Which is why we should question the wisdom of making attacks on the Liberals the main focus of Conservative Party advertising and communications, instead of trying to sell our own agenda and our own record as a party and a government. The kinds of images and ads that are getting used right now may actually be part of the reason why the poll numbers aren't getting any better; because they make the government look and sound like an opposition party, and give people plenty of reasons to dislike Dion without giving them in any reasons to like the CPC.
This is not to say that we should completely abandon negative or contrast advertising. Rather, we should realize that with the current crop of attack ads we have reached the point of diminishing returns, and turn instead to a more positive approach. After two years of getting e-mails asking me to contribute to keep one negative ad or another on the air, will no longer do so. I would be happy, however, to chip in $25 or $50 to help air some ads talking about what a great job the P.M. and the government are doing for Canadians.
To be fair, I do believe the "not a leader" attack ads were quite successful, defining Dion before he had an opportunity to define himself. The perceived success of that campaign, may have created a false thesis within the Conservative brain trust, a singular approach which has failed to see that each successive attack has largely failed. Attack ads work, but it is also true that they don't work for eternity, they lose their effectiveness when the attacker looks predictable, when the attacker begins to say more about themselves than the target. In other words, there is a fundamental imbalance in the Conservative approach, it's fine to slam your opponent, but it doesn't resonate forever, when you offer nothing to contrast.
What the Conservative Party hasn't realized, and quick frankly I hope they don't, they have so saturated our discourse with negativity, that it has created a perception of this government as mean-spirited, aggressive, encompassing all the characteristics of a bully. The "still in opposition" mentality of this government is one of the main reasons the Conservatives haven't capitalized in a very favorable political environment. Canadians now expect negativity, any previous effectiveness is at best countered by reaffirming the notion that they prefer the gutter. Maybe Dion takes a hit, but that works in concert with the perception that this gang is nasty to the core, at best a draw, at worst you actually undermine your own brand. Don't believe me, the polls consistently show that the Conservatives are actually turning off key demographics, and one of the core reasons revolves around the "mean" factor. It's entirely self-evident, and yet it continues, which might speak to true nature, rather than tactical preferences.
This government is largely made up of reactionaries. More about what they dislike, tearing down, disassembling, rather than any thoughts of vision or creating. It views our institutions with negativity, it begins with hostility, it starts with "we hate Liberals" and proceeds from this inspiration. With that in mind, the ads make sense, entirely consistent with the core motivations- they just can't help themselves. The new Conservative Party is simply a negative first entity, and the ads, just an extension of an entire philosophy.
I think it speaks volumes, when the devoted grassroots begins to question the approach. If partisans aren't impressed, it seems almost ridiculous to believe that ordinary citizens, with no vested interest, are moved.