/What a difference 36 years makes.
There’s New Democrat strategist Robin Sears in a National Post piece complaining about the way the Liberal are running their guy named Trudeau in lots of situations that give him good visuals.
“He isn’t running to be a boxer or a canoeist, he’s running to be Prime Minister, which is a different set of credentials,” said Robin Sears, who spent several campaigns in the war room for former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
Now jump back to 1979, courtesy of the National Film Board’s documentary about the federal election in which another guy named Trudeau figured prominently.
The NDP weren’t running a campaign any more high-minded or principled, said Richard Gwynne, than either of the others. The geared their events for the evening news and for the visuals, too. There was Ed Broadbent – Robin Sears’ guy at the time – tossing around a baseball and trying to look like an ordinary chap.
The years go by. Jim Munson is a senator now, not a hairy-assed scribbler. Peter Mansbridge had hair back then and he was so junior, he didn’t even get a mention in the documentary. Politics is exactly the same in a long election campaign in 1979 and it is in 2015, and as it has been in every year since the 1950s.
That was when someone noticed television could have as powerful or more powerful and influence than the other media. Television and politics is not a new idea, folks. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the print guys bemoaned the tendency of politicians to play to the radio audience.
Sears knows “the temptation” of putting the leader in situations with powerful images because the sanctimonious prick has done it himself countless times. In 2015 as in 1979, the Dippers are bitching about Liberal superficiality or manipulation or whatever. It’s the same old self-righteous horseshit.
The truth is the NDP picked an image for their guy: suit and tie, buttoned down, quiet voice, never ruffled. They figured that would play best. It didn’t.
It’s like the gig in St. John’s a few weeks ago, stage-managed right down to the superficial can of pineapple Crush some know-nothing had managed to persuade Mulcair was something the Newfies would swoon over. He would announce a commitment on search and rescue and shrimp licenses in the two ridings the NDP held even though most voters there knew only as much about shrimp as Mulcair knew about them. All fluff and superficial and visuals.
The visuals were exactly the same visuals the Dipper head shed had decided was the one for their guy. Not surprisingly, it looked a lot like the stuff the other parties used for their leaders. Back then, the NDP were still flying high in the polls. They could believe their image-management had worked.
A couple of weeks later, the NDP were tanking nationally. In Quebec they were falling victim to a surge toward the Liberals and Conservatives. And in the National Post, there’s Robin Sears bitching about the Liberals and their successful campaign.
The truth of politics these past 50 years, as Robin Sears well knows, is that the parties have to present their leader in many guises. They have to show the leader being energetic and youthful not just to catch the important visual for a newspaper or the television – or Twitter – but to convey the image of vitality. A healthy young man or woman is more likely to be up to the job.
The leader has to handle the tough stuff, too. The thing about Trudeau the younger is that the other parties went into the campaign dismissing him as a lightweight. Sears’ guy was the policy nerd, the brainiac. Well, in debate after debate after debate, Mulcair was flat while Trudeau was able to hold his own. Trudeau also won a few of the match-ups.
The thing about Trudeau the younger is that he actually is all the things his handlers have shown him doing. With other politicians, the set-ups look like set-ups. Stephen Harper looked as ridiculous playing street hockey as poor old Bob Stanfield did playing football or whatever it was. Stock Day Day is fit and athletic but the wetsuit and jet ski thing looked like a visual set up for the cameras.
Voters are a lot more media savvy than some people seem to think. They are lot smarter than some of the folks managing politicians. They can see through bullshit just like they can tell that political strategists quoted in a piece with the word “manipulation” in the title decrying the other guy’s successful media strategy as “manipulation” are just doing a bit of manipulation themselves.
Anyway, if you haven’t done so already, go back and watch that doc about the ‘79 campaign. You will definitely be rewarded for your time.