02.14.2012 01:17 AM

In today’s Sun: the greatest headline ever affixed to a column I’ve written

Keep it simple. Show it, don’t say it.

On the weekend, a great example of that happened in Canadian politics, whether you noticed it or not. Chances are you did.

Some context: A few Democratic Party strategists participated in a panel a few years back. James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun, was one of them. Carville made a pithy observation that all progressives should remember: “(We) need a narrative. It’s tough to beat a narrative with a litany. And that happens to us again and again and again.”

Progressives — be they Democrats in the U.S., or Liberals and New Democrats up here — too often make things too complicated. Instead of promoting just a few memorable campaign planks, like Ronald Reagan or Stephen Harper do and did, progressives and liberals always come up with litanies of stuff. That is, mind-numbing laundry lists of policies.

If you have too many priorities, some wag once observed, you actually don’t have any. So, in the historic 2006 federal election campaign, Harper had just five: Government accountability, GST cut, slash health waiting times, child care cash and tougher sentences for gun crime. That’s it.

His Liberal rival, Paul Martin, had his platform leaked before its official release, and it contained nearly 200 priorities. The Liberal document was bursting at the seams with weasel words, such as “work with,” “work closely with,” “work to develop,” “work towards,” “work to increase,” as well as lots of fuzzy promises about “reviews” and “dialogues” to consider, study, encourage, and explore. Blah, blah, blah.

17 Comments

  1. Steve T says:

    Great article, and indeed an excellent headline!

    I can tell you, it is also frustrating for conservatives to have simplistic messages trump compex ones. More than occasionally, it results in smart people (many of them democrat/liberals) equating conservatives with simplism (if that is a word). For example, the tough-on-crime agenda is painted as being a knuckle-dragger issue, because it is described without detail. That gets it the support it needs (as you point out), which is great, but I think it betrays the fact there is more below the surface.

    In any case, very good observations, Warren.

  2. James Bow says:

    Yup. If there was an award for good headline writing (and there should be), that would take top prize.

    Far better than “Police Shoot Dead Man With Sword”. 😉

  3. Brad Young says:

    I’ll buy that, kudos to Harper, imagine if he was even remotely personable or likeable, he would would have had his majority years ago.

  4. Jon Powers says:

    Wow, you’re on a roll. You’ve written so many sensible columns in the last couple of weeks, I’d actually vote for you. Too bad you’re just a “stupid blogger”. (Bob Rae’s words, not mine). Cheers.

  5. Al says:

    Ignatieff threw that election deliberately it seems.

  6. Al says:

    Ignatieff threw that election deliberately, it seemed.

  7. James O'Grady says:

    This is marketing strategy 101. If political parties don’t know this already then they don’t deserve to win. Glad you didn’t include the Green Party in your analysis because in the 2007 provincial election, when I was the Director of Communications, the Green Party platform focused only on five platform themes: Fiscal Responsibility, Sustainable Communities, Climate Change/Energy, Health, Participatory Democracy.

    The key to creating a message that resonates with voters is to keep your message clear… Mixed messaging, which is one of the results of having too many competing policy positions, is the doom of any communicator, whether its a political party, a business or a non-profit… People tune out noise… Get your message straight and deliver it from the heart and you will succeed. Its not much more difficult than that.

  8. AP says:

    Stephen Harper’s 6 Simple Truths for the Royal Dominion of Canada

    1. Criminals are EVIL

    2. Canadian values are Conservative value

    3. Canada has a noble and glorious military history

    4. God Save the Queen

    5. Taxes suck

    6. Never question authority

    If you oppose The Royal Canadian Conservative Government of the Royal Dominion of Canada you must be a criminal, pedophile, communist, socialist, separatist, Marxist, terrorist, a member of the elite, a police hater, a military hater, anarchist, pacifist, hippie, anti-Semitic, treasonous, a republican, and clearly A HATER OF CANADA.

  9. AP says:

    Damn, you’re right. Looking at the list again I realized I left out:

    Atheist
    God Hater
    Child Hater — remember it is always about the children
    Rural Canada Hater
    Outdoor Sportsman Hater
    Tim Hortons Hater
    An Oil Sands Hater
    Witch Lover
    CBC Lover
    Lover of the Arts
    Book Lover
    Statistics Canada apologist
    A Baby Seal Lover
    A United Nations Lover

    I’m sure there’s more that can be added to this list

  10. James Calnan says:

    the “narrative” would be found in the development of arbitrary power, and the litany is there. It fits into the narrative that’s already out there on the PM’s style of leadership.

    Canadians may want ‘good government,’ and the CPC banks on their sense that Canadians just want to be well governed (which is why majority govt’s with no coalitions are so important), but their weakness is in thinking arbitrary measures are a sign of strength.

  11. Jan Triska says:

    Very timely and perceptive. I liked the use of James Carville’s quote about needing a narrative, preferrably a simple one.
    I think this particular government has gotten quite adept at manipulating and also at selling its policies through the use of tailored messaging which always divides the public, on some level or other, and nearly always plays into the hands of the biggest minority (the 35-40% who basically support Harper through most of his government’s mandate). The crime fighting agenda is a good example. The narrative about air force needing better airplanes is another (yes, the F-35s are potentially good for us but it is so abstract, so removed, that those who truly understand the issues are few and far between and their comments get lost in the braying of the political classes). The narrative about energy exports and how that creates jobs is another (yes, it does create jobs, the big question is where and how, and to what extent that’s better than alternatives). And everything is always cloaked in the Canadian flag. Certain important annoucements happen on Fridays, just before Canadians tune out. That’s our problem, not the government’s.

  12. Philippe says:

    Good food for thought Warren. Well written and thoughtful.

    However, I believe plain talk is used by the Cons because that’s the limitations of what their blue collar rural and Tim Horton’s base understand.

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