Friday, October 24, 2008

Stephane Dion: Victim of Machiavellian Karma?

"Stephane Dion, patron saint of political victimhood" ill-fitting label

When Stephane Dion announced he would resign as Liberal leader, he wasn't nearly as much at odds to explain his electoral defeat as some people would have expected.

At least in part, Dion blamed his defeat on Conservative attack ads.

The Conservatives had released numerous negative-themed ads -- but no outright attack ads -- during the campaign. Shortly after Dion's election as the leader of the Liberal party, the Tories had fielded the now-infamous "Not a Leader" attack ads against Dion.

The Liberals eventually did try to counter the image of Dion portrayed by the Conservatives.

"Canadians did not know this Stephane Dion. They knew another one ...they believed that (the other) character was real," Dion complained. "I want to see that the next leader is not as vulnerable to the low propaganda that was directed against me."

In terms of branding and counter-branding, Dion clearly knew what brand he wanted to build for himself -- that of a forward-thinking world leader. He clearly wanted his brand centred around optimism and enthusiasm; he evidently wanted his counter brand of Stephen Harper to be one of dishonesty and cynicism. His parting shot at his victorious (if not quite triumphant) rival bear this out.

They also fit neatly into the brand Bob Rae and Elizabeth May wanted to affix to Harper -- which National Post columnist Kelly McParkland described as "immoral, unethical, duplicitous, dishonest, cold-hearted, manipulative, disrespectful, incompetent, congenitally secretive, undemocratic, partisan, a cheap-shot artist who regularly resorts to low blows, insensitive, out of touch and unCanadian.
Oh, and a disgrace."

Yet the collaborative Liberal/Green outrage over the Conservatives' advertising antics may be a little more hypocritical than they would like Canadians to realize. As Ottawa's Ron Gaudet notes, the Liberal party has proven themselves in the past to be quite adept at the art of character assassination.

The label with which they branded Preston Manning was overwhelmingly that of a racist. Largely benign immigration policies were distorted into something sinister, and any evidence of a racist wing of the party -- such as the presence of Heritage Front members at Reform party rallies -- were seized upon to create this image.

Even when racists were expunged from the party, Liberal party activists such as Warren Kinsella sought to minimize the credit due to Manning for his efforts.

In Gaudet's analysis, the anomaly is Stockwell Day. Day created the image of a religious fundamentalist yahoo for himself by giving ill-advised comments regarding creationism to a Red Deer College seminar. He also staged an ill-advised press conference featuring a jet ski and refused to admit numerous mistakes throughout his tenure as leader of the Canadian Alliance party.

For Stephen Harper, who eventually emerged as the leader of a unified Conservative party of Canada, the Liberal party gave no quarter. They released the most vicious attack ads in Canadian history against Harper, in the 2004 election:

And the 2006 election:

In fact, for a 13-year span of its recent history, the Liberal party's very bread and butter was the art of political character assassination. And they were so very, very good at it.

Only in the waning days of the 2008 election, with Dion's best (but meager) attempt at an upbeat, optimistic election campaign falling into utter ruin did the Liberals attempt a last-minute Hail Mary attack ploy. And it nearly worked. Some may be eager to attest the Conservative party's tumble back from the brink of a majority government with protest over the cuts to art and culture funding, but the correlation with the Liberals' "Harper on the war in Iraq", "Harper, Howard and Bush" and Harpernomics and Bush ads should not be overlooked.

The Liberal party played hard, fast and Machiavellian with Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper. And it's interesting to note that the "low propaganda" Dion accuses the Conservatives of airing against him came no where near the depths of the propaganda deployed against Harper in particular.

At the end of the day, it's hard to feel sorry for Stephane Dion. He had to run the Liberal campaign his way, and it failed. Now that he wants to complain about the injustice of the Conservative campaign against him, it's hard for many Canadians to take him seriously.


  1. I, sir, feel none of poor St├ęphane's pain, as I wrote this morning (but ever so politely).

    As for the trashing done by the Liberals that you point out, I see the master trasher wants back into the game.

    It is to laugh.

  2. Make no mistake about it: Warren Kinsella is a very dangerous individual in the political world.

    It is, however, still fairly sad that he can't admit Jean Chretien's responsibility for the sponsorship scandal. It was run out of the Prime Minister's Office.


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