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.