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‘We have bonded ourselves to our fantasies’


 

Glen Pearson responds to Peter Donolo’s response to that Conservative fundraising letter.

How does getting anyone angry over nothing assist the political process? It doesn’t. In fact, it demeans it. Proof of this just came out over the weekend. New statistics were released showing how people view our federal political system, specifically for the years between 1999-2009.  Approval of the federal system during that decade dropped to 50% from 65% in Atlantic provinces; to 55% from 68% in Ontario; to 54% from 61% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; and to 40% from 64% in Alberta.

The awful thing about this is that all parties know it, especially the present government, and yet it continues. Why talk about democratic renewal within parliament when we’re all bleeding voters in the country through a collective act of self-flagellation? If we admit that the more negative we get as parties the more the voter turnout declines, then why do we do it?  The answer? Because the first party that blinks could get crunched by the one that doesn’t. And so we continue, one maddening negative ad after another.


 

‘We have bonded ourselves to our fantasies’

  1. If I were a political strategist (hey, who isn't) I'd be focused on getting voters who do not currently vote (See Obama, Barack). I think the thesis that negativity and anger in politics works ignores the significant number of people who do not vote.

    • Three of the most under-examined statements in politics:

      1. Attack ads work.
      2. Election results wouldn't be any different if the voter turnout was higher.
      3. We should be happy that people choose not to vote, because they are disengaged from politics and citizenship and would likely make an uninformed choice.

      Political sciences students are most like to repeat this received wisdom, in my experience.

      Good for Glen Pearson for saying something that the political pundits find too uninterestingly obvious and therefore unstylish to say themselves: "How does getting anyone angry over nothing assist the political process?"

      • "Political sciences students are most like to repeat this received wisdom, in my experience. "

        My anecdotal evidence, as a current political science student, is that this part of your post is inaccurate. Generally, these university students are more political engaged and hold more diverse opinions than the general public.

        Anyways, when was the last time 'received wisdom' came from students? We are treated as cattle and clients, not students. The anti-academic movement in Canada will ensure your under-examined statements remain under-examined as long as possible.

        • "Generally, these university students are more political engaged and hold more diverse opinions than the general public."

          I don't doubt that. But I'm not sure paying attention to and being fascinated by the process has much to do with democracy, governance or issues that the general public actually think are important.

          Anyways, when was the last time 'received wisdom' came from students?

          It's not coming from students. It's coming from the agencies that are most likely to employ them.

  2. If I were a political strategist (hey, who isn't) I'd be focused on getting voters who do not currently vote (See Obama, Barack). I think the thesis that negativity and anger in politics works ignore the significant number of people who do not vote.

  3. Glen Pearson is that rare example of a politician who can condemn negativity in our federal politics without sounding like a hypocrite.

    To Pearson's considerable credit, he staunchly defended the Prime Minister during the original Wafergate silliness.

    • I think Pearson earns his pension with every blog post. Sometimes, I almost want to cry because I don't see a way to end the vicious cycle and I can hear the depressed futility in his tone.

      Also, why doesn't anyone ever comment over there? The guy feels alone enough as it is . . .Is it because, like me, you'd like to cheer him up but can't think of anything cheerful to say?

      • You're right, Jenn. We should comment on his blog, next time he posts.

  4. And the Conservatives' bedrock region of support gives the lowest approval rating of the federal system. I don't know if this says more about the Cons or about Albertan voters.

    • The West is in… and they cannot stand it?

    • "We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement "

      Ignorance and contentment isn't always bliss. Maybe Albertans are, as a rule, more aware of this?

  5. Appealing to voters who don’t vote was Joe Clark’s strategy in 2000. I suppose it worked: they didn’t vote for him en masse.

    I used to try to explain to Paul Martin’s crew that you can’t build a campaign on nothing but negative ads. It becomes clear pretty early that you have nothing to offer. Then I found myself trying to explain to Stephane Dion’s crew that negative ads are legitimate. If nothing the Harper government has done in 3 and a half years makes Glen Pearson angry, then surely he won’t mind sitting in opposition for a while longer.

    • I think consciencious citizens care about what works for democracy, not what works for political parties, campaigns and elections. Journalists have other priorities, of course.

    • Obviously this issue is one (like most) of nuance. It's also only one determinant of an election outcome. There is also a difference between constructive anger and "false outrage". Being critical of a sitting government's policies is not the same as negative advertising or attack ads.

      I have many times asked myself why I didn't and won't vote for Stephen Harper – I've voted Conservative before, he hasn't done anything to crazy despite the hidden agenda rhetoric and if anything he is TOO fiscally liberal for me.

      The answer is I think he is an ass. I think he is smug and I don't like his attitude and the way he carries himself and runs this government. The alternatives aren't that great either. A lot of people like me just don't vote.

      There must be a way to better appeal to the disenchanted among us.

    • Obviously this issue is one (like most) of nuance. It's also only one determinant of an election outcome. There is also a difference between constructive anger and "false outrage". Being critical of a sitting government's policies is not the same as negative advertising or attack ads.

      I have many times asked myself why I didn't and won't vote for Stephen Harper – I've voted Conservative before, he hasn't done anything too crazy despite the hidden agenda rhetoric and if anything he is TOO fiscally liberal for me.

      The answer is I think he is an ass. I think he is smug and I don't like his attitude and the way he carries himself and runs this government. The alternatives aren't that great either. A lot of people like me just don't vote.

      There must be a way to better appeal to the disenchanted among us.

    • Using Joe Clark and his 2000 campaign as proof that parties must use negative ads to win is not much of an argument. Nor does being angry necessitate their use. Can you do better Mr. Wells?

    • Low voter turnout? Look at the advertising budget of the average political party versus any number of consumer products they are competing with for attention on the airwaves. Getting people out to vote costs lots of money, and our current rules restrict the amount of money the party's are allowed to spend promoting their brand and candidates. What people remember about their politicians is the negative stuff that lands on the news — very rarely their postive things the parties would like to communicate (where paid tv is the only forum).

      Obama spent $7.50 a vote in the 08 election. John Mccain $5.78. Canadian political parties spend somewhere around $3.20 per vote.

      The result? People are getting more messages about Pepsi and the new G I Joe movie instead of hearing about the federal election campaign.

    • Oh, dear. Comments are disappearing again.

  6. Liberal voters have plenty to be legitimately angry over. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party takes one warning very seriously: "Don't start fights with people who buy ink by the barrel." We can only hope that the continuing slide of the mainstream news media into irrelevance will someday make that threat seem quaint.

  7. I would think that Barak Obama's campaign down south – and the voter turnout that resulted – supports the Glen Pearson position that milque-toast wins – providing you have a superlative communicator and he has a substantial message to communicate.__I think Michael Ignatieff passes muster on part one (he's not quite Obama – but he can make sense when he is speaking) – but – IMO – until he comes out with a clear vision statement – backed by policies – he will have nothing really to say – other than he doesn't like what Stephen Harper does!

  8. "How does getting anyone angry over nothing assist the political process?"

    His colleagues who spent the 90s hurling charges of racism, sexism and general red-neckery at the Reform/CA (of which I was never a member) might have some answers for Mr. Pearson.

    The fact that Harper and many key figures in the government were "branded" if you will, by that experience is, in my opinion, at the root of their lack of restraint in going after the Libs hammer and tong now that they have the means to do so.

    Maybe it's not uplifting or enobling — however the Tories' opponents define those concepts — but it's not something the Liberals can complain about credibly.

    As someone — I forget who — once said, righteous indignation is the biggest motivator in politics.

  9. New "government" communications contract, Joan? If so, can I, as a taxpayer, ask for a few specifics on this:

    "His colleagues who spent the 90s hurling charges of racism, sexism and general red-neckery at the Reform/CA (of which I was never a member) might have some answers for Mr. Pearson."

    • Nope. I fence with the Bold and the Anonymous gratis.

      Specifics? I mean really. Were you born in 2006?

  10. "How does getting anyone angry over nothing assist the political process? It doesn't. In fact, it demeans it."

    I question this assertion. Pearson seems to be saying that Cons were happy as larry with life but received email from Finley and now their blood is boiling, which is nonsense. Finley was just reinforcing what many Cons/cons believe to be true: msm is woeful.

    "If we admit that the more negative we get as parties the more the voter turnout declines, then why do we do it?"

    This assertion is wrong as well. I think Pearson will find that political involvement has been declining as government gets bigger and bigger. I don't think it is a coincidence that since Trudeau era, when government became the solution to all our ills, that people have become more disengaged with politics.

    Anger is what gets most people involved in politic process because they care a great deal about a certain topic and they don't like how things are going. What is with some who want us all to be happy pod people who don't examine/question anything the government does because bureaucrats and pols, armed with a few stats and a couple of memos, know everything.

    Pearson's message: know your place, people. Or else!

    • Jolyjon/jwl or whoever, you underline one of my biggest problems with C/conservative here and most other places as well. They are so angry, almost all the time and proposals tend to be of the "anti", "I'm agin it" sort. Never any positive alternative to something put forward by the other side, aiways just more grousing and grouching.

      Anger can be justified at times but real solutions come from a positive position.

      • "They are so angry, almost all the time and proposals tend to be of the "anti", "I'm agin it" sort."

        I agree with this, up to a point. Cons/cons bitch and moan lots about government and it's continual incompetence but don't propose alternatives, which is a major problem.

        Cons/cons don't talk enough about how they believe if government were reduced the 'little platoons' we prefer would fill the spaces left by government. I also believe cons should talk more about being pro-freedom/responsibility rather than anti-government.

      • "They are so angry, almost all the time and proposals tend to be of the "anti", "I'm agin it" sort."

        I agree with this, up to a point. Cons/cons bitch and moan lots about government and it's continual incompetence but don't propose alternatives, which is a major problem.

        Cons/cons don't talk enough about how they believe if government were reduced the 'little platoons' we prefer would fill the spaces left by government. I also believe cons should talk more about being pro-freedom/ responsibility rather than anti-government.

      • But anger is a motivating emotion, so it pays in votes to keep the cons angry and agin' stuff. Not sure why but conservatives seem to be angry people much of the time, if I may so sweepingly generalize. They certainly picked an angry leader to lead their charge of hositility. I think they mistake anger for enthusiasm.

        • I think who is more angry is in the eye of the beholder. I am con and have long thought Libs/libs seem to be very angry all the time or else they would not be proposing to continually increase the size and scope of gov't. Libs always have to point to 'problems', poor children! people starving in streets if they don't get EI after working 3 days!, that don't really exist except for in their feverish imaginations.

        • Yeah, I gotta agree with jolyon. Most of the anger I see are lefties going bananas over Bush, people demonizing Harper, and Mitchell having a hernia over each and every Mark Steyn article in Maclean's.

          Even today, the Dems in the US are angry with the Republicans DESPITE the fact that they have the presidency and majorities in the senate and congress. Yet they're atill angry all the time.

          Up here in Canada, the previous election debates showed Layton, Dion, Duceppe and May angry as hell, while Harper was calm, cool and collected as usual.

    • This assertion is wrong as well. I think Pearson will find that political involvement has been declining as government gets bigger and bigger. I don't think it is a coincidence that since Trudeau era, when government became the solution to all our ills, that people have become more disengaged with politics

      I also subscribe to this theory. The larger government becomes, the more disconnected the citizenry becomes. Just try calling any government office (CRA, iimigration, etc) and disillusionment arrives. I really don't think that non-voters believe that whatever they mark on that ballot will result in any discernable change in their lives. We'll still have the same high taxes, the same long waits in the health system, the same health system, and so on. There is way too much bureaucracy in that ocean liner they call the government.

    • For voters to be engaged, there must be more power devolved to local regions, so that citizens really can have influence.
      There must be more accessibility for ordinary citizens to hold government accountable. For instance, when you have a crappy experience with government health care, with an EI case worker, or elsewhere, you should be able to get an elected representative on the phone and have it out, the same way you can call the manager at a business (or take your business elsewhere). All us citizens know that no amount of screaming will make our experience with big government any different.

  11. I wasn't born yesterday either Joan, and I remember the 1990s well. You should do some reading.

    re: "His colleagues who spent the 90s hurling charges of racism, sexism and general red-neckery at the Reform/CA (of which I was never a member) might have some answers for Mr. Pearson."

    The charges may have been thrown with good reason. "In 1996, after Reform MP Bob Ringma stated in a newspaper interview that store owners should be free to move gays and "ethnics" "to the back of the shop", or even to fire them, if the presence of that individual offended a bigoted customer [30] and following Reform MP Dave Chatters' remark that it would be acceptable for a school to prevent a homosexual person from teaching in school, a crisis erupted in the Reform Party caucus after Manning did not censure their comments."
    -good ol Wiki. Tough reseach but I slogged through.

  12. I agree with what Mr. Wells said in his lengthy comment above: there's a world of difference between "Stephen Harper is a nerdy meanie" and "Stephen Harper is harming the Republic," though both are sources of anger. Pick the latter, ye Liberals, and elevate politics angrily.

  13. While I agree with many of your points above, I don't feel that my affection for Glen Pearson is analogous to the Liberals' affection for Joe Clark. I like Mr. Pearson because he's a class act. I view him as the antithesis of Mr. Kinsella.

    Mr. Clark, as PC leader, made bad decisions that had a direct impact on the electoral fortunes of his party, so it's easy to see why Liberals loved him. Mr. Pearson is a humble backbencher, so there is no danger that his decency and good-natured idealism will affect the outcome in any riding but his own. And in London North Centre, Mr. Pearson is certainly not "easy to beat", as Elizabeth May discovered in 2006.

  14. Wow. Touchy. Always interesting when writers blame readers for lack of comprehension.

    A friendly FU to you Paul, I was looking for your take on how "negative ads" affect how we feel about politics and politicians. I don't feel particularly virtuous and I didn't intend to create straw men in search of that feeling.

    I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that the issue was the link between "anger" and negative discourse (including "negative ads"), and voter apathy.

    In the post to which I responded, you said you argued they were legitimate. Like you, I don't like the term, but I think we could all agree what it means. I think pointing out flaws in your opponents actions or policies is part of the game. Appealing to voters fears and sentimentality, implying policies that don't really exist, using quotes taken out of context, accompanied by ugly images and ominous music, have all become part of the game as well. I merely would like your take on whether this has a long term effect on the voter psyche. Say you're a party leader in this country – do you use any of these methods?

    The media ( I don't like that term either) seems to tell us over and over that these ads are necessary. All part of the game. I, for one, would like the media to stop reporting on politics as if it is a game, analyzing the plays and players as if the winners and losers are the teams, and not the people they represent. This type of reporting may also contribute to our distaste for how the country is run. No?

    • No.

      • Good answer . . . glad that's settled.

  15. *aren't always….

    dammit!

  16. Pearson misses the point. Canadians tune out because politicians are self-interested trash. It ain't that they are negative in communications, they are simply kleptocratic negatives, period.

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