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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.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Political Grit: Courage Under Attack Ads

Judging by how much the political pundits prattle on about the potency of negative advertising, you'd think the commentariat all have PhDs in Industrial Psychology. 
Of course attack ads have an impact - they are designed to have the same emotional impact of a car crash, or a bombing for that matter.  The goal is to create the impression of a threat (like a contagion or incompetence) that people will reactively distance themselves from.  Our emotional hard-wiring is also essential in the memory creation process - for the same reason Alex feared the 5th, political ads can program audiences to respond negatively to desired stimuli.
For a Party that's supposed to dislike social engineering, the Conservatives seem to be overfond of brainwashing, but I digress.
By focusing on the negative, these pundits might be building the narrative that suits their needs, but they're missing the other half of the equation.  Yes, negative contexts draw public attention, but they do so because of an innate need for security and an instinct to group together in the face of threat. 
The reverse is also true - we are drawn together to address adversity and are inclined to follow those who show the strength to overcome challenges and keep moving forward.  Remember Abraham Lincoln?  He was a dismal failure at everything he did, except those things he is remembered for.  It's important for us to see our leaders fall - it's by how they learn to pick themselves back up that we judge them.  We also seek leaders who seem to know where that path forward lies, which is why fortune-telling, political prognosticating and polling are all such well-funded pursuits.
Negative attacks draw our attention, but they also mobilize us.  The response to the Boston Marathon attack was rapid, coordinated and inspiring - people touched by tragedy and strangers watching from distant corners all dove in with resources, advice and prayers.  Partially because there was this sense of community that formed out of the attack, the post-event consideration has been reflective; more people are interested in understanding and addressing the root causes behind the attack in the hopes of proactively cutting off the next one at the pass than they are looking for a lynching.
Herein lies Trudeau's opportunity.  The Conservatives have drawn all eyes to his perceived failings, laying them bear, so to speak, for the entire world to see.  They have collectively got us looking at Trudeau through a critical, emotional lens.  The unspoken question on the public's lips is "does Trudeau have true grit?
The Liberal Party should accept the gauntlet handed them and answer with an affirmative "hell yes."  Trudeau the younger has inherited some of the steel that made his father's gaze so piercing; that simmering cool should be used as much as possible.  Justin Trudeau has also demonstrated a leader's skill in saying first what everyone else will be saying next.  The wording could have been refined, but everyone - including Stephen Harper - wants to know why tragedies like the Boston Marathon, Newtown, Virgina Tech, etc.  keep happening so we can do something to prevent them.

Whack-a-mole politics simply isn't enough - it's not emotionally sustainable.  Whatever the ladder-climbers might like to tell themselves, people will take security over aggression nine times out of ten - and the tenth will only be if they're already hardwired for agitation themselves.
Harper's armour is decidedly showing some chinks - despite all his tough talk about real leaders being decisive, he himself has a habit of backing down.  His ideological policy focus of decentralize, disengage and sell oil is backfiring on all fronts; there's demand for centrally-coordinated healthcare strategies, Canada is being blasted for backing away from our human rights obligations and as a result of all this, it's getting harder to shill the Oil Sands.  Add to this a caucus rebellion and a progressively louder protest movement in Canada; you don't have to scratch the surface very far to see how fragile Harper's leadership truly is.
While Harper cloisters himself from the troubles lapping at his shores and employs his team in efforts to smack-down opponents, Trudeau is standing tall in the media storm with a twinkle in his eye.  Team Trudeau effectively used the attack ad the political experts have said is so effective as an opportunity to display what kind of leader their man would make; not a guy who hides from attacks but a man who turns an opponent's slings and arrows into gold for the people.
The model to follow here is Dalton McGuinty from 2003 - turning every hit into a demonstration of worth and simultaneously (with empathy) portraying the ruling guy as without wind in his sails.  Not going negative is not the same thing as not responding at all - instead, the best response is to use an opponent's force against them.
People will rally to keep out a threat, but when gifted with inspirational leadership, they'll also come together with aspirations of building something greater than they can achieve as individuals.
Personal grit and social inspiration; if that's not what liberalism is about, I don't know what is. 


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