WHILE THERE ARE those people who contend politics should, and more importantly can, be conducted in a civil manner (hello, poli-sci undergrads!), the fact is that the average person is completely uninterested in civility.
Negative politics and attacks are the life blood of the political world. They are what keep people interested in the process. When Justin Trudeau refers to Peter Kent as a portion of excrement, voters become interested. Not just in what was said, but what the context was and the issue that brought on the comment. Negativity draws attention.
The reason the New Democratic Party (NDP) is not getting nearly as much coverage lately as it should be is there is no conflict between the candidates, because party leaders all appear to get along amicably and have common goals.
One can appreciate the party trying to take the high road, but what good is a new leader if no one notices he or she is being elected? It is noble to run on the issues, but the Liberals should note their rivals, the Conservative government, does not run on its record—it ploughs through the opposition’s.
The NDP is concerned with its interior differences providing fodder for the Conservative campaign machine. Indeed, the often quoted, “Do you think it is easy making priorities?” from 2008 Liberal leadership race winner Stephan Dion was spoken during a widely publicized and televised Liberal Party of Canada leadership debate.
While the NDP’s civil manner will likely help it to avoid the same fate that befell the Liberals in 2008, they are failing to determine one of the most essential traits of a leader—particularly the leader of a party that has never been the Official Opposition before, let alone the government: The ability to withstand attack.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Republican Party presidential candidates have all but declared war on one another in their presidential bids, calling into question everything from one another’s commitment to conservatism to their religious and moral beliefs. It’s been crude, shocking, and at times downright ugly.
It has also been highly compelling.
The American-style of mudslinging, which has become so ferocious that even Sarah Palin has accused the candidates of “cannibalism,” is good for the party, and even better for the winning candidate. Tight races and personal accusations keep media at attention.
By the time the Republicans finally elect their candidate, they will have covered almost every conceivable angle of attack. Yes, Democratic strategists have been making note of every mentioned fault, but even they know that by the time the presidential election comes, everyone will have heard the attacks.
They will be old news. The candidate will have learned how to defend himself, and the electorate will focus on what’s new—the onslaught of attack ads against the president.
When the campaign for presidential candidacy starts, the Republicans will have left the Democrats no real offence to play, forcing them to focus on defending their own record. If the Republican race is any indication, playing defence looks like weakness, and weakness loses elections.
At the end of the day, the Republican candidates do not have to go back to working with each other like the NDP candidates do. Canadian politics runs with a smaller audience and don’t allow political action committees to blast around-the-clock commercials, but the aesthetics of a leadership race remain the same: A leader must be able to fend off attacks.
Every attack on the NDP—and history shows that from these Conservatives there will be many—will be completely fresh to the voting public. The NDP are only hurting themselves by not showing more division of opinions in their leadership race. Airing dirty laundry may be unseemly, but it gets the stories out there, and it’s not like they aren’t going to come out anyway.
Going negative works. In today’s politics, a leader’s morality and personal views are of high importance to the electorate, and voters respond to moral and personal attacks. The best way a party can prepare is to attack with everything they have during the leadership race.
Don’t like it? Here’s mud in your eye.