Sunday, August 10, 2008

Questioning Gutter Politics

Another Conservative blogger is questioning the Conservatives "all negative, all the time" approach, an opinion we've heard before recently. Let's hope the Conservative Party doesn't heed some good advice, because for the all the bluster about "negative ads work", they have accomplished squat, in terms of expanding the Conservatives support:
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.

26 comments:

Mushroom said...

Read Thomas Frank's "The Wrecking Crew". A few Con bloggers can question but frankly, they don't matter.

"It's our turn at the public trough", many Conservative supporters say. The thing is. Why are we surprise by it?

Who has emerged as the main benefactors in the last two years? Fraser Institute for one, being the most prominent private think tank. Public relations firms, believe it or not. Sandra Buckler, Kory Tenecyke, Deb Hutton, and Leslie Noble all have major roots there. I can mention a few polling and market research firms at the same time.

In a way, gutter politics are a facade. It masks one thing. A government that continued to be obsessed with spin.

RuralSandi said...

Funny, when speaking to some friends at a BBQ about negative ads, etc. - each one said it was this type of strategy that brought the US George W. Bush.

Can Canadians be that stupid? Probably.

You know, when you can only go negative it means you haven't enough positive to offer - and that should be a fire alarm.

Anonymous said...

I think we Liberals would also benefit from going more into policy than always opposing everything which is negative. The Green Shift is welcome because if finally accomplishes that. I also find that many Liblogs are getting too negative as well. It used to be the right that was always complaining about the media. Now we're starting to do it.

Mushroom said...

"I also find that many Liblogs are getting too negative as well."

We Libloggers were the Official Opposition when the caucus chose to play empty chairs and make token opposition to bills.

I would like to see more ideological debates among Libloggers. More like, what is the matter with Harper's neo-con agenda? What is the future of Canadian liberalism? Does Canada need to develop a moral and ethical foreign policy? How can the Liberals improve the delivery of Canada's public services? By doing so, we can propose a broad based agenda instead of relying on the Green Shift. A solid policy platform, but one that is still a work in progress.

Steve V said...

"I also find that many Liblogs are getting too negative as well. It used to be the right that was always complaining about the media. Now we're starting to do it."

I see nothing wrong with crying foul, when warranted. I don't perceive that as negative, more of a "fact check" nature. Silence is tantamount to passive acceptance, pointing out what amounts to nonsensical claims is constructive.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I agree that the Liberals need to become more of an opposition party and keep scandels and back door deals out in the open. Harper won the last election by keeping the scandels on the back burner while presenting new ideas and polices even though he tactfully avoided the real Conservative agenda.

One interesting thing that no one has looked at is why the polls don't change much. At 36% in the last election I beleive that that is the maximum pc support the Cons. will ever get. Most female pcers are turned off and if the Liberals target the older ones they can make life interesting in both Ontario and Quebec especially in close ridings. That pc vote will be the deciding factor in which party is the government next time.

Calgary Junkie said...

What you guys are missing is that, while the Conservative Party is dishing out the negative stuff, the Conservative Government is dishing out the positive stuff.

The governement radio ads about the Quebec 400th, product safety, talking to your kids about drugs, etc have to be factored in to the overall analysis of Conservative messaging.

As to the effectiveness of these negative ads (I would characterize them as being hardball), that's hard to guage, until after an election. While the published CPC poll numbers are still in the low to mid 30's, who's to say that if there were NO negative ads, those poll numbers might be 5 points lower ? There is just no way of knowing.

BTW, Gordon O'Connor, speaking to Dave Rutherford a couple of weeks ago, stated that the Tory internal polls had us at 36 %.

Steve V said...

"What you guys are missing is that, while the Conservative Party is dishing out the negative stuff, the Conservative Government is dishing out the positive stuff."

The Cons have ran six separate attack ad campaigns directed at the Liberals, not ONE campaign with a positive message. Your website is a cesspoll of juvenile nonsense, more items on Dion than you own leader. Positive stuff? Please.

burlivespipe said...

It seems to be a two-plank plan, where they innundate the public with negative attacks on the only other (realistic) option; while they get covered in mud, it stains the Liberal brand. Very similar to how Bush took down Kerry, a decorated war hero - went right at his strength.
By the time the election comes, the CONs suddenly shift to a more positive, likely opaque platform, trying to sound like the voice of authority.
As mentioned, the scary thing is it worked down south and brought in one of the most corrupt, criminal duly elected gov'ts in history.
And CON supporters are endorsing the same strategy (and many of the rationales that prompted republicans, too).
The question is, how do we combat that?

Steve V said...

"By the time the election comes, the CONs suddenly shift to a more positive, likely opaque platform, trying to sound like the voice of authority."

I'm expecting that too, come election time we will see positive ads.

JimmE said...

Calgary Junkie:

"What you guys are missing is that, while the Conservative Party is dishing out the negative stuff, the Conservative Government is dishing out the positive stuff."

Really? Like the CAF ads that look like they come straight from the World of Warcraft? or how 'bout the 72 hours GET PREPAIRED fear fest? When will Canada get our own Terror Alert christmas tree lights? Or my pylon of an MP's householder that looks more like it was produced by the folks who came up with Oily?

Steve, I can hardly wait for the the 21st century's version of THE LAND IS STRONG.

Calgary Junkie said...

"Positive stuff? Please."

Read my post again. Like I said, the positive stuff is coming from the Conservative Government, as for example from the anti-drug radio ads.

I don't know what you guys are complaining about here anyway. This is just hardball politics. It's no big deal. Every party does it, some more than others, and at different times. Maybe it bugs you that the negative ads are outside of a campaign period, I dunno ?

Harper can resort to such advertising tactics now, largely because he has money to spare from his supporters. If you guys donated more money to the LPC, then I'm sure they would counter the negative Greenshift ads with positive ads of their own at this time.

Steve V said...

junkie

Maybe you should read the post, it seems YOUR guys don't like it either.

BTW, still waiting for "research" you promised two months ago on how the tarsands account for 40% of Ontario manufacturing jobs. Did you educate yourself?

JimmE said...

Calgary Junkie,

Dude, respectfully, you're the one in need of re-reading. CAF, Householders, & 72-Hours are ALL G of C publicity ALL are negative & meant to engender fear. I'll admit the Grits & Ditto-heads are tied in the polls 'cause of this out-of-writ negative campaign. But to echo the post, can you name 3 positive NEW things the present PM has done that is not breaking, or taking something apart? Give me 1 achievement where as a Canadian you can look with pride? One international forum where someone from abroad has not said "What's wrong with Canada?" One Summit the present PM was not an embarrassment? The ONLY positive I can think of is he's getting real good at building his fire wall around Alberta.

Calgary Junkie said...

BTW, still waiting for "research" you promised two months ago on how the tarsands account for 40% of Ontario manufacturing jobs.

That wasn't me.

jimme, read this:

60 Harper Government Accomplishments, each with its own link

knb said...

I'm expecting that too, come election time we will see positive ads.

Maybe, but as Calgary Junkie is pointing out, even their positive is negative.

If you think about what they are likely to run on, more crime bills, uh, I'm having trouble here thinking of much else. Product Safety? (Hmm, even these two don't make sense given that crime is on the decline and they are removing food inspection programs.) But, if they did run on that, their ads would be all about scaring everyone.

Steve V said...

junkie

That's the best you can do, some link to a blogger compilation? Thanks for proving everyone's point.

Anonymous said...

Mushroom,

You said:

"...I would like to see more ideological debates among Libloggers. More like, what is the matter with Harper's neo-con agenda? What is the future of Canadian liberalism? Does Canada need to develop a moral and ethical foreign policy? How can the Liberals improve the delivery of Canada's public services? By doing so, we can propose a broad based agenda instead of relying on the Green Shift. A solid policy platform, but one that is still a work in progress."

I totally agree with you. A problem with the LPC, is that the Liberal Party instead of re-thinking its platforms and re-creating itself, just decided to dust itself off and bull its way back to the front of the line.

It does not have a cohesive purpose at this moment and will not capture the public's attention until it gets one. The public's attention, by the way, also means party contributions.

The LPC has to mean something positive. It has to resonate with Canadian's. A successful political party can't be Canada's conscience, or its politically correct big brother.

Until the LPC understands that:

-voters and campaign donaters actually were disgusted with Morgantaler's OofC.
-we really do need an immigration strategy.
-we really do have to crack down on violent crime.
-we really do have to solve Crown responsibilities around aboriginal issues and not just pretend to.
-we really do have to get the Feds out of doubling up with the provinces mandate.
-we really do have to set productivity as a societal goal.
-a lot of people really don't want their tax dollars spent on all the politically correct "fun" stuff like challenging our own Charter, giving money so rock bands can tour or rich political advocates advocates like Avi Lewis can have his travel subsidized, or putting taxpayers money into film porn or violence.
-we really do need a functioning military.

Without the LPC creating itself into soemthing people can vote for, it won't get enough votes to govern. No matter how much nasty venom it spits at Harper.

And back to the point of the thread, I also agree the CPC should quit spitting nasty venom too.


Tomm

Steve V said...

Tomm

Your first point is Morgentaler?? Voters disgusted? You mean the wingnut fringe? Weak stuff.

Mushroom said...

"I'm expecting that too, come election time we will see positive ads."

From a party addicted to spin? Good luck. I expect more "Dion is not a leader" ads and it will be a central part of the campaign literature put out by Harper and Layton. Until Dion gets his leadership numbers higher, then the two will shift course.

"-voters and campaign donaters actually were disgusted with Morgantaler's OofC.
-we really do need an immigration strategy.
-we really do have to crack down on violent crime.
-we really do have to solve Crown responsibilities around aboriginal issues and not just pretend to.
-we really do have to get the Feds out of doubling up with the provinces mandate.
-we really do have to set productivity as a societal goal.
-a lot of people really don't want their tax dollars spent on all the politically correct "fun" stuff like challenging our own Charter, giving money so rock bands can tour or rich political advocates advocates like Avi Lewis can have his travel subsidized, or putting taxpayers money into film porn or violence.
-we really do need a functioning military."

Tomm,

We know one thing. The Grits don't want voters who stand for
what you describe above. This looks like Harper's checklist. Let me review this.

- When will Harper re-criminalize abortion? Test pattern.
- When will Harper start fingerprinting refugee claimants?
- Will Harper re-institute a mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers and child murderers?
- Vote for Stephen Harper or the founding peoples of Canada will be reduced to living in Indian reservations. Good thinking, Tomm. I dare Harper to put out this campaign literature.
- Harper's government has spent more than any of his predecessors since Pearson. You call this fiscal federalism? Check again.
- Define productivity. Harper lacks ideological focus, preferring his focus groups. I would like a more ideological Harper. Maybe it may manifest itself until the policy conference. One good reason for Dion to wait until the winter to have an election.
- Money that is earmarked for the fun stuff you mentioned are allocated to polling and focus groups. Furthermore, Harper has not really turned off the taps with regards to cultural programs from Quebec. This was what the appointment of Josee Verner at Heritage promised.
- About military spending. Gordon O'Connor panicked when the Department of National Defence came up with the bill. Why we are not seeing more sabre ratting from Bernier and Emerson vis a vis Darfur and Georgia?

Thanks for this checklist, Tomm. Libloggers should have fun making fun you tube videos why Canadians should not vote for Stephen Harper!!!

Anonymous said...

shroom,

I see you are back to the old "scary" Harper mantra. It's not selling anymore. It isn't bringing in money and it isn't bringing in new votes. Just keep shovelling the hidden agenda crap and forget about building policy Canadian's can consider. Soldiers, with guns, in the street. That's the ticket.

Steve,

A lot of people, including me, have cheered Morgentaler for his work, courage, and convictions. However he is a divisive figure in this country. Beverley MacLachlin's group made a politically righteous choice and it hurts Canada.

It is a slap in the face to anybody that feels that the human life begins at the point of conception. Many good Canadian people feel that way. Who is Beverley McLachlin to publicly slap those people in the face?

Why don't we have any abortion laws? Should we have total freedom to abort after 3 months? 6months? 8.8 months?

This is wrong and Morgentaler has been front and centre in ensuring we can't get political traction to fix it.

He was a divisive choice.

Tomm

JimmE said...

Junkie:

Better get more smack, 'cause yer ditto-headed website has noth'in. I think I asked for stuff that didn't break stuff, & you got noth'in.

Steve V said...

Tomm

It wasn't divisive for society, it just riled up the Conservative base. To put that forth that as some measure of what Libs need to understand is just ridiculous.

Mushroom said...

Tomm,

I prefer a scary Harper to the one we have now. If you look at the bottom four points, you get a fatter, testy version of Brian Mulroney. So it is thin gruel. Can you see the Reform Party diehards swallowing this agenda forever? I don't.

Ironically you have raised a paradox that the Grits should exploit. Why do the hard right support Stephen Harper when he is moving away from the populist roots of Social Credit and the Reform Party? Has the Cons done enough to alleviate rural poverty, except extending the amnesty for the gun registry? Thomas Frank's first book "What is the Matter of Kansas" hits the point.

FYI Tomm. I like David Orchard when he was with the Progressive Conservatives. Mike Huckabee was my preferred candidate for the Republicans and Stockwell Day is probably the most authentic of Harper's cabinet minister. I detest Stephen Harper, sometimes to the point of irrationality against my better judgment :(

Anonymous said...

Shroom,

I know. A lot of people get a gut level negative response to Harper. I, of course, have a gut level positive response.

I'll make you a deal. I will try not to swoon over everything he does, if you try and consider which of his actions and policies are actually good for our country.

Tomm

Mushroom said...

"if you try and consider which of his actions and policies are actually good for our country."

Tomm,

There will always be room for the right, since I believe in a democratic system. But when Steve comes around and posts something you don't like, you and Wilson come and defend Harper hook, line, and sinker. You know that Steve does not give Dion a free ride, especially on the Grits' dismal numbers in Quebec. I don't on many issues, particularly C-50. Maybe more objective talking points from you on the right may be helpful.

Why not throw a few Fraser Institute studies or something from the American Enterprise Institute while you are at it. You guys seem to thrive on creating these private think tanks as a major policy. "The Wrecking Crew" was a critique against them, especially their increasing influence among the Beltway elite since Reagan.