Vive Le Canada

Banishing attack ads: Restoring decency
Date: Monday, October 18 2010


Attack ads are not for grownups



It is only a matter of time before our inept political elites stumble into another election and Canadians will be faced with a full menu of undesirable choices. Harper and his merry band of lobotomized conservatives will open their war chest and assault the opposition with their usual rounds of vicious attack ads. The opposition will no doubt stumble through the election trying to target Harper’s tyranny but miss all the obvious bull’s eyes every time.


We are in an era of political putrefaction where decay is every where, voter anger is high, democracy is in trouble and our political discourse is the babel of nonentities and reactionary partisans. The age old question of how to solve this dilemma is daunting but a good starting point is to go back to basics. Political decency is a good starting point and banning attack ads is an essential first step in this.     


It is too often the case that actions are not weighed against consequences and the message sent. If political parties did so they would think twice about using attack ads as part of election campaigns. Voters in turn do not serve ourselves well by allowing ourselves to be swayed by such ads.


It is a brutal irony that we allow political parties to commit slander and character assassination where in other contexts it would be considered disgusting inappropriate behavior and contravene media broadcast standards. Allowing such ads takes the measure of how we have allowed our political dialogue to slip below the belt line and become an affront to our democracy.


Former prime minister Kim Campbell was some what correct when she suggested election campaigns were no time to discuss policy, but nor are they a time to resort to lowbrow juvenile attacks on the opposition that have nothing to do with policy and bring disgrace to the whole electoral process.


The attack ad has everything to do with invective and nothing to do with issues. It exploits the bad camera angle, the flubbed line, the frozen moment and personal liabilities. They are diversionary, attempt to dumb down, distort and appeal to people’s baser instincts. Of course, attack ads cost big money so for any party that has a big bank roll they are a good way to buy an election on the cheap-very cheap in every sense of the word.


In that attack ads are clearly diversionary- the good old political red herring- they imply the party sponsoring them has something to hide, really has nothing to say, has more money than morals or a combination of all of the above.   


Where we allow the game of politics to be debased, stripped of dignity, responsible discourse and respect for democratic values the collateral damage is enormous. An unfortunate trend in politics today is that potential leaders of real stature shun politics and rightly they should. Why would anybody give up a successful career for the sacrifices of a political life to see their character assassinated, be involved in a game where thuggery prevails, and political morality is becoming extinct.


In the eras of Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney both prime ministers were blessed with men and women of real stature and talent in their cabinets. Today this is no longer true. There is a critical shortage of real talent on the front benches and it shows.


In his book Ill Fares the Land the late Tony Judt, one of the most eminent historians of our era, laments the loss of a “distinctly superior class of statesmen,” that have led Western democracies. In terms of political leadership he states, “…ours is an age of pygmies.” And surely, this will continue to be the case so long as we let politics and democracy slide into a state of ill repute.


When Judt refers to “statesmen” he is referring to a class of politician who have the wisdom and determination to rise   above purely partisan motives and do what has to be done for the good of the nation and not just cater to vested interests and corrupted ideologies. Today, in both Canada and the US partisanship prevails in a raucous race to the bottom and the politics of diminishing returns.


Judt also laments the forgotten 20th century. Where there was progressivism and there is now a retreat into despotism. Where tens of millions were killed in the wars of that century we now have continuous warfare. Where the right has so effectively denounced and dismantled the social welfare state it has been replaced it with the utterly ruinous corporate welfare state. As they sing the praises of the private sector they have disparaged the essential role of government. They are the new nihilists.      


In the movie The Bonfire of the Vanities, Judge White, played by Morgan Freeman, faces a riotous out of control court room as he has just delivered an unpopular decision that did not pander to the public gallery’s prejudices. When somebody in the gallery accuses him of being a racist he leaves the bench, confronts his accuser, and delivers a withering tirade on the facts of the case and provides solid grounds for his judgment. He then proceeds to give the public gallery a lecture on decency and defines it for them: decency is what your grandmother taught you.


Judge White complements Judt’s contention very succinctly.


This generation of leaders lack both decency and character. They did not spend enough time with their grandmothers. They resist trans-generational values and issues(the essence of true conservatism)- what has come before and what will come in the future. They are all too often political bastards without regard for history, conventions, or the rule of law.    


Respectable and acceptable politics first of all requires a  return to decency and a good first step is to banish attack ads.


Where politicians refuse reform the public must insist.    




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