Justin Trudeau should run a positive campaign, not run on having a positive campaign
Nov 29, 2013

Justin Trudeau should run a positive campaign, not run on having a positive campaign

Day in and day out, or so it seems, Justin Trudeau hammers away at one theme above all else: that he is, or so he claims, engaging in positive politics. It isn't the Senate Scandal that he cites most often, it isn't big issues like the economy or climate change, it isn't little but novel policy details like legalizing marijuana. His focus, the defining element that commands our attention in the time since his ascendancy, has been that he keeps telling a us how positive his leadership has been.

Politicians should run positive campaigns. But they shouldn't run on the fact that they have a positive campaign. It isn't enough, one has to really run on something concrete. One doesn't need to tell the world over and over again how wonderful it is that they are not dipping into negative politics. One should just be positive and let the platform one is actually running on shine through without the muck and distraction that a negative campaign creates.

They should run on a combination of strong values that reflect those of the electorate and policies that implement those values pragmatically. It is the strength of that platform that ultimately matters and the importance of positive politics is to allow for campaigns based on values and policies that can be endorsed by a mandate, not on blasting the personalities of one's opponents.

The emphasis on values and policy that naive optimists like myself wish politics was about gets easily displaced when campaigns become about the personalities, the gaffes, the squabbles, and the scandals of politics. However, when a politician instead focuses positively on their own personality - that they are so virtuous as to rise above and have a positive campaign, for instance - the emphasis on values and policy is lost just as assuredly, if less dramatically.

Likewise, accusing others of negativity is itself a negative attack. To accuse, for instance, the NDP of running a deeply negative campaign in recent by-elections is not focusing on values and policy. It is a negative dig at the other party, trying to cast them in a negative light; it is inherently negative. I don't mind Trudeau's eyebrow raising quoting of the ideals of Jack Layton's final letter in and of itself. Politicians should do that, they should appeal to ideals identified by past leaders. It was the way he used them to attempt to eviscerate the NDP for their negative campaigning that really angered NDP loyalists. In so doing he was being completely contradictory: engaging in precisely the negative campaigning his lofty quotes of Layton disparaged.

Perhaps worst of all, I don't think the line is ultimately effective. People generally dislike the nasty side of negative politics. It turns people off of politics, and the idea that someone is not doing this can seem appealing. It is a nice personality trait for a politician to have, and I can see people ultimately voting because of this perception that Justin Trudeau is carefully incubating. However, ultimately I think that its false veneer of substance is too thin, too easily seen through. There has to be something at the core, and not just the claim of positive claims. Some central identity, some core values, some excellent collection of policies, for people to latch onto. It is precisely this that I have previously identified as being a struggling point for the Liberals. They need to find that, for otherwise I fear the plan will backfire as people see it precisely as this post identifies. I'm reminded of ineffective NDP Leadership candidate Niki Ashton's emphasis on her "New Politics" was; Trudeau should move away form this emphasis not just because I disagree with its emptiness, but because it is ineffective.

Justin Trudeau wants to take his time building a strong platform. He wants it to be collaborative, deliberate, and ready for a strong showing in 2015. I don't oppose this decision and understand its logic, especially given Dion's disastrous decision (although brave and ultimately a policy I could support) to run on his Green Shift platform that burned the Liberals so badly. Building a strong platform with care and consultation is a good idea. However, despite being hampered by a lack of many explicit policy proposals to build on, he can still speak to the core values that he believes represent the Liberals and Canadians more broadly. To just speak of his positivity quickly becomes vacuous and vapid.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On point 1, I agree with you. That is, the Liberals saying "We are running a positive campaign, unlike the nasty negative Conservatives and the nasty negative NDP" is inherently contradictory, is itself the very definition of negative, and is the worst kind of negative because it doesn't actually point to any feature of the other parties' platforms about which to be negative, but rather just says "they are negative", presumably because "they are not Liberal, and only Liberals can be good".

On point 2, with great sadness, I disagree: That is, the idea that this will backfire for Justin Trudeau. Everyone, apart from dedicated partisans of the left or the right, loves JT. I have heard both right and left leaning people express admiration for JT, parroting what the media tell them, with no basis in policy whatsoever. JT is going to win and be our PM for at least 2 terms. If you believe in anything, you are in for a tough 10 years!

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