03 January 2006

Campaign Scripts as Medium

Now that we're past the holiday season, the so-called second phase of the election campaign begins. Or, since this is shaping up to be yet another television campaign (all three major parties being totally clueless when it comes to the effects of the 'net), let me do it this way:
Previously, on The Race for Sussex
While Stephen keeps his policy-a-day pace, Paul wears his flag, and his heart, on his sleeve. Meanwhile, Jack, "of all trades," takes to factory floors even though his traditional heartthrob, Buzz, seems to have abandoned him for another. What lies ahead? Tune in for the next episode of... The Race for Sussex!
The whole thing so far has run, more or less, to script. The latest distraction of the income trust scandal is just that - a distraction that is being too overplayed to sustain Canadian's attention over the next three weeks.

Far more interesting is to consider how the major parties are handling their respective scripts, and how adaptable they are to events as they unfold. Not only is deviating from script a good offensive move against an inflexible opponent (the old martial arts technique of using your opponent's momentum against him), it is also an indicator of how responsive that party might be once in power.

From the first televised four-way speech-making session, a.k.a. leaders' debate, it is clear that Harper and Layton are both stay-on-message types. Layton is perhaps a bit cuter and more direct about it ("The answer to any issue? Send more NDPers to Ottawa!") Harper, however, seems to have a pre-programmed nominal policy response to the various issues that often rings somewhat simplistically. It's as if he dares not deviate from the planned script. And that strikes me as dangerously inflexible and unresponsive.

What brought this effect (as in message of the campaign script medium) from ground to perceptible figure was the issue of attack ads. Just before the holiday break, the Conservative campaign warned that the Liberals were about to launch attack ads, preconditioning Canadians to expect the "arrogant" Liberals to continue their "evil" ways. The Conservative script called for preconditioning, and then a quick response to the expected Liberal attack ads. Except, said negative Liberal ads have not (yet) materialized - a smart, responsive move on the part of the Liberal campaign to counter the Conservative preconditioning. However, the Conservative script called for a quick response, and thus, the first negative ad of the campaign - the one showing a scowling Paul Martin in evil colours - appeared this week.

At one time, one could reasonably choose among the parties and candidates based on what they explicitly said - the figure, what is obviously noticed. Today, the mechanics of politics is far more sophisticated, and that necessitates a greater sophistication on the part of the electorate. The more a politician (and a political organization) directs voters to look at figure, the more voters must search carefully for the contextual ground, and what is revealed by what is not obviously shown.
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