Two days ago, a 8:33-minute video of Kellie Leitch proselytizing about “Canadian values” (read: keeping out certain immigrants) was posted on Facebook. As a piece of cinematography, it makes The Blair Witch Project look like Citizen Kane. The Conservative leadership candidate is carefully made up and coiffed, clearly coached into some awkward pantomime of Margaret Thatcher and a Bible-belt preacher. The camerawork is ADD, the editing is jerky. Throughout, Leitch looks up, down and sideways in a comic impression of ponderous thought. Last fall, her campaign told Maclean’s the candidate was undergoing voice training. That’s evident in her decidedly lower timbre and folksy, shall we say “populist” delivery, even as her staged smiles come off as painful. As clickbait, however, the event is gold—so cringe-making it begs to be shared. Twitter went berserk. And all went to plan.
With the video, the embattled Leitch campaign has finally employed Trumpian politics of distraction: bizarre optics become the topic of discussion while content and substance are left unexamined or unchallenged (a similar reaction, and social-media response, was seen in a ridiculous video of White House press secretary Sean Spicer being interviewed by a nervous, incompetent Breitbart News reporter). Of course, the Leitch campaign has brazenly, unimaginatively stolen from the Trump playbook for months. The night of his electoral victory, Leitch celebrated the president-elect’s “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
Like Trump, Leitch, an MD and MBA preoccupied with honorifics, strains credulity in presenting herself as an underdog outsider. “When I began my leadership campaign last year the media and out-of-touch elites wrote me off, ” she said recently. Her campaign even advertises on Breitbart, house organ of the Trump administration.
So distracting is her video presentation that few will notice the Orwellian fact-twisting. The “Dr. Satzewich” whose book Points of Entry Leitch tethers her immigration screening plan to (at the 3:25 mark) is a McMaster University sociology professor who, in fact, has publicly criticized Leitch’s immigration plan. Though undeserved, this academic reference gives the platform a semblance of credibility, and softens it. Simultaneously, Leitch delivers the harder promise it “will have an effect on immigration rates as the program is established.”
Whether her campaign is capable of such Machiavellian maneuvering is beside the point. Either it believed the video was of acceptable quality for a mass audience coarsened by crap (leaving one to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor), or it understood that quality was irrelevant. For a nanosecond, attention shifted from Leitch’s opponent Kevin O’Leary, another non-news news-making master. What’s more, anyone who watches the video on her Facebook page—where most viewers land after following links from online news stories—will find effusive, affirmative comments about Leitch and her policies. No dissenting views are allowed.
Not that the criticism and jokes generated by the video matter one whit. The opposite is true, in fact: in the new Trumpian politics of distraction, it’s a sign of its success.