07.07.2015 10:40 PM

In this week’s Hill Times: hope, fear and politics

AT GATE B41, PEARSON AIRPORT- In politics, you know, the main task is getting folks to pay attention. Most of the time, they don’t.

T‎hey don’t like politics, they don’t like politicians. So they don’t vote as much as we’d like.

‎Political parties spend lots of money trying to figure out how to deal with that. Backroomers huddle in backrooms, hour after hour, trying to cook up clever ways to get people to vote for them, or against the other guys.

TV is still the best way to reach folks. Newspapers are dying; the Internet has too many channels. So TV is it. Sometimes, as much as 90 per cent of a national campaign’s budget is spent on TV spots.

Sometimes, the ads are funny. Sometimes, they’re serious. Some of them have visuals of stunning vistas and endless ‎skies and focus-grouped soft-ethnic-mixes, all atop a stirring score. Some of the spots are subtle. Some are LOUD.

All of them, however, fall into one of two categories: hope and fear. Hope and fear are the tried-and-true methods, because hope and fear work.

The Trudeau Liberals were all about the hope thing for a while, there. They even said so. “Hope and hard work,” they chirped in their ads, sounding all Obama-esque hopey and changey.

‎Now they’re onto something else, because – we suspect – they’ve lost about ten points, and they’re in third place. Their new slogan thing is “real change,” or something like that.

It’s worse than “hope and hard work,” because it’s truer of the New Democrats than it is of them – I mean, if you want CHANGE that is REAL, the socialists are safe bet, aren’t they? – but it’s still a hope-style formulation. Hope, hope, hope.

Watching a WestJet waiting area TV screen, there was the Prime Minister of the Dominion, giving a short speech on Canada Day. In it, he crisply reminded the revelers about the terror threat and whatnot – just before the skies opened up, and delivered a near-Biblical flood, as if to affirm what he had to say – and there thusly could be no doubt about the sub rosa messaging: fear. This guy knows where our fear button is, and he’s punching it like we’re all in a hot elevator stuck between floors.

He didn’t say any of the following, but – watching him in a WestJet airport lounge, delayed for interminable hours – this is what I heard: “You want someone to go hug Iran’s despotic Ayatollah Ali Khameni, now humiliating that sissy Obama at the nuclear talks in Vienna? Go vote for the bearded Bolshevik or trust fund Zoolander kid, okay? I’m not interested in being door mat to some bearded mass murderer who lives in a cave. I’d kill those guys with my bare hands if I had half a chance, and you all bloody well know it.”

This, I suspect, is what the Conservative war room was trying to say in their latest ad, but with arguably less subtlety.

I don’t have to describe the ad. You’ve heard all about it already: ISIS footage, drownings, decapitations, burnings, Justin Trudeau, blah blah blah.

The commentariat went ape about it. They were in a spit-flecked fury about the ad, naturally. “How dare you trade in such horrific images,” they howled, before heading off to binge-watch episodes of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, about which they would tweet.

Personally, ‎sitting there in the WestJet waiting area, I wasn’t that upset about the Justin-ISIS bromance ad.

Firstly, I smelled a rat. I don’t know about you, but the only place I had actually seen that ad was online‎. All the news stories about the thing said that – and the unusual 45-second length of the spot‎ made me wonder if it could be effectively broadcast, too.

There was an excellent chance, therefore, it was all a classic political bait-and-switch – drive some critical attention to a story that is unhelpful to your opponent, but do it without spending a cent.‎ And the suckers in the punditocracy will fall for it every time.

Second thing about the ad, truth be told: it wasn’t very effective, because it overstated its case. It’s like those toxic abortion leaflets landing in mailboxes all over Canada in recent days – to make their point, they rely on horrific images of the very thing (fetuses) they profess to be concerned about (fetuses). A better design of the ad could have made the same point without using ISIS’ own imagery, I reckoned.

But that criticism aside, the spot reminded me of Willie Horton. That 1988 Lee Atwater gem enraged the chattering classes plenty, too. But those weren’t the folks Willie Horton was aimed at – and, in the end, Willie Horton ‎worked with the American voters the GOP were courting, didn’t it? Yep.

Bottom line, as noted above: most of the job in politics, now, is simply getting people to pay attention. My hunch is that the hue and cry about that CPC/ISIS/JT ad has helped to achieve the mission’s key objective: i.e., to get the electorate to pay attention in the sleepy Summer months and agree, yet again, that Justin Trudeau “just isn’t ready” to deal with the Satanic horrors that seemingly occur daily in this world.

That may make you mad. That may leave you outraged. But it’s unlikely you were ever part of the audience the CPC had in mind when they did the thing up on some staffer’s computer, for about ten bucks.‎

Oh, and why was I stuck in the WestJet waiting area, for hour after hour?

Because the airline had been targeted by a bunch of bomb threats in recent days, that’s why. ‎People getting hurt jumping out of planes, planes getting grounded so the cops can search for bombs.

Hope and fear: they work.

Fear works particularly well when, you know, it corresponds with reality.


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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    “Fear works particularly well when, you know, it corresponds with reality.”

    You said it! ISIS, Putin, Iran, China’s military expansionism; this is the world we live in. This is the world the Prime Minister of Canada has to face every day, and is briefed on every day…briefings, some of which would cause sleepless nights to some on this forum.

    It has to be talked about in the political arena. Each leader has to be clear on exactly how they would deal with it; they owe this, in spades, to the electorate.

    We’re not used to this in Canada any more. This started with the Laurier Doctrine, essentially letting America cover our sorry asses for us, while we busied ourselves with more pleasant self-indulgences.

    9/11 somewhat woke Canadians up, but just a tad. Many still chose (conveniently) to think this was just America’s problem.

    Recent events have landed the real world beyond our borders right in our laps, a slap in the head to say, “Time to wake up to reality, we are neither above it nor absolved of dealing with it.”

    The left are looking for a Chamberlin to assuage their fears of having to deal with global realities and exigencies.

    The right recognize the situation, and are looking for a Chuchill to face the real world, and be prepared to deal accordingly, based upon morality and values that have been Canada’s historic and traditional trademarks in global affairs since WW1.

    These are in fact scary times, the worst I have seen in my lifetime. Talking about it, politically or otherwise is not fear mongering. It’s about facing reality, square on.

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    Russ says:

    Fear (negative ads) works because our emotional reaction to it is several tomes stronger than to a message of hope. Jack Layton’s final epistle is long forgotten as we see these images of horror. Don’t blame the politicians, it’s how we are hard wired.

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    JH says:

    The media are such hypocrites – they show those types of photos and videos over and over to gain eyes, desperate to recover their lost audience.
    These are the people who always demand that, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. The latest joke is to see or hear the press folks like the two Jens – Gerson and Ditchburn whining about politicians who ignore them or won’t answer their questions. They all yap about Harper or yesterday about Trudeau and Mulcair not answering questions about the Mohawks at that meeting in Montrea. I say good for the politicans, time the media learned a little respect.
    This is all especially funny, when you realize most folks when asked rate the media’s ethics and honesty below the politicians. Somewhere in the area of a used car salesman and I may be insulting them by saying that. Nobody pays much attention to the lame stream media anymore and most ignore them on a day to day basis anyway. Feck’em!

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      Al in Cranbrook says:


      Harper won’t dance on the head of a pin on command for them, and for this they literally hate his guts. They are so self-important, so negative, so ideologically biased, and so shamelessly childish it defies comprehension.

      Balanced reporting and commentary means nothing to them. It is their self-esteemed job to get up every morning and think of another reason to crap on this Conservative government, and/or conservatives in general, even if they have to make it up. As the old saying goes, when it comes to Harper, if he walked on water, they’d report that it’s because he doesn’t know how to swim.

      One day historians will look back on these times and ponder why finally democracy crashed and burned. And the honest ones will conclude that in large part it was because the so called “free press” or “fifth estate” became ever increasingly obsessed with shaping and aligning public opinion according to “progressive” ideology, while sacrificing truth, logic and rationality upon its altar.

      The modern MSM, frankly, make the likes of Pravda look like amateur pikers.

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        hollinm says:

        Fully agree! The journalists complain that Harper doesn’t talk to them and therefore is subverting democracy. Balderdash! The media as you say has shown themselves to be anything but fair and balanced in their reporting. When given the opportunity to ask questions of the PM you see questions like do you love Canada Mr. Harper. Or my favourite from Julie Van Dusen of the Communist Broadcasting Corporation. Why are you hiding Mr. Harper. Van Dusen has disappeared from covering Canadian politics and rightly so. Few Canadians know Mr. Harper personally. Yet daily we see vile commentary on the media boards. How do we think people get those impressions. It’s from the daily onslaught of negative media coverage.

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      davie says:

      I disagree. The mainstream media has always sold ‘individualism’ well in North America. Our star/hero (versus black hatted villains…with facial hair) system is the pointy edge of this successful sale of individualism. We even have celebrities who are celebrities because they are celebreties.
      The Conservatives have been successful in using this model in selling their leader as the only ‘man’ in the room. Listen to 10 years of Conservative backbenchers and cabinet ministers, read a decade of internet comments by Conservative backers. They all have to include laudatory effusions about their firm and manly leader.

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        Al in Cranbrook says:

        And the LPC wasn’t all about Chretien or Martin? The NDP weren’t all about Tommy Douglas, or of late, Jack Layton?

        An aside…

        I think the sudden passing of Jim Flaherty cannot be underestimated in its effect on a lot of politicians, particularly within the CPC. I read that John Baird was heard to have said, to paraphrase, “…they’re not packing me out of here in a box.” Just about all of those CPC MPs who have pulled out of the next election have put in a lot of years for the cause, as had Flaherty. In fact, many of his caucus watched while his health went south, yet he remained determined to stay on to see the job through. And then only three weeks after retirement, he’s suddenly gone. That kind of experience, particularly among those who are close to someone, very often has a profound impact on one’s priorities in a life that can seem all too short. I know this from experience, when a dear friend of mine since my early teens, suddenly passed away from an aneurism at the ripe old age of 48. It shook me to my very core, and led me to reevaluate my own life and what was important.

        Indeed, I wonder how deeply affected was the Prime Minister himself. There are numerous articles lately that ponder why he, strangely, seems so calm of late, considering the apparent political tide that seems to be going against him.

        Is it a realization that there’s more to life than just politics?

        To which the answer is, yes.

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    Donnie McLeod says:

    Fear is for fish thinkers. Hope is not.

    Stephen Harper’s supporters are proof we evolved from fish. They unfortunately can get through life using our sub human thinking process. It is fast, too rational for dealing with complexity of reality and way too resolute. They are fish thinkers. I prefer the thinking process that is proof we progressed beyond monkeys. It allows we humans to inquire. Inquiry is the good habit I practice daily.

    Stephen Harper promised other Christian conservatives to crush inquiry in Canada. He stated it leads to liberalism and on to nihilism. This according to Stephen Harper is me knowing I don’t need the nasty god Stephen Harper needs to be good. Fish thinkers are easy marks for Stephen Harper’s fear based marketing methods.

    The fish thinking process is very resolute. It can not be changed easily. That is good if we were still fish. It function is to hit the flight button. The only solution is to poke at it with facts until the habitual fish thinkers explode in visceral hate. That will turn Stephen Harper base, his strength, into his weakness. A weakness that needs to be exploited.

    Why we can think like a fish.


    The dangers of being resolute as a fish.


    Thinking like a fish is bad for your personal net worth.


    Donnie McLeod, Almonte, ON.

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