Monday, April 06, 2009

Coming this summer: Negative Conservative ads

So says the Hill Times:

Canadians like Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, they just don't know why and the governing Conservatives see that as an opportunity to fill in the blanks, which they plan to do by running attack ads this summer, says a top Conservative source.

"Notwithstanding Ignatieff's poll numbers, where he's seen as competent and popular, what our polling and focus group testing shows is that people really don't have a solid impression about him. They generally like the guy, but they don't really know anything about him. According to our polling, he's an unknown quantity in the eyes of Canadians. So, since people don't have a locked in, fixed impression about him, there's still a tremendous amount of opportunity to influence what people think about the guy," the Conservative source told The Hill Times in a not-for-attribution based interview last week.

While obviously there is a strategic rationale for the Conservatives to run negative anti-Ignatieff ads, I find the explanation offered by our anonymous Conservative rather amusing:
The source said that right now the absence of adequate information about Mr. Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.) is hurting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) image because without a fully fleshed-out alternative, Mr. Harper is compared to an imaginary ideal Prime Minister.

"What the negative campaigning allows us to do is it sharpens the contrast and say, 'It's not Harper versus perfection,' It's Harper versus Ignatieff. Harper may not be perfect but take a look at this guy and that's sort of [how we want to] reframe the debate from the way media frames it. It's pick one Harper or Ignatieff. Because the media can't intuitively create that dichotomy, we have to pay ourselves with the paid media," said the source.
If this is really what the Conservatives think they're more screwed in the head then I'd thought. Harper isn't suffering because, compared to perfection and the mythical ideal PM, he comes off as mortal and less than perfect. Be serious here. Canadians don't expect perfection. We're a fairly reasonable bunch, actually. No, Harper's problem is that he has done a crap-ass job. Not by immortal standards, not by a standard of perfection, but by anyone's standards.

The Conservative strategists are missing the point. They were out of touch with Canadians when they tried to ram through a fiscal update that put political positioning ahead of action of the economy, and they remain just as out of touch today.

As for the attack ads, I'm sure we'll see lots of out of context quotes from books and papers Ignatieff has written. After all, Conservatives love to lie, and pay people to lie, as Ed Broadbent said. There will also be lots of veiled anti-Americanism, which should be interesting given a) the Conservatives have always been opposed to that sort of thing, and b) With Obama in office Canadians kinda like the US right now.

How effective will they be? Time will tell. While I'm not one of those who predict a backlash, I do think a variety of factors will mitigate their effectiveness, including the economy and a lack of public appetite and patience for partisan mudslinging.

And, this time, you can also count on a robust Liberal response. The mistakes of the past won't be repeated. The leadership seems determined on that front.

So, bring it on, Conservatives. Your desperation is showing. We're not scared. As Michael said sarcastically a little while ago, "I am trembling in my shoes, I am quaking."

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RuralSandi said...

To me, it's a sign of weakness on the Cons part. Off season attacks, not in election time, is sort of like shooting someone in the back. And, we know attempts to shoot someone in the back because they are weak chickens has never been respected since the cowboy days of root 'em shoot 'em.

What ever happened to the face your opponent like a man - face to face.

Ted Betts said...

Paul Wells has an interesting column in Maclean's from two weeks ago on a related topic Sandi. He notes how Harper first ran from certain members of the press who asked him difficult questions, like Kevin Newman who were blacklisted, and tried to pick others from the Parliamentary Press Gallery, then he ran from the Parliamentary Press Gallery when they would not regurgitate his talking points and took his show on the road to "local media". When it turned out that they were actually journalists as well and, while grateful for the local attention, also not willing to simply repeat his talking points, he took the show on the road internationally. Unfortunately, they are not

Wells ends the column by actually calling him a chicken. In print. In Maclean's. In Canada.

A Eliz. said...

Can one imagine Harper's life over the last 27 years..must be something juicy there !
I would love to see that ..face to face. Harper would be crushed.

RuralSandi said...

I just caught a repeat show of Ellen Degeneras (sp?) show where Chris Matthews was her guest. I was just after Obama had one (I take it) and she asked him why he thought Obama won. One of the reasons he gave was the Americans were tired of the dirty, divisive and negative politics of the Rove/Bush/Cheney days.

Hmmmm.....considering how popular Obama is in Canada, I have to wonder if Canadian will follow suit.

lyrical said...

Where in Conservative "family values" do attack ads come from anyways?

Barcs said...

I think I must disagree with you Jeff.

You are quite correct that Canadian's would want the best but are smart enough not to expect 100% perfection all the time.

But that isn't how it is written in the media.

Harper is compared only to what the story writers idea of what should have been done.

No one asks What would Iggy do in his place,... no one knows (I suppose it might depend on which city in which province he is in).

How did the policy convention go by the way? Would I have to take my socks off to count the number of policy that came up?

Therin lies the problem that the tories have. The media reports that Harper did something, they report that they don't like it and it could have been better and they go to the opposition leaders (All of them) for quotes on how bad it will affect things.

No one asks "what would you do?" of these leaders. And Jack is the best one for giving out his policy options (probably why he polls in the 15% range).

What the Tories are trying to push with the negative is that when the media run the story, and when some people say he is wrong. They should ask themselves not "what should he have done" but "what is the other guys policy on the matter?" "is it better?" "Does he have one?" "Is it the same from town to town?"

At this point in politics it is after all either Harper or Iggy that will lead following the next election. Why not compare one to the other? Isn't that where the liberals think their strength lies? in their people and their policys?

Jeff said...

Sandi, it's definitely a sign of weakness. Obama or no though, I don't think anyone will get punished for negative ads. There impact could be mitigated though by the current mood.

barcs, a shorter version of your post would be "it's not fair!" with Harper shrugging his shoulders in a Dion-like pose.

But seriously. The Conservatives are in government. And the standard that governments are held to isn't how are they doing compare to what an opposition leader would hypothetically do. It's are they doing what's best for the country. Are they making the right decisions. Are they doing a good job.

It's called leadership. Yes, one of the downsides in being in government is that you're held to a higher standard than the opposition leader is. Their job is to oppose. The government's job is to govern. On the flip side, the government also gets private jets and gets to drop billions of taxpayer dollars, advantages the opposition don't have.

Arguing Harper is being measured against a mythical standard of perfection is dumb. But the government SHOULD be held to a higher standard, and I'd think most would be hard-pressed to disagree.

And if the Conservatives think it's not fair, they're free at any time to resign and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

And not for nothing, but I've been reading a lot of media coverage lamenting the lack of policy specifics from Ignatieff. But, then again, I don't recall the Conservatives releasing super detailed policy proposals when they were in opposition either. Hell, even during the last election they didn't come out with a platform until the end of the campaign, and that was written on the back of a napkin because their lack of a platform had become a communications problem.