Sunday, January 28, 2007

How low can you go?

Plenty of others have already weighed in on the Cons' anticipated ad campaign against Stephane Dion. But Globe and Mail's coverage offers a subtle twist, as well as a truly sad example of apparent insider spin (and self-delusion) going unquestioned:
The federal Tories have produced a new series of ads expected to be unveiled Sunday and aimed at boosting their image in the wake of the selection of Stephane Dion as new Liberal leader.

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that MP Jason Kenney will brief the media on the content of the ads Sunday. They are expected to include television commercials, sources said...

Reports indicate that the ads, which will air during prime time and the Super Bowl, will mock Mr. Dion's leadership abilities and his environmental record.
Now, I presume that the "sources" in the second paragraph are tied to the message contained in the first - i.e. that the "boosting their image" language comes from the Cons themselves. Which wouldn't be the least bit surprising, given that it would sound better than saying outright that the Cons' purpose is to smear Dion.

But how can insulting one's opponents be seen as a "boost" to oneself? I can only see two answers - and either of them would speak very poorly to the Cons' fitness to hold any responsibility at all.

The first possibility is that the Cons are viewing politics as a game seen solely in relative measurements, such that to the extent they can add a few disapproval points to Dion's score or shift the polls slightly in their favour in the short term, their image will somehow improve.

At best, though, such an approach would have to be described as short-sighted and cynical: surely anybody with any familiarity with politics should recognize how quickly an immediate boost can turn around. Any gain in the longer term would require both that the ads actually lead to such a temporary boost, and that the media pick up on that boost as evidence of longer-term momentum - but it seems far more likely that one or both of those requirements would fail to materialize, and at least as likely that a backlash would result instead.

Mind you, the second possibility looks even worse for the Cons. They may well suffer from such an infantile insecurity that a public show of "neener neener" actually will lead their base to be more motivated. In that sense, the ad campaign could be aimed at "boosting" the self-image of Cons and their supporters - albeit through the kind of boost that should seem entirely hollow to anybody over the age of 8.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that if the Cons were genuinely proud of any of their accomplishments in office, then both goals could be equally easily met through a much more positive ad campaign. One would think that the Cons could come up with a way to shift the polls slightly in their favour by buying air time for their own positive message if they had one with any chance of winning public support - and the base could equally rail against the Libs for failing to match the Cons' own priorities as for the Libs' own words.

Instead, the Cons seem to have reached the calculation that neither the Canadian public nor even their own base is particularly interested in buying what they have to offer - which leads to a need to sling mud at the competing brands instead. And no matter how many attack ads they launch in the short term, it seems highly unlikely that the Cons can keep either the public or their base happy with that focus for long.

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