The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The attack advertisement

What exactly constitutes an "attack" advertisement, as opposed, say, to a campaign somewhere within the wariness-fearmongering spectrum, depends to a large extent on the viewer's perspective of the target. Mostly it does seem to be generally agreed that the advertisement must target the individual candidate/leader rather than the party as a whole, and just about everyone agrees that you don't attack an individual's physical disability (as the Tories learned to their cost two elections ago): but agreement again breaks down as to whether attacks on individual policy (or possible extrapolations of such policy) are acceptable. Opposition parties are seen to have a little more leeway than the governing party, for they must not only bring across to the public their own policy, but must also demonstrate why the governing party's existing policies are inadequate. (The governing party cannot do the same without making itself look weak.) In so doing, opposition parties may choose to isolate the leader of the governing party as representative of the whole without being penalised by the public. Such leeway, perhaps, balances out the ability to stand on one's own record and to time announcements and first readings of proposed legislation so as to set up a solid foundation for the coming campaign, both of which are unique to the governing party.

When the public no longer responds to existing record, policy, or "fuzzy feelings" election advertisements (or sometimes where it does!), any party will pull in the wariness-fearmongering spectrum advertisements. It is worth noting, in this election, that in choosing to focus on a threat to national unity the Liberals built their campaign on such a platform from the start. Balancing the budget is old news, has been for some time: and building upon this platform opens up too many possibilities for questioning reduction of transfer payments and whether taxation still needs to be as high as it is. Both the gun registry and gay marriage remain red-flag issues among significant voting percentages of too many key ridings, Charter camouflage notwithstanding (and additionally former Liberal MP Pat O'Brien seems to have made it his life's mission to continue fighting the good fight through Vote Marriage Canada). Knowing they would be hammered relentlessly for the Gomery scandal and instead of choosing just to ride it out (per Paul Martin's pre-election promise to call the campaign after the release of the final report), the Liberals chose instead the politics of distraction over the spectre of Québec separatism: and it doesn't hurt that there is a real underlying issue here ... if one being created and reinforced at least as much by this campaign as had existed before the election was called, for this approach won't alter the post-Gomery hostility in Québec in the slightest -- further polarise it, rather. Yet fighting against a constantly looming Québec separatism generally plays well in English Canada, especially in battleground rural Ontario.

Too bad most of Ontario -- and Canada -- realises that a near-future separation referendum was just a spectre ... until this campaign approach helped bring it to life.

Extrapolative "dread" advertisements are the natural progression of a campaign built upon uneasiness, imminent threat, and polarisation: see what will happen if you, the electorate, choose to continue along this road. (There is no belief or stand that cannot be made to appear ominous: a derivative of the inability to prove a negative.) At this point, the party's major hope is that either the electorate responds in the desired direction, or that one or more of the major opposition parties respond in kind. Such advertisements are the tools of desperation, the guerilla warfare of the election trail. Once they have been played, the party has committed itself: retaining the choice only to refrain from the full-out attack advertisement.

Double-edged as such techniques of desperation usually are, a party never pulls them out unless it senses it is already losing.


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