Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The Liberal's Harper is a "scary" social con strategy
The Liberals tried hard to paint first the Alliance Party and later the Conservatives party as being a socially conservative party. Such a strategy has met with varying degrees of success. However, with regard to the Conservatives the strategy has, outside of few ill advised comments by Randy White, had only one success and that was the Liberal’s decision to pass the SSM bill. If the Liberals want to paint again paint Harper as being a “scary” social con, they are going to have to force Harper to embrace a socially conservative issue. And there is only one way of doing that and that is promise to pass socially liberal legislation, a la SSM. To think that such a feat can be accomplished in any other way is simply wishful thinking and quite frankly a sign of incredible arrogance.
That being said, to date the Liberals have been terribly reluctant to take the fight to the Conservatives by proposing legislation that will force the Harper to publicly embrace social conservatism. For example, there has been no hint the Liberals are willing to broach the subject of euthanasia, marijuana legalization or even stem cell research even though Harper either explicitly or implicitly rejects all three. Harper has stacked the board over seeing stem research in Canada with social cons and is on record as opposing both euthanasia and marijuana legalization. Such reluctance is somewhat surprising given the libertarian bent of most of Canada’s most conservative new organizations and think tanks. The Fraser Institute, Canwest global, and Macleans, for example, all favor legalization of marijuana.
Now this may be a sign that the Liberals have chosen to abandon such a strategy. However, given Dion’s short time as leader and the prospect of election on the horizon, I consider this unlikely. This is one of the Liberals most developed lines of attack and in terms of the amount of publicity such a strategy generates one of the most successful ways of controlling media coverage.
Whatever the case, I think it unwise to abandon such a strategy if properly implemented (i.e., if the requisite policies are adopted). Outside of war and recently the environment, cultural issues tend to galvanize people in ways other issues do not and the Liberals desperately need to generate some excitement advant guard cache before going into the next election. Furthermore, although the Liberals seem not always to recognize it, what makes a issue a winning is not necessarily how popular an issue is with the public put what effect coverage of a particular issue will have on people’s perception of the major parties. SSM was great example. At the polls it was looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. What made it a winning issue is that it left the Conservatives defending a morally, legally, and intellectually untenable position and media and academics hampered them every step of the way. Where this relates back to the matter at hand is that should the Conservatives again champion the social conservative position on the aforementioned issues they will again be pillared by the media and academia.
There seems to be some confusion as to what I am proposing. I am not suggesting for a second that should these policies be adopted that the become focal points of any campaign. The Liberals should stick to talking about core issues such as the economy, health care and the environment. What I am saying is that simply by introducing these policies the Liberals will generate plenty of discussion, a la SSM, and discussion of these policies in the media and elsewhere will hurt the Conservatives and help the Liberals. Far from urging the Liberals to be immersed in any debate, I prefer that they lay back. Pundits, academics and indeed bloggers are far better positioned to champion a particular policy than a political party. Like any good therapist, the Liberals should direct the discussion and do not become part of it.