But (book war alert!) as I recently argued in my own tome, Fight The Right, on one point Ibbitson and Bricker are absolutely right: Long-term, conservatives are generally getting better at winning elections, and progressive candidates are generally faring worse.
I am by no means a political expert, nor am I anywhere as steeped in political trends as legitimate political pundits - so don't just take my word; please share your thoughts as well.
Caveat established, here goes - I completely agree that conservative politics is winning in Canada. The people pushing the fear and security buttons, whatever their political brand, are tacking right and easily putting their message on bumper-stickers and in the hearts and minds of voters. I think there's a good reason for this, but not the one political operatives think; it's not strictly that Conservatives are superior to progressives in campaign terms. It's that the methodology being favoured by political teams from across the spectrum favours reactive (Conservative) responses.
Powerful leaders. Repetition. Emotion-trigger messaging. Attack ads. Repetition. Sound bites. Did I say repetition? All these things appeal to the rapid-response, rote-learning part of our brain, inciting reactionary behaviour. By using these tools, progressives are essentially sending support to the Conservative brand. Or, alternatively, they are becoming increasingly conservative in their own methodology, aping the opponents they would fight against (which is why knowing yourself is so vital to long-term success).
There are consequences to this approach. To keep messaging, repetition and fear consistent, you have to instill a certain kind of culture within political Parties. This means message discipline, carrot-and-stick motivation and, of course, everyone's gotta hold the line no matter what their conscious tells them. Those unwilling or unable to play the Game of Thrones gets kicked to the curb, left without a partisan roof to stand under. Coordination and power are increasingly reduced to fewer hands, with rank-and-file Members of a Party becoming spokespeople and pawns, not players. As no one Leader can keep all the balls in the air at once and when you don't trust your rank-and-file not to mess up on the circled-wagon presentation, power then finds its way into the hands of back-room people who are accountable to individuals, not constituencies.
Politics is less about policy and more about marketing - and using, to an increasing degree, the same kinds of tools as sole-purpose marketeers. These tools don't come cheap; brand-management never does, whether it's an ad campaign for a movie or a peacock's tail.
Think about that for a second - how many Social Conservatives are so dead-set against publicly-delivered services that they'll spend thousands supporting partisan campaigns? Same holds true for left-leaning folk who spend big bucks telling government to spend more on social services - dollars that could, technically, go to front-line charities. Across the board, how many constituency groups spend big on advertising in competition with Parties or legislation they don't like? If all of this money were spent on service delivery, how many of the problems we're paying to complain about could we address, reduce, perhaps even solve?
Other side of this coin - when it becomes about picking winners and losers instead of strengthening the whole, the politicians do the same thing - they look for winning coalitions and design policy for political wins with voter blocks likey to support them. This means partisanship trumps policy, a no-no so far as proper political ethics goes. In a hyper-competitive environment, though, you have no choice - you need the points to win, but the process by which those points are gained leaves a Party vulnerable, driving bad behaviour underground. Only there is no underground anymore, as robocalls, "political truths" and Project Apple are teaching us.
Simple, repetitive, reactionary, fear-based messaging can't work for progressives because progress, by its very nature, is about adaptation, foresight and optimism. You can't out-conservative a conservative and hope for a progressive outcome - to think otherwise is Einstein's definition of insanity.
Besides, there's another consequence to the conservative approach of bread-and-circus messaging and don't-look-behind-the-curtain governance; when you tell people that their interests are under threat and they don't have faith that anyone is representing them, they take to the streets to raise their own voice under their own brand.
Ontario's teacher protests are one example of this. Idle No More is another. So is Occupy. Tightly controlled internal politics might produce greater partisan wins, but on a shrinking electoral platform. Voters are losing faith in the power of their votes and instead are relying on the power of protests. Right-wing pundits in the media can call protesters whiners, the overly-privileged or whatever they want, but the fact remains - the more governments tighten their grip, the more citizens fall through their fingers. We're also getting an increase in civic engagement groups that are attracting high-profile support. The people of influence who want a chance to be heard for who they are, not what Party they represent, are headed to venues like Why Should I Care where the people, not the pundits, are aggregating. It's a political gravity thing.
So, what's the solution to this political pickle facing progressives? It's actually not that hard - instead of using modern tools to out-Tory the Tories, use those same tools in a progressive way; to foster dialogue, to promote rational optimism and to make policy cool and fun. Instead of using political karate against your opponents, try judo instead. If you want people to believe you're about moving forward in a together-like fashion, prove it through example.
Kathleen Wynne has quickly demonstrated talent at this modern-day progressive approach. She will be under the constant temptation to hit back in the mode of her competition, but to do so is a trap. True progressives won't give in to belittling their opposition, whether it's across the aisle, in a stakeholder group or a member of their own Party. They will own leadership by demonstrating leadership, which is about inspiring everyone to follow, not throwing your weak under the bus. Doing so only makes it easier for your opponents to roll over your whole brand.
Lead by example. If you put winning ahead of accomplishing, that's the example you set. That's what you'll get from the populace; not social democracy, but individual competition and resulting civil strife. The former approach manifests itself at the ballot box; the former on the streets.
Of course, this is just my humble opinion, informed neither by decades of slugging it out in the confines of political trenches nor a mountain of data about voting trends (or protest trends). I don't learn by using the same tools that have worked for generations. I learn by using the same interactions that have worked forever - I listen, I observe, I ask and then I ponder. All the inconsequentials the really successful people are simply too busy to bother with. Unlike them, I make no headlines - however, the issues I care about do seem to be cropping up in a growing number of places.
Now it's your turn to share what you think. Does simplistic, reactionary political marketing support conservative wins and lead to popular protests, not popular votes? If not, why not?
Your ideas will always be welcome here, though respectful commentary is encouraged. After all, that's why this blog exists in the first place - to establish a commons where communication (not messaging) can happen, understanding be reached and shared solutions be developed. It's what we do, as it were.
Perhaps there's an example in this for politics, too.
UPDATE 23/11/13: Pictures are worth 1,000 words. Actions, of course, are priceless.
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