‘A bunch of self-serving exaggeration’


Canwest is presently running a five-part—only five?—series on the decline of our politics. The first part was entitled, “How the public lost faith in politics” and you’ll never guess who turns out to be the most cynical cynic quoted…

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Flanagan.

Tom Flanagan, the University of Calgary academic who has managed and advised several Conservative election campaigns, considers negative ads “part of the weaponry of politics.” He says if parties only promoted their own candidates, “voters would be confronted with a bunch of self-serving exaggeration.” In contrast, negative tactics and attack ads keep people honest.

“In a democracy, it’s a healthy thing for people to have a degree of skepticism about political leaders,” he says. “It’s a good thing that people don’t really trust politicians, and don’t expect too much from government. Negative campaigning is all part of cutting politicians down to size.”

Fair enough, one supposes. If only because Prof. Flanagan’s last public showing inspired negative campaigning such as this.

Part Two of the Canwest series is here.


‘A bunch of self-serving exaggeration’

  1. “So I don’t think the media have any serious interest in policy, and I don’t think most people have any serious interest in policy,” [Flanagan] says. “That doesn’t mean they’re bad people; it just means they’re human beings. So let’s give them an interesting show and have some fun.”

    Bread and circuses, anyone?

  2. Should we blame the strategists, the politicians, the media or the public? I think all have a role in this. Our fast-food, wired public mostly feeds on snippets of information provided by the 24-hour media. Negative and outlandish branding is effective (in forming opinions and selling papers) in that environment so strategist employ this tactic and politcians are not going to stop them.
    As long as WE allow this type of politics to work, it will be used.
    Despite the attacks on Barack Obama he was elected, because more americans rose above the negative tactics employed against him.
    It can be done, if we decide.

    • I agree, darcymeyers, except that the “we” you blame is collective. None of us can change the situation individually, or even in small groups. Or if we can, I don’t know how. I’m open to suggestions.

  3. I think we should just blame Tom Flanagan.

    • I second that.

  4. The spectacle of this not-quite-ex-American turning our politics into a three ring circus is downright nauseating.

    • He used to recommend well-researched attack ads. Although confrontational politics is dreary to this Canadian, I can understand the value. But he’s since been rather silent on the dog-and-pony show his precious Harpies have been putting on with their attack propaganda, so I’m willing to believe now that he’s just not very serious thinker on this issue.

  5. It’s useful sometimes to have a lightening rod, but when the issue is this big, I tend to agree with darcymeyers that more than one not-quite-ex-american needs to be looked at.

    Introspection was a quality being debated on an earlier post. Do we, as citizens, do enough introspection? Do we like what we see, or do we decide to project our insecurities by blaming those who simply exploit our shameful weaknesses?

  6. I applaud Richard Foot/CanWest for such a big, thoughtful series as this.

    I think the main problem for Canadian political engagement is that a liberal hegemony has been imposed on us and there is no real debate to be had. If pols say anything that doesn’t fit in with current lib orthodoxy, msm and other elites jump all over them as being obviously racist, xenophobic, sexist … etc.

    The big issues, ideas are not being discussed. It’s all about the differences in details that conform overall to liberal tenets and it makes for very boring political discourse. Canadians would be more passionate about politics if there was something to be passionate about.

    • Yes, obviously it’s been “imposed” on us, because most people who aren’t you are stupid, correct, jwl?

      • Stop projecting, T Thwim. I have not called anyone stupid. All I am saying there is a distinct lack of debate in this country.

        I think ‘imposed’ is accurate because many in the msm, and other elites, buy into politically correct/liberal orthodoxy and they basically control the debate in Canada.

        • Even assuming what you assert is true, what you’re implying is that the people are too stupid to critically assess this “imposition” as you have, hence my comment. No projection, simply deduction.

          • I am not implying anything. I think that regular people get on with their lives while the chattering classes try to impose their orthodoxy. I don’t think people are ‘too stupid’, they have just stopped listening. Hence the declining sales of papers and the increase of traffic to blogs and other online sources that present alternative views.

    • JWL – how has this liberal hegemony been ‘imposed” on us ? Get over yourself. The liberals have done a much better job of selling their pov [ whatever you want to call it] to Canadians over the yrs. But look on the bright side, they don’t seem to be good at it anymore. This should create an opportunity for conservatives to sell themselves. Instead they whine and complain that the decks is stscked against them and so create a self- justifying rationale [ cue T. Flannagan] to stack the deck themselves. Perhaps this was only inevitable, given human nature and the fact that the liberals were so successful for so long. But as a good conservative you must agree, if you wanta win the best way is to sell yourself. lol.

      • ps Here’s a hint. SH couldn’t sell bottled oxygen ten feet from the top of Mt Everest. Wanna win, get a better salesman!

      • I absolutely agree with the Cons not selling themselves. I think Harper and his crew are behaving like con thought is shameful or something to be hidden and they are doing nothing to sell conservatism. Conservatism doesn’t come naturally to people, they prefer to believe in lollipops, kittens and rainbows, and so it has to be explained/sold but this gang of Cons aren’t doing that.

        Liberal hegemony is being imposed because it’s mainly Libs/libs who work in the media and they don’t present anything that goes against their orthodoxy but people are tuning out now. That’s why the declining interest in politics, newspapers and tv news and the increase interest in sites on the web that present alternative ideas.

        • I don’t really accept you thesis of the media enabling the libs; they just love what they percieve to be a winner. Look what they did to Dion and martin before him. Once they no longer percieved M as a winner they tore into him. In this sense, and this sense only i see why Sh despises them. Remember Trudeau’s attitude too them, even though many fawned over him. He knew they would pull him down too if they sensed weakness. unfortunately Harper isn’t as gifted at playing them. Sorry, no media conspiracy. They just love winners while they last.

          • What do you think the msm did to Dion and Martin? I remember watching journalists on Question Period around the time of one year anniversary of Dion becoming Lib leader. Part of the conversation was about how reporters had been hearing negative reports about Dion for months but they didn’t want to report that because they wanted to give Dion a chance.

            Or L Diebel during last election, said virtually the same thing. MSM weren’t reporting how disasterous Lib campaign was because they wanted to give Dion a chance. Or Delacourt’s book Juggernaut, which was all about Martin and how he was a giant amongst pygmies. Must be really tough being a Liberal in Canada.

            I actually think msm do a good job when it comes to reporting on Cons, they hold their feet to the fire which is what the job entails, but I do have a big problem with the fawning coverage Libs get. I also think dippers get the shaft because the msm pretty much ignores them entirely.

            I also don’t think it’s a conspiracy. Liberals are attracted to media jobs and so liberal views are overwhelmingly presented to the public. We barely hear anything that doesn’t conform to liberal worldview and that’s why many Canadians are disengaged from political process.

      • kc, you are very much onto something here. All the concepts of the (gah!) Canadian Way (registered tm of the Liberal Party), the Natural Governing Party, etc., have indeed suffered a blow in the last while, mostly due to Adscam, I guess, partly due to overdue fatigue. There was a golden opportunity for the right of centre to sell itself: modest government, stick to federal powers, avoid busybodying every little detail of regular everyday life. Sadly, Canada’s (gah!) New Government and Canada’s (gah!) New Government Part Deux just decided to out Chretien the Chretien way. And here we are.

        • Agreed. I am an unashamed Trudeau Liberal, but the great man is dead but that fact hasn’t regitered with a lot of Liberals. Besides Trudeau would have hated being the official liberal orthodoxy. The liberal party needs to build on the best of its past, not wollow in it; one of the reasons they atrophied.
          Hence the opportunity for conservatives. but as you pt out they’re blowing it. SH is in too deep now, can’t really see him turning it around. besides in my mind he no longer has any credibility.
          If i were a conservative i would thank him kindly for uniting the right and drop him down a deep hole. If it’s true that Dion was the best friend the cons every had, then the converse can also be true. SH is fast becoming a gift to the libs. I’m probably wrong but i sense a change in the wind and the return of the liberals if things continue this way. Although what really worries me is the prospect of Harper winning and what this will portend for politics in our country.

  7. How much credibility does Tom Flanagan have anymore? Other than the G and M does anyone else see Flanagan as anything more than a failed Conservative hack?

    Under Flanagan’s guidance and big picture thinking the Conservatives have lost 3 chances at a majority and their largest minority government is in danger of a quick death in less than a month.

    The opposition parties have been driving the agenda since the coalition has formed and Harper’s prorogue strategy has driven down his poll numbers.

    So much for the master strategy.

    • The thing is, Tom Flanagan is now a Professor of political science at the University of Calgary. Let us hope to God all of his students a) never get into politics in any capacity whatsoever, or b) fail his class. The outright lies coupled with the complete misconception of what responsible government and constitutional democracy is astounded me. How is it responsible government if Parliament goes to the polls every two weeks? Because that is what he’s advocating. This could go on indefinitely, remember. And the most irresponsible thing I can think of to do in a time of economic crisis would be to have TWO unneccessary elections. One was bad enough.

      From the excellent Canwest piece: “A culture that tolerates what Mr. Troy calls the “untrammelled nastiness” of the blogosphere is more likely to accept the smearing of opponents in extreme TV ads” And yet the whole series is about how Canadians DON’T accept the nastiness, and say so with increasingly fewer ballots cast. The Conservatives would have you believe its because Canadians are happy with how things are going, yet the Canwest story–and we all know this to be true ourselves–shows a completely different emotion. That of disgust with the lot of them.

      You know, we take for granted now that whatever the outcome of the next election, whenever it is held, we will not have tanks rolling in the streets. But if we keep digging into such vicious partisanship and we keep ignoring the issues as they arise, that could change over time.

  8. Some excellent points by Flanagan : and considering the track record of the ever increasing seat count for the Tories with only 12 seats to go … well enough said .. as they say the proof is in the eating of the pudding …. his voice is one that definitley should be listened to. I think that what is really happening is that canadian and american voters are becoming more and more adroit at discernment and more and more voters are no longer buying into the old partisan hype that they used to. I encounter more and more of this all the time especially as I used to be a hyper partisan LPC with Trudeau (with a brief dalliance with Mulroney) and then Chretien. Paul M’s putsch drove me away and I started to pay attention Harper who I used to hate with a passion but more and more became tolerant of then attracted to the party and now am a hyper partisan CPC. Of course you will always have the mania’s with new people and new ideas but quicker and quicker the average voter is discerning that the reality and the hype are worlds apart. what I am looking forwrad to is about 2 years from now when Obama has settled in and realistic expectations can be considered.

  9. I think what TF meant to say was that negative ads provide him with one more option for getting “a bunch of self-serving exaggeration” out to the people.

    “In a democracy, it’s a healthy thing for people to have a degree of skepticism about political leaders,” he says. “It’s a good thing that people don’t really trust politicians, and don’t expect too much from government. Negative campaigning is all part of cutting politicians down to size.”

    I am so tired of having people who dislike and want to dimantle government running the country.

    • ” I am so tired…” my feeling exactly. If this keeps up and if Quebec every does leave [ touch wood] i just may go with them. [ just kidding with my French i’d be homeless in a week]

  10. Should we blame the strategists, the politicians, the media or the public?

    The media….for continuing to listen to clapped-out loonies like Tom Flanagan, who is never featured in a discussion in which he will be challenged. Quite odd for someone who believes in the power of adversity and confrontation.

  11. So the conservative party hack wants to normalize attack ads, whether they are factual or not. Even his analyse was shown to have a gaping lie (or factual omissions/misquote).

    We are losing our democracy and no one is listening. Messages without content and created words symbolizing nothing…

    So what is everyone’s favourite Newspeak coming from our government? I really like ‘technical recession,’ the gem that was pre-substancial deficit when our budgets were going to be balanced and any recession gentle and fluffy.

    • Attack ads and the like have been ‘normalized’ for a long time now, it wasn’t all sweetness and light until the Cons took over a few years ago.

      And never mind ads, we have had Lib PM physically attacking protesters. Ads are much more gentlemanly when compared to Chretien and his shawinigan handshake on Bill Clennett or when Warren K went on the morning news and mocked Day and other religious people for their beliefs.

      All the Cons have done is learn from the masters of underhanded tactics and are now using them themselves.

      • So lying to the public is OK as long as your opponent does it too?
        It is OK so long as you can lie bigger and all the time?
        At what point is it OK to lie?
        How big can the lie be?
        Who can you lie to? The people? Elections Canada? The RCMP? The courts? Anyone you want?
        If the Conservatives are mastering the lying and underhandedness tactics… how exactly is one to trust what they are saying today?
        Is knowingly voting for someone who is lying and underhanded OK in our society now, as long as he is ‘your guy’?

        I’m not really sure where the line is for supporters of either party. The instances of lying and misinformation from this government has been nothing short of amazing. Their apologists even more disheartening.

        All you are getting from the Conservatives jwl is the largest budget in Canadian history and a large number of deficits. Did you vote for huge Liberal + 5-10 % budgets and deficits, or did you vote for tax cuts, spending cuts and smaller government?

        I’m betting it isn’t deficits and huge increases in government spending. I bet you also didn’t vote Conservative to have them tell bold-faced lies to the country. (Assuming you did vote for them, of course. If not, why would one apologize for their deceit…)

        • I voted Libertarian last election because I think this gang of Cons are governing like Libs-lite.

          I am not apologizing for anyone, I am just pointing out that it’s boring and tiresome listening to Libs/libs talk about how ‘mean’ Harper/Cons are when they have done nothing the Libs haven’t been doing for decades.

          Attack ads work, that’s why the Libs have been doing them for years, and now Cons are using similar tactics.

      • JWL – What did i say about winners. Yr right Chretien did get away with throttling a protester but he also had those deformed expression adds used against him. sometimes i think that’s where it all started. As for mocking Day [not a winner] he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. If you are going to hold bizarre beliefs bettr keep them to yourself. By the way, if i remember Clennett was a kook too.