Monday, June 29, 2009

On Winning Narratives

Part of the reason the Liberal strategy failed during the election "show down", is because we over reached. We weren't prepared to fully follow through on our demands, which made a climb down inevitable. However, the underlying thesis of Ignatieff's approach is a sound one and should be used as a point of differentiation.

Warren's post today highlights a theme I would argue should become a centerpiece of our message:
Now, Michael Ignatieff is not a professional politician or a lobbyist, like Harper is and was. Ignatieff has done other things with his life.

Because of that, he has — genuinely and truly - tried to do things differently since entering public life. Because of that, he has come to believe that Canadians are fed up with politicians who put naked grabs for power before everything else. They’re fed up with the kind of games Harper excels in.

So, when Harper’s Reformatories whipped up a crisis at the end of last year, my leader had lots of people — including some in the Liberal Party — urging him to push Harper out and lead a coalition government. Ignatieff certainly could have done that. But that just isn’t how Ignatieff wanted to win.

I understand why you don't directly respond to your opponent's attack lines, because effectively you've lost half the battle arguing on their chosen ground. That said, there are ways to address any festering negatives, in a way that highlights a strength. Ignatieff isn't a career politician, he isn't a polished operative, forever consumed with tactics and posturing. That fact provides a telling contrast with Harper, and it also speaks to voter cynicism.

Ignatieff should use his past as part of a more over arching message. Rather than "just visiting", Ignatieff actually enjoys a compelling story, a pedigree that shows a wide array of experience, all of it outside of politics and partisanship. If one wants a compare and contrast, then you can frame Ignatieff as the worldly figure making significant contributions, Harper the perpetual backroom partisan, a political creature that embodies everything that turns off Canadians, that alienates them from their political class. You don't react to Conservative attacks, you turn the argument on your head as a choice between politics as usual and a different approach.

The Liberals made a mistake, part of this was due to the Dion legacy. In order to avoid the dreaded "weak" characterization, we tried to make Ignatieff appear strong and steady, but in so doing set himself up to fall short. Beyond that though, the idea of trying to make Parliament work, attempting to find common ground at the expense of pure political calculus is one that resonates. Canadians are largely disgusted with all political parties, the strategic mistake of the Liberals undercut what could have, and still can be, a positive narrative. As cheesy as it seems, the notion of a "new kind of politics" is poised to be a winning storyline.

As we head into the summer and beyond, the Liberals should embrace Ignatieff's past, in a way that puts the emphasis on Harper's less than attractive characteristics. Harper's chief weaknesses revolve around the sense that he's hyper-partisan, petty, mean spirited, forever playing political games. Ignatieff succeeds when he distances himself from the status quo politician. I would embrace his relative inexperience in the arena, highlight the fact that he isn't seasoned. Surrounded by career politicians, the "outside the beltway" approach to politics has an audience, just waiting for a messenger.

There's a certain authenticity when I've heard Ignatieff speak on his approach, how he sees his role and his obligations. That message has never really been co-ordinated, more snippets here and there, but nothing terribly coherent or purposely repetitive. Reading Kinsella, I wonder if the Liberals would be wise to focus and brand Ignatieff as an political anomaly, address voter cynicism head on and make a plea for a new kind of discourse.

On the practical front, we need to arm Ignatieff will real world examples of how his thesis would apply. If you want to address attacks, without being reactive, Ignatieff should tout his background as representative of a unique path to ascendency. The idea of a career politician isn't a plus in today's environment, being a novice brings opportunity to mold. If Canadians get a sense that the Liberals are lead by a guy who isn't business as usual, an honorable man that conducts himself in a high signal way, that could well be the frame that puts the Liberals back in government.

38 comments:

bgrice said...

Obama certainly had soem success with the idea of being a political anomoly.

IMHO, I thnk the best thing the rank and file can do for Ignatieff is to stop branding our success at avoiding an eletion as a failure. It is hard for the media to call it a win when 50% ofd the Liberal blogosphere is calling it a loss.

RuralSandi said...

Yup, while Harper was sitting on his ass most of his life, under a desk lamp, planning, scheming, strategising and getting his advice from an American draft dodger who's trying to Republicanize Canada, Ignatieff was off to the world, learning, understanding and gaining knowledge of international issues, getting international recognition, etc.

Steve V said...

"It is hard for the media to call it a win when 50% ofd the Liberal blogosphere is calling it a loss."

I'm not much into putting lipstick on a pig for appearances sake. It is what it is...

Steve V said...

Sandi

Xactly :)

Jennifer Smith said...

I'm not sure the MSM gives a particular hoot what the Liberal blogosphere is saying. I suspect they are more concerned with perpetuating the politics-as-sport narrative because it's so easy to write and sell: winners, losers, and who's scoring points.

The Star's recent series on the decline of Canadian democracy gives me some hope that at least some members of the media are willing to break that mold, and it could potentially be used by the Liberal Party as a blueprint for democratic reform. Take each of those articles, explain exactly how the Liberals would fix the problem - and don't be shy about criticizing Liberal governments of the past.

If we're going to represent a "new kind of politics", we need to at least acknowledge the role Martin, Chretien and even Trudeau played in establishing the "old" politics.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure this narrative works. Translated it is like saying this guy spent most of his life becomong a famous dermatologist and now he thinks he is qualified to be head brain surgeon.
Or, this guy wrote books with a UK publisher, did his thesis on London jails, gave talks about British Liberal philosophers, was a Don Newman light UK late night talk show host, is a professional speaker and now feels qualified to manage a multi trillion dollar economy and policies for 33 million people.
Somehow....it is a stretch.

Cari said...

I think Ignatieff taught at 2 Universities while he was in England....
and I am sure, did his thesis on many many other things. He also wrote what later became a movie..in fact 2 movies, different books and subjects. Do you think they will ever make a movie on Harper's book "Hockey"

Cari said...

Ignatieff also taught at Oxford, Cambridge, the University of California, and the London School of Economics!!!

LMA said...

Reframing Ignatieff's international achievements and experience as an asset rather than a liability makes sense. The new style of politics requires a leader who can see beyond our borders and co-operate both nationally and internationally to work for Canadians, and Ignatieff should be framed as that type of leader. Harper was not able to take a global view of the economic recession and only co-operated with a stimulus package and EI reform when threatened with an election.

Anonymous said...

Problem with claiming Iggy "taught" at those Unibversities. Anybody can check the facts. He was never a Professor and never had tenure and never was in charge of any student curriculum. At Oxford he had a "Research Chair" - and was paid a small honorarium- it is an honorary type thing. At the others he was a visiting lecturer - almost exclusively on the Liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin who he had interviewed for a number of years then wrote a book on. Most of these lectures you had to buy tickets at the door and that is how ignatieff earned a living.
He is doing a return engagement on the same topic next week (July 9th I think) in the UK - charging 120 pounds at the door to talk about Isaiah Berlin who has nothing to do with Canada.
I'm not sure how keeping saying he was a "professor" is even honest. At Harvard he was the Director of a Think Tank called the Carr Centre which rents a building on the Harvard campus and is not funded by Harvard - it is like the Manning Centre of C.D. Howe Institute.
Just keep it more honest because these nose stretchers on his resume will come under review and if you sort of stretch the truth on your resume what else will you lie about?
He has some real accomplishments like having a fiction book nominated for an award but keep it honest- check for yourself and then don't buy into the padded resume or there will be no credibility left.

Cari said...

Anon,look up Ignatieff on..Wikipedia..tell them they are all wrong.

Steve V said...

"I'm not sure this narrative works. Translated it is like saying this guy spent most of his life becomong a famous dermatologist and now he thinks he is qualified to be head brain surgeon. "

I'm not sure that horrible analogy works ;)

Anonymous said...

I did look up Ignatieff on Wikipedia and did a lot more browsing than that.
The term "professor", for example is used very loosly - foggy - nowhere does it state the closest he came to a real full time teaching position was when he was 28 at the Uof BC he was a teaching ASSISTANT. He wanted tenure as an assistant professor and was turned down. That's when he quit and left Canada.
You have to disect the Liberal use of famous universites he throws around and you will find he was for the most part a visiting lecturer, an honorary research chair and a few other odds and ends but NEVER a tenured Professor anywhere -ever.
I think you should focus more on the fact that he did some good documentary work while with the BBC on some of the war torn areas of the day - 20 or so years ago and also had a BBC talk show with interesting topics and guests.
Any real tenured professor would be quite put out to think this guy charged money to come and speak at their institutions and then somehow laid claim to being "on staff".
Just keep it honest - who do you think wrote Wiki and other Biographies. Iggy's wife is a publicist .

Anonymous said...

Start on Wiki where it states Ignatieff was an Assistant Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. Drill down, do some searches and you will find that is an outright fabrication. Truth - he was a teaching ASSISTANT and was denied tenure as an Assistant Professor.
When you start unravelling his Wiki bio even a novice can find exagerations and very Liberal stretches of the truth. He was/is a propagandist and many professional speakers take such , ahem, licence with the truth to earn fees on the speaking circuit which was, in actuality, his prmary source of income. If you check even last year he reported "fees from Internation speaking tours" as supplementary income to his MP salary. Current events is he is charging 120 pounds per person to give a lecture about Liberal UK philosopher Isaiah Berlin in the UK next week. He sells books and talks about them for money. Nothing wrong with that- thousands of writers do the same thing but don't stretch the truth. If he charges fees at a University venue to promote his books it is not really honest to call him a "staff member" of that University or a professor - don't you agree the truth should not need stretching? don't

Jerry Prager said...

Anonymous,
And Harper using the term economist is rather stretching the facts too, a masters degree is all well and good, but it isn't a Ph'd, it's a guy who wasn't interested enough to think deeply on the subject (as opposed to say a person who was too poor to get a Ph'd. It's all Haristite Lack of Common Sense and Reagan corporatist trickle down (as dysfunctional as the Reagan foreign policy that just allowed the military in Honduras to overthrow a democratically elected president.)
As for Iggy, he talked tough and did nothing, that's what constitutes a failure, nothing new in those politics.
One more of the same and he's toast.

Anonymous said...

I just think we blew an excellent chance. We were up 5 points in the polls, almost as many points as when Martin picked up him minority.

We're giving Harper another chance to regroup. Chretien, who's judgment I trust in these matters said he'd go. We keep making Harper look like a strategic genius. We keep letting him off the hook.

Steve V said...

anon

I find it hilarious that someone is trying to criticize his resume as exaggerated. The guy was named on of the top 100 intellectuals in the world, he's held posts that most academics would DIE for. And yet, some tool without a name thinks he has a scoop. You look like a moron. Stick to just visiting, because compared with Stevo, it's not a pretty site for you guys.

Cari said...

That Anon has it all figured out for us, I guess. Harper is the book writer and economist, much smarter that Michael..big laughs . If that is what he wants to believe, I guess it is so.

Cari said...

Anon......, the Carr center is part of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Anonymous said...

Economist is a degree not a profession. I think Harper is actually more well known as a Canadian policy wonk. He has been studying and analyzing political policy and behind the scenes writing policy since the days before the Reform party was formed and then he wrote Reform party policy for Manning; tried to influence Federal/Provincial policy as head of the National Citizen's coalition for a few more years then as an opposition MPkept proposing bills and amendments to bills until he was in government and could actually enact some.
Problem with Harper - he may be one of the most acknowledged experts in Canadian policy and hius background in studying economics probably helps with realistic applications but he did not study other country's policies like Ignatieff did. Maybe researching precedents but Ignatieff actually LIVED under UK and American polkicy so can understand better.

Steve V said...

"He has been studying and analyzing political policy and behind the scenes writing policy since the days before the Reform party was formed "

And yet, after a year in government, with 13 years to unleash his policy arsenal, the Conservatives under Harper needed the summer break to come up some NEW ideas because they were "bereft" of an original thought. Harper isn't a policy wonk, he's a contrarian. Everything he stood for was a reaction to Liberal policies, the "anti" approach.

What Harper is, a hyper-partisan who sees politics as game play. He proves this everyday, like appointing that asshat Pierre to the supposedly serious bi-partisan EI group.

As for Harper the economist, I challenge one of his supporters to invest their life savings in Harper's hand and let him invest shrewdly. I dare you.

Anonymous said...

Harper has an Economist Degree. Is is qualified to be a Professor of Economy or whatever you call it. However, Professors of a certain study don't have to have actually applied the knowledge they got for their degrees.
That is what is wrong with our educational system. People who have never done anything except pass tests then teach.
People that do get out and get it done.
Screwed up don't you think?

Cari said...

Ignatieff is a FULL Professor

Cari said...

Ignatieff has 11 Doctorates

Anonymous said...

What does a Full professor do? Where has he been a FULL professor if he has never had tenure as a Professor at any University (the parachute as visiting Professor to the U of T in 2005 to get him into Canada does not count )
How did Ignatieff get his doctrites and what are they?
Is that like Craig Oliver getting an Honary Doctrite a few weeks ago? What does a doctrite mean?
Just curious on how you think any of this gives him experience in Canadian policy making or management?
BTW - I have three degrees and two college professional designations and I HAVE taught real classrooms of students at a colledge level.
Does not mean I can now run a country.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous, duh, really?

" Translated it is like saying this guy spent most of his life becomong [sic] a famous dermatologist and now he thinks he is qualified to be head brain surgeon. "

"Problem with claiming Iggy "taught" at those Unibversities [sic]"

"he may be one of the most acknowledged experts in Canadian policy and hius [sic] background in studying economics probably helps"

"The term "professor", for example is used very loosly [sic]"

" Maybe researching precedents but Ignatieff actually LIVED under UK and American polkicy [sic] so can understand better."

"Is that like Craig Oliver getting an Honary Doctrite[sic] a few weeks ago? What does a doctrite[sic] mean?"

"BTW - I have three degrees and two college professional designations and I HAVE taught real classrooms of students at a colledge [sic] level"


RRRaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaight.

signed other anon

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I did not use spell check another anon.
I am over 60 (around Ignatieff's age BTW) and just had carpal tunnel surgery - My degrees are practical ones and I applied the learning for more than 30 years in the real world. I've had my fill of the "big utopian idea" blowhard philosophers we had to listen to over the years as they made the big bucks having written papers and then getting speaking fees. I preferred my technical school traiining where people who had worked in the real world taught applied and practical knowledge.
One of my professional designations is in Market Research which I also taught. I know intimately how polls are manipulated.
I did only preliminary research on Ignatieff's "credentials" and can read PR fluff a mile away.
Like I said - nothing against the Liberal brand but this guy is a poseur.
That is my opinion and when I say that when even amateur researchers start to scratch through Ignatieff's publicist's veneer you will find many foggy half truths. He may be a smart guy on a lot of things but he is not qualified to manage a country (IMO) He needs some real world experience not glib theory that makes for nice sound bites.

Ted Betts said...

Ignore the troll. He doesn't really know what he is talking about. For one, to be "denied" tenure from all those universities, one must show that he actually saught out tenure. He never did as far as I am aware.

But that is all distraction.

The reality is that Michael Ignatieff today has more world experience, more leadership experience, more executive experience, more non-sit-on-your-butt-all-day experience, more accomplishments, more recognition domestically and internationally than Harper did when he became Prime Minister.

Ignatieff has written several non-fiction books that covered Canada including True Patriot Love which he started in 2000, has written and researched two novels in and about Canada, has produced a CBC movie based on one of those novels, has won the Governor General's Medal, shortlisted for the Booker, gave the Canadian Massey Lectures. Immediately before entering politics, Ignatieff was the Director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights which is decidedly not like the National Citizens Coalition (a lobby group) but the Manning Centre comparison is somewhat accurate, but not really if you were to compare the size and scope and significance of the Carr Centre. Ignatieff ran his own successful broadcast program and has regularly been invited by international broadcasters to speak as an expert on Canada (where he spoke highly of Canada, unlike our current Prime Minister, who did the opposite). He has also represented Canada at the United Nations.

Steve, it is indeed a great narrative.

Anonymous said...

Correction: Ignatieff's FATHER George represented Canada at the United Nations many years ago on the Atomic Energy panel.
Ignatieff himself never REPRESENTED Canada officially before he entered politics in 2006. But, yes, he did acknowledge that he was born in Canada.
I am impressed by any writer/novelist/philosopher who publishes their works. It is not easy. Would that give authors such as award winning Margart Atwood or Farley Mowat or successful writers/speakers like Garth Turner or David Suzuki or biographers like Don Martin or broadcast journalists/talk show hosts like Jane Taber and Don Newman the same credentials to run a country?
Just something to think about.

Cari said...

The list of where Ignatieff got the 11 Doctorates, are listed in Wikipedia

Jennifer Smith said...

When was the last time anyone took a look at Trudeau's CV? Puhlease! The guy had a law degree that he rarely used because he hated being a lawyer, he was a part-time associate professor who spent considerably less time teaching than Ignatieff, and he'd put in a couple of years as a civil servant.

Aside from that, his primary qualification when he entered politics was that he wrote and edited an influential and somewhat radical journal. In other words, he was the 50s equivalent of a blogger. And as far as I'm concerned, he was the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had.

As for me, I'm sick to death of lawyers and businessmen and economists making all the decisions in this country. Give me more writers and teachers and intellectuals and people who run charities and soup kitchens and NGOs.

Marie said...

Trudeau was a cabinet minister for several years before he ran for Liberal leader.
Ignatieff is the only Liberal leader I think ever who has never held a cabinet post if he becomes PM. Dion had ten years experience in cabinet.
It helps to have SOME background don't you think?

Gayle said...

Well, seems to me the people in the best position to determine whether Ignatieff has what it takes to lead the country are the people in his caucus. Seems to me he has the overwhelming support of his caucus. Most of these people are seasoned politicians who might have a little insight into what it takes to do the job.

But many thanks to all of you for showing your concern. :)

Ted Betts said...

Ignatieff represented Canada on the UN committee on the use of armed forces for humanitarian intervention into rogue states. Lloyd Axworthy appointed him when Chretien was PM.

Stephen Harper, however, not only has spent his entire working life as a career politician and lobbyist living off the taxpayer dime or wealthy oil interests, he never represented Canada and never held a cabinet position and in fact spent that time slamming Canada and, while at the NCC, only had the barest minimum executive experience.

As I said, the reality is that Michael Ignatieff today has more world experience, more leadership experience, more executive experience, more non-sit-on-your-butt-all-day experience, more accomplishments, more accolades, more recognition domestically and internationally than Harper did on January 23, 2006 when he became Prime Minister.

Harper's problems as PM are not because of a lack of experience then. It is because he has been a lifelong politician without any world experience.

Jennifer Smith said...

Marie -

Not to quibble, but Trudeau was a cabinet minister for only ONE year. I'm sure if Ignatieff had been elected while there was actually a Liberal government in power he would have been in cabinet, but being a member of the opposition kinda precludes that (just ask Harper and Mulroney). Also, Ignatieff has already been an MP for a year longer than Trudeau had been when he became PM.

sjw said...

"As for me, I'm sick to death of lawyers and businessmen and economists making all the decisions in this country. Give me more writers and teachers and intellectuals and people who run charities and soup kitchens and NGOs."

Hear fucking hear.

A reader said...

"As cheesy as it seems, the notion of a 'new kind of politics' is poised to be a winning storyline."

Didn't you write virtually the same thing after Dion's leadership convention?

Steve V said...

"Didn't you write virtually the same thing after Dion's leadership convention?"

Considering how disappointed I was when we chose him, probably not. If I did, I don't see why your inmature dig is relevant here.