Negative campaigning can be useful. We need voices to point out the frailties of our society. But our attack ads are getting brutal. Who do we think we are — Americans?
With the Liberals about to name a new leader tomorrow, the Harper Conservatives are already poised to launch attack ads against the likely winner. Justin Trudeau is poised not to retaliate.
His reason not to fight back: attack ads denigrate the entire political process, causing people to disengage and stay home. Can anybody be that nice? If he thought they worked wouldn’t he use them? His first 30-second TV spot could be an attack ad against those who run attack ads. The real reason might be that he despises the whole notion of attack ads. It’s his campaign and only if it feels right to him will it ring true.
We’re big kids, we know that most everything in politics is done for effect. U.S. President Barack Obama likes Five Guys Burgers. That’s right, it was founded by five U.S. small businessmen and is very popular in the swing states. Can there be enough good effect from a squeaky-clean Justin Trudeau campaign? Not in the debates, not in the press conferences, not in the stumping. But in the 30-second ads? Yes.
Trudeau and I may be swimming upstream here. All political pundits smell disaster. The media is reporting that Trudeau won’t go negative. How brilliant is that when pitted against Steven Harper? What’s he going to do? Just stand there while the Conservative attack machine fills him full of holes?’
Has Trudeau’s strategy ever been effective? I worked on Peter Lougheed’s campaign in 1971. In April of that year, the Alberta Progressive Conservative party held eight seats in the Alberta legislature. In September of that year he held 49 seats, having unseated a 35-year-old Social Credit government.
The Social Credit party actually blamed the ads for their demise. The ads always showed Peter Lougheed as a leader, a statesman. Alberta citizens felt a sense of fresh things in the air. Attack ads? Are you kidding? Neither he nor any member of his party ever mentioned the Social Credit Party or its leader, Harry Strom.
So, Trudeau, why not give it a shot? In your paid political announcements focus on your plans for bettering the education of our First Nations people or increasing funding for skills development or making post-secondary education more available, but bite the bullet and don’t mention the lousy job the current government is doing. There will be other opportunities.
Good, next step: Be for everything and against nothing. You are not against big business, you are for small business. You are for a prosperous middle-class. Bequeath all the against to Thomas Mulcair.
Rhetoric? Of course. Do bear in mind that there’s good rhetoric and bad rhetoric. Sort of like cholesterol. But it can never be exposed as rhetoric. Let’s look at some good rhetoric from your recent interview at the Empire Club in Toronto. It gets my vote for the first line of your very first 30-second ad. You’re on the move, people of every age and nationality are pressing forward to shake your hand and embrace you. You’re the kind of accessible leader that Canada wants. And here come the first words of your first ad: ‘I believe a strong economy and a strong sense of social justice go together.’ Cool.
Here’s the best reason for Trudeau not to use attack ads: these ads fare best as weapons of mass destruction. The attacking party leader is absent until their final voice of approval. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a candidate as engaging and appealing as Trudeau. He must appear in every ad, top to bottom. Thus, he can’t possibly lead the attack. So instead, we see an articulate visionary charting the course of our nation through the eyes of tomorrow with "optimism, compassion and generosity." Doesn’t sound that bad.
Winnipeg native Perry Rosemond is an accomplished producer of entertainment. He conceived and produced Peter Lougheed’s TV campaign when no one knew him. Lougheed went on to overthrow the Social Credit dynasty in Alberta.