contact lenses to tone down the Darth Sidious vibe.