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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday 23 July 2012

CFN - The Politics of Science

We might call it political science, but politics is really about the art of war.

Of course, politics isn’t about seeking compromise solutions that reflect the collective will of an electorate; it’s about winning majorities to implement partisan agendas. Between elections, Parties will strategically pursue issues in ways they feel enhance their support to the detriment of opponents. They will nurture allies that favour their causes, employ propaganda and wage “hearts and minds” campaigns. More like warfare then scientific debate, politics seeks to undermine confidence in adversaries through personal attacks and narrow public focus to just the issues that resonate with their themes. Understanding is entirely secondary. That’s why political operatives are so keen to define “the ballot question”; it’s less about what people care about and more about what issues give the best political traction.

The upcoming US election provides a case in point. Does it matter that Obama went to a church with a radical pastor, or is he really a Christian at all? Does Mitt Romney despise poor people and did he tie his dog to his car roof? If you undermine the character and credibility of the man, you cast doubt on anything he has to say, whether it’s factual or not. The corollary to undermining your opponent and targeting niche issues is promoting the concept that you have the definitive answers. Is the election about the economy, or income inequality? Only Obama can achieve income equality. Only Romney can fix the US economy. What about the viability of the US education system, the new Digital Government strategy, the challenges of energy security or threats from foreign countries? All are relevant to the electorate, but the Dems and GOP want you focused strictly on the issues that fit within their message frames. To issues beyond those frames, Parties will tell you “so what?” and direct you back to what they think you should know.

Canada’s current master of political positioning is Prime Minister Stephen Harper. From targeting subsidized political funding to suggesting coalitions were illegal to promoting a “tough on crime” agenda, Harper has carefully crafted every tactic to benefit his Party. Harper successfully defined his Liberal opponents as untrustworthy. The Harper Conservatives have also systematically removed information that could be detrimental to their cause from the public discourse; the media has had limited access, the Census has been gutted, government officials who challenge Conservative messaging have been silenced, Tory MPs who dare to voice independent opinions are quickly brought back in line. Opposition Members have seen their access to information significantly reduced; even Harper’s appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer is being denied the data he needs to do his job and been derided for seeking it. The Conservative government has actively lied to the public and disparaged anyone who challenged their political framing.

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