Thursday, November 02, 2006

Let's Not Americanize Canadian Politics, Please

I felt bad a couple of posts ago when I said "Sometimes politicians slip up and tell the truth" because I really meant "Sometimes American politicians slip up and tell the truth." (But I thought the extra word detracted from my prose's elegance... er, whatever.)

I think by and large Canadian politicians are straight shooters. Sure, they do interviews as all politicians do: ignore the questions and say what they want to say, and what they want to say is usually a lot less than we want to hear. But generally the level of fact and candor in Canadian political discourse seems a lot better these days than it is in the US.

Why is this? In recent decades the Republicans have become such masters of the sound bite and talking point that it's caught on with the Democrats too. But the Repubs in particular have perfected the use of the pithy three-word sound bite repeated over and over until it's taken on a reality of its own and everyone starts saying it as if they'd just thought of it. (Jon Stewart makes great fun of this by showing rapid-fire clips of politicians saying exactly the same three-word phrase ad nauseum.)

Now Canadian politicians are starting to dumb down their political style a la Americaine.

Today I saw a news clip of Michael Ignatieff giving a speech about the new tax on income trusts, and Ignatieff kept repeating the phrase "bait and switch." As a copy of the American sound bite it was sort of pathetic, because he didn't use it in context and because it doesn't have the immediate meaning that phrases of that type need to have. It just doesn't carry the punch of "cut and run", "weeks not months", "stay the course", and so on. (Bait and switch? How does that apply exactly?) Also, Ignatieff didn't seem to mean it: he kept his eyes down on his notes as he spoke. He really seemed to be dialling it in - maybe he was embarrassed by the speech he was delivering (he should have been).

Yesterday I endured a few minutes of the federal Minister of Indian Affairs, who has apparently been tasked with smearing Ontario's Liberal premier. This idiot federal guy, whose name I have wiped from my mind, kept using the phrase "political grandstanding" over and over to describe Premier McGuinty. I wasn't counting but I'd say at rough guess that he used the phrase 14 billion times. It got so bad that the interviewer started saying it too like some sort of hypno-zombie. You could tell that the whole thing was bullshit because the guy had nothing to say to support his claim and so filled the brief interview with constant repetition of this stupid phrase.

Then I read about the Ontario Liberal Party hiring American politico James Carville to speak at our recent AGM on the subject of effective election campaigns. Carville got $50,000 to give an 18-minute speech in which he told us that political messages must be simple, relevant, and repetitive. He said that political communication is the only endeavour that you multiply by subtracting, and that this means that politicians must "keep it simple and keep saying it".

Can you hear me howling NOOOOOOooooo!!!


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