Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Changing Gears

Today's Travers piece provides a pretty fair analysis of where the Liberals find themselves. If you accept the premise that the Liberals suffered a setback last month- which seems pretty self evident at this point- then it's time to entertain ways to re seize the momentum. Within that reality, it's also important to point out that "panic" isn't part of the equation, because the Liberals are still relatively well placed to have a realistic shot at winning the next election.

I actually see this change in tone surrounding the Liberals as a positive development, thinking long term. While it's a sound historical truth that "government's defeat themselves", this thesis can render the opposition far too careful and timid for its own good. It's hard to resist the temptation to merely not make waves, let your opponent self destruct, particularly when you know the news of the day is almost guaranteed to reflect poorly on the government. With that in mind, it's not really a strategic criticism that the Liberals have largely chose this path. However, with recent developments, it's becoming very obvious that this approach might be inadequate, or maybe that it fails to maximize the odds in its passivity.

When everything is going you way, there's no sense that tinkering or a rethink is required. When you meet with certain setbacks, then the status quo strategy can be challenged and reaccessed. I would argue the Liberals are in the midst of a "rethink" as we speak, at least I hope and assume so. It's time to be more proactive, and really offer an alternative vision that is easily distinguishable from the Conservatives. To articulate a clear choice demands a boldness which has been lacking to date. The problem with being bold, it comes with inherent risk. However, it is worth acknowledging that "playing it safe" is also risky, especially now when we see more and more evidence that people will demand more from Ignatieff and the Liberals.

Ignatieff's speech last week in Britain serves as the philosophical underpinning for Liberal policy. It's far too theoretical, and frankly involved, to resonate with Canadians, but the vision gives a coherence if it also comes with practical, policy examples. What Ignatieff offered, was an approach that rejects the dogma of the right and left, but draws on both in a balanced and pragmatic way. A complex world doesn't fit nicely into approaches that are almost mathematical in their ridigity. The fact of the matter with many of the tired ideologies, you already know the answer to any question prior to the question- they often fail to incorporate inherent contradictory factors that don't lend themselves to positions of purity. What some would argue as "principled", I see as more intellectually lazy and often simplistic. The type of "liberalism" Ignatieff exposed brings with it the necessary ideological space to truly be pragmatic- a critic would say "mushy", but really I see it as freedom. In this way, the Liberals are free to meander as they see fit, as they react to events that unfold and the educated knowledge attained- a loose moral imperative that also incorporates the evidence when offering solutions.

The trick now for the Liberals is to move from the theoretical to practical, to put out ideas that show voters how Ignatieff will apply his approach. I would argue the standard lines aren't enough, the almost pandering policy positions to typical to resonate. In other words, promising the world to everyone, while simultaneously lacking the strength to oppose or offend any subset or interest, doesn't capture anybody's imagination, it's just more of the same and it will be viewed as such.

It's true, the Liberals could still win the next election by merely opposing, highlighting the shortcomings of the Conservatives. I would argue that approach is a 50/50 proposition, that's how I would catergorize the odds as they stand now, with the same approach moving forward. Not bad, but when you factor in what you want to hear, outside of partisan calculation, it seems a pretty pedestrian approach. We've got the impressive "mind" at the top, but it's wasted if we're hesitant in letting it roam. Recent events make safe less secure, so in the long run, it might just make for a far more compelling presentation come the next election.


Calgary Junkie said...

Harper has helped you guys out by, as I wrote in Steve's previous posting, telegraphing that he will campaign against the Coalition.
Harper will offer up more than that, of course, such as a review of what he's accomplished, and what he plans to do in the future.

But the big offensive from him will focus on the Coalition. Now, do you guys want to play defense throughout the campaign ? Obviously not. Which means you need a compelling counter-narrative from Iggy. What that is I don't know, but I agree with Steve, it should be some bold policy. Hey, how about "legalizing marijuana" ?

sjw said...

While I would absolutely love to see the Liberals run a legalize marijuana element to their campaign it likely isn't very practical. However what I do think practical is reigniting the Chretien government's idea to decriminalize the much maligned weed. Sure it would be controversial and sure the Conservatives would make much hay out of it, but it is an issue that has a great potential to mobilize what is probably a very untapped segment of our voting populace.

Steve V said...

If you look at the demographics and support based on voter affiliation and regions, it really isn't that bold for the Liberals to consider some move towards decriminalization. The fear is you open yourself up to Conservative hysterics, but maybe it's time to quit worrying about how they react, simply because they'll find stuff no matter. I mean, the Liberals have bent over on crime legislation to look credible, but we still have continual misinformation campaigns coming from the Cons. If that's the case, damned if you, damned if you don't, then why not put your stamp on the issue, rather than just react to fear mongering all the time.

LMA said...

Events are already "unfolding". The Arctic Ocean will be ice free and open to international shipping within the next decade. Do we not need a government that is planning long term with respect to climate change? Why are Liberals searching for an issue to call their own when there are such dramatic changes staring us in the face?

Demosthenes said...

I think it would be wiser for Liberals to agree on a philisophical underpinning of their party, instead of having it imposed on them by a leader they never voted for.

Demosthenes said...

(Not that it's a bad speech. It actually does a good job of laying out what modern liberalism is. But it's something best hashed out at that mythical "thinkers' conference". It shouldn't be dictated.)