Thursday, June 24, 2004
Is the 'Hidden Agenda' accusation just another left wing smear?
Although I'm trying to avoid a partisan criticism here, some of the tactics used in this federal election campaign aren't anything new coming from the left. I'm not saying the right is perfect. But perhaps I am saying they don't engage in this particular kind of tactic. I'm very open to being contradicted in this opinion of mine if anyone can provide some examples for me.
At various points in this campaign, from both within the campaigns and from third parties in general, the left (and I include Liberals in this category) has accused Harper and the Conservatives of being American, of being scary and dangerous, and of having some kind of a hidden agenda (please tell me if I'm missing any).
What is common among all attacks of this kind is that it brands an opponent in an extremely negative light, going so far as to question one's patriotism, civility, and even integrity, without any attempt at justification or even fairness (yes, I know, it's politics). In other words, it's saying whatever you want about an opponent, regardless of how vicious or outrageous, and not having to back it up with even the slightest bit of evidence or compelling argument.
One obvious counter to my complaint is that, if the charges are so outrageous, then it should be easy for someone like Harper to defend himself against them.
I have two responses to this, one for and one against.
Against, it can be difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to defend oneself against such potentially vicious charges. For one thing, you can end up placing even more focus on the accusations by repeating them yourself. Also, by entering a debate about such slurs one can get caught in a war of negative mudslinging, something a candidate like Harper wanted to avoid in the first place. Indeed, this might be why the left is using it in the first place, which only confirms my complaint that it is in fact an extremely unfair tactic to begin with.
However, if the charges are working, and having an impact on the electorate, then it perhaps is incumbent on the accused to defend themselves. Which brings me to the other point I have.
For, I believe conservatives do generally concede an advantage to their opponents by letting them get away with these sorts of tactics. Sure, one might want to avoid getting into the gutter with the other guy. But politics often involves getting in the gutter. So does life. And if you can't take the heat that comes with ambition, then maybe you ought to leave that kitchen altogether.
And, in general, I think Stephen Harper has allowed the left to define him in this election somewhat through the use of these kinds of tactics.
He left the debates in a relatively strong position. However, over a week later, the electorate is more likely to believe that he does have a hidden agenda, that he is scary, and that the kind of change he brings to Canadians perhaps comes with too much risk and not enough certainty. A few days before the election that's what the polls seem to be telling us, for what it's worth.
I believe the left is much better at playing this game of political paint-ball.
The risk for conservatives, of course, is a lowering of the political discourse. However, if the left wants to start it, I think the right should be more than capable of finishing it on the winning and just side of the battle - at least on this one issue of smear tactics. You don't have to smear the opponents in return - just expose them for what they are when they do it themselves. I think there are different ways of doing this. Perhaps I'll let you in on them as political events develop in the future.
UPDATE: These tactics also work because: a) the accused may be weak on a certain topic to begin with, or b) the accused may have allowed the accusation to linger too long without a defence.
I think b) is far more often the case which, if true, allows me to extend my recommendation to conservatives beyond election campaigns. In other words, conservatives, don't allow Lefties to get away with accusations and claims that simply aren't true. This is definitely something I want to discuss in future posts within this blog.