Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Inevitable Attack Begins

Ever since the Liberal party started to enjoy surging popularity after the acclamation of Michael Ignatieff as party leader, it was inevitable that the Conservative party was going to air ads against him.

Unlike the "Not a Leader" ads that Stephane Dion continues to complain about, the "Just Visiting" ads really are attack ads. While the "Not a Leader" ads were certainly negative ads, they addressed Dion's legitimate political failings -- his failure to implement his party's own climate change policy, and his petulant refusal to take responsibility for it.

Attack ads, meanwhile, in the analytical parlance, are considered to be ads that single an opponent out for attack on issues which are not politically legitimate. These ads usually attack the personality or character of their opponent, as opposed to their policies -- although the Liberal party has previously made an art form out of combining the two.

The first ad, entitled "Hypocrisy", ironically targets Ignatieff over allegedly running attack ads against the Conservatives.

As ominous music looms over the background, the ad asks "why is Canada back in Canada after 34 years?". It complains that he's offered no ideas on the economy, and complains that Ignatieff is instead running attack ads.

As the sound of a typewriter rattles in the foreground, cut-and-pasted images of Ignatieff float by the screen while a portion of these attack ads plays in the corner.

Yet as it turns out, however, the ad in question wasn't actually produced by the Liberal party in any official fashion, but rather by GritGirl, whose ads are actually of better quality than any the Liberal party has been producing on its own.

And while the ad is entirely out-of-touch with the economic realities at the heart of the current economic crisis, to attribute them to the Liberal party is actually a dishonest act.

The next ad, entitled "Economy", hits a little closer to the mark:

The ad notes that Ignatieff has mused about raising taxes. It also notes that Ignatieff has mused about hiking the GST, and reminds Canadians that the carbon tax that sunk the Liberals in the last election was actually Ignatieff's idea. The ad also notes that Ignatieff had, in 2004, described himself as a "tax and spend" Liberal.

In a particularly clever twist, an image of Ignatieff floating across the screen disappears when the ad notes that the Toronto Star had described Ignatieff as the "invisible man".

The colour scheme of these ads is typical of negative and attack ads -- the colours are dingy and dreary. Even when video of Ignatieff is used at the end of the video, it's darkened and slightly out-of-focus -- the clear intent is to suggest that Ignatieff himself is out-of-focus, with little understanding of his native country.

In the next ad, entitled "Arrogance", the Conservatives attempt to counter-brand Ignatieff as out-of-touch with ordinary Canadians:

With music that is only slightly more upbeat, this ad needles Ignatieff over his GQ cover, his admission to being "cosmopolitan" and "horribly arrogant", and notes that Ignatieff once said that the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park.

With this spot, these ads have begun to go down a more politically perilous path, as the next ad, entitled "Country" will show a little more fully:

The ad notes that Ignatieff has claimed to be British and American, and notes that Ignatieff has said he would return to Harvard if not elected.

For the Conservative party to invoke shades of anti-Americanism in this ad is more than a little hypocritical -- they've criticized their political opponents for being anti-American for decades.

More importantly than this, however, there is a severe danger when any political party begins to impugn the citizenship of its political opponents -- this is one of the reasons why the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois are so civically dangerous.

Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian citizen. There is no question about this. He isn't the only Canadian to spend significant portions of time abroad, either. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Kim Cambell spent two years at the London School of Economics -- time abroad supplemented with a tour of the Soviet Union.

Canadian citizenship is not up for debate. Having spent time outside of the country -- even an extended period of 34 years, a time in which Ignatieff completed a vast wealth of extremely valuable journalistic and academic work -- does not undermine any Canadian's qualification to seek office in, or seek to lead, Canada. For any political party to suggest that it does is, frankly, grossly and shamefully irresponsible.

This isn't to say that there aren't politically legitimate questions that could be raised about Ignatieff's time abroad. But his qualification to consider himself a Canadian is not one of them.

As with all the ads, this spot concludes with Michael Ignatieff riding an escalator off of an airplane while he blows kisses to the surrounding media. It's actually a fairly effective finish. It seems to imply that this is just as easily something Ignatieff could be doing in reverse -- blowing good-bye kisses to Canada while he boards an airplane to go abroad again, this time never to return.

These ads are, like all the Conservative ads being produced these days, well-produced. But the conceptual end of these ads is sorely lacking, and the Conservative party may not like that the inevitable "spatter effect" that accompanies such ads may actually tar themselves far more than the damage done to Ignatieff.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Quito Maggi - "Conservative Attack Ads... Why Now?"

Luca Manfreti - "Conservative Ads Review"

Unhyphenated Canadian - "They Are Labelled 'Attack Ads'"

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