In politics, rule number one is define or be defined. Conservatives, small and large C, are doing precisely what some of us had warned they would do: They are unearthing unhelpful facts about Bob Rae’s ruinous reign and publicizing them.
They’re doing to Rae what they did, so successfully, to Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff: They’re shaping impressions about Rae before Rae does.
The best strategy, then, isn’t to call for yet more laws restricting legitimate political speech.
The best strategy is to hit first, and twice as hard. Be swift and brutal.
Remind people that Harper moved us from a surplus to a deficit. That he didn’t see the recession coming. That he wants to dismantle health care. That he favours Alberta over other provinces. That he has a far-right SoCon agenda. Whatever you do, progressives, do it now. Don’t wait.
Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff complained about how mean Stephen Harper is, and it got them precisely nowhere.
The best response to nasty attack ads then is simple: Make your own attack ads, fast, and make ’em nastier.
Define or be defined, Liberals are well aware how failure to adhere to Kinsella's rule has cost us DEARLY in the past. Perhaps the party gets it now, efforts to set up a contingency fund to help define the new leader on our own terms. However, that seems a long term strategy, in the immediate, it remains unclear how we do fight back, compete with a well armed opponent. I'm a bit surprised the party hasn't pivoted off the hardly seen NCC ad and used it as a fundraising plea for cash to do just what Kinsella argues, "fight back", send a message, offer a quick response. There is something to be said for the distant third party getting into a tit for tat with the government, this dynamic works on a host of levels.
I agree with everything Kinsella argues, except for the last sentence. "Make 'em nastier", that approach strikes me as potentially outdated. Hear me out. Attack ads do work, I don't dispute that for one second. However, it is also true that voter turnout is on the wane, part of this equation is the "turnoff" factor, the discourse so sullied, nasty, petty, that people are simply tuning out the process. Is a race to the bottom really the best option for the Liberals? In the last election, the one party that attempted to offer positivity seemed to get traction, any Conservative movement really a reaction to the NDP ascension. In the last Ontario election, the PC's were full of piss and vinegar, but the seminal moment for me was Hudak offering an attack instead of "vision" as requested in debate, it highlighted the notion of requiring something more than nastiness.
Liberals need to hit back, we can't just sit back and take shots from ankle biters without a returning kick to the chops coming from our side. That said, I'm not sure the traditional retort is the best option anymore, if one believes in some evolution within the electorate. It's important that any response avoid becoming such a turnoff that the whole affair resembles a mutual destruction society. The best response to cookie cutter attack ads- that offer ZERO imagination- is perhaps a whimsical response, humour, clever without the vitriol. I'm not sure nastier works anymore, if you take the electorate as a whole, clearly they seem unimpressed by the level of discourse. A successful brand moving forward unlocks the new theorem that speaks to want, while simultaneously addressing your opponents shortfalls.
I see the race to the bottom appealling to an ever narrowing audience. It doesn't mean the attack ad isn't effective, necessary, only that people aspire to more than mud slinging, at a certain point it all gets lost in a haze of negativity and disinterest takes hold. I would argue we are in the phase now where apathy and that disinterest needs to be addressed, so the successful parties of the future will be the one's that figure out how to make their arguments, blunt criticisms, without mirroring the familiar opponent techniques. Perhaps that view is naive, but there is empirical underpinning to suggest a new approach could find fertile ground.