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Friday, February 1, 2013

Politics of "branding" or "inclusion"?

This isn’t the politics of ideas and issues anymore, though it has those. It’s the politics of inclusion. In the old days, the guys at the core articulated a vision and gathered “outsiders” — youth, women, ethnics — around it. But they stayed in effective control. Here the outsiders form a majority — it’s the point — and issues follow. (From "The globalization o flocal politics: Salutin" by Rick Salutin in Toronto Star, February 1, 2013, excerpted below)
Recently I watched a small portion of a documentary detailing the campaign of the new mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, a professor of Marketing, whose campaign strategists dubbed the campaign the "first campaign of a 'brand' as opposed to policies". They had Nenshi everywhere and always, on radio, television, print, posters and billboards, twitter, facebook, linkedin saying whatever he said, in the, obviously successful  belief that his "brand" would convince voters to vote for him. Outsiders, if Salutin is right, are more interested in "gaining power" than in the subtlety of nuanced policy positions congruently shaped into a "vision".
Seeing themselves in a "outsider" candidate, according to this theory, "outsider" voters identify with the candidate, and mark their ballots in his/her favour. As an Ismali Muslim, Nenshi would clearly be considered an outsider by pundits in a Calgary mayoralty race. The recently elected premier of Ontario, a lesbian grandmother, Kathleen Wynne, is clearly an outsider, given the slow snail-paced rate of change for which Ontario has previously been known. Obama, too, as a mixed-race, food-stamp reared, Hawaii-Indonesia-raised kid, topped off with Harvard Law (Review) credentials, is easily seen as an outsider in American political tradition, especially in his repeat electoral victory. So there is definitely something in the "inclusion" theory of Salutin. (Watch out, Justin Trudeau, hardly an outsider!)
Clearly, we are sceptical about the capacity of the "insiders" or "the establishment" to have fresh and vigorous ideas, especially when people like McGuinty and Ford, and Harper are enacting their political theatre every night on the television. In the political landscape of Toronto City Hall, Ford would also have to be seen as an outsider in his race for the Chief Magistrate's chair, as was Harper, possibly, by those who chose him over Peter McKay, the admitted 'insider' in that leadership race when Reform and PC's joined. Joe Clark, too, was an outsider when he captured the Progressive Conservative leadership in 1979, as was to some degree, Pierre Trudeau himself, when Lester Pearson brought him (as part of the three wise men! from Quebec) into his Cabinet.
Yet, the Clark, Trudeau, Harper models differ from Wynne, Nenshi, and Obama in that they were merely "not part of the current establishment" rather than incarnations of a completely new kind of political candidates. This new breed is leading an army of people who, potentially, could bring the kind of change to the demographic base of our country, just as Latinos are doing in the U.S. although the rate of growth of that group outstretches any single demographic in Canada, with the possible exception of the First Nations, whose numbers are growing faster than all others. Does this position someone like Shawn Atleo as a potential leader of a national political party, now or in the near future? Perhaps.
There is an apparent disconnect between the ascendancy of new technology (Wynne admitted she does not even know what her son does for her on the internet) and the old picture of a political vision, as once espoused by former political leaders of the old white guy version.
Caveat: Would Condoleza Rice have provided a more dangerous opponent for Obama in 2012, or is she also too much a part of the Republican establishment to be considered an outsider, as is General Colin Powell?
Richard Nixon provoked writers to compare his campaign for the White House to the marketing of CocaCola, many decades ago. Nenshi used his knowledge and experience of 'branding' to secure the Mayor's chair in Calgary. Are we now, as a voting public, so conditioned by our having absorbed decades of marketing/advertising/branding attacks, and so "sophisticated" in our literacy of the techniques of media messages, that we are interested only or primarily in the "brand" and not in the beliefs, attitudes, policies and vision s/he brings to the role of public office.
I believe the outsider Obama was re-elected also because his vision of restoring the middle class from the ravages of attack from the financial sector, and restoring America's reputation as a restrained, competent and responsible world power, and his advocacy for women's rights and health care reform all played a significant role in his re-election. And it would seem, at first glance, that insiders would be less able and willing to advocate for such positions (witness Romney's 'self-deporting' and '47%' holdover attitudes of bigotry and contempt)....so let's not throw baby out with the bathwater.
Each person is more and more considered a "consuming digit" with life patterns that define his/her consuming appetites, patterns that can be mined and manipulated with increasing penetrating and thereby enhanced power of control of the outcomes desired by those whose cash drives the relationship between the "purchaser" and the "producer/distributor" rendering practically all human public activity  transactional.
If we like the Volvo brand, we wear it, whether or not it has the same quality and value under the new owners.
If we prefer Lexus, with its pursuit of perfection, we wear it, if we can afford it.
If we prefer Blundtstone shoes, we purchase and wear them, again if we can afford them.
If we prefer BMW cars, we move in that direction...
And all of the "brands"  which the rich pursue are also the brands for which the rest languish.
We must, therefore, guard against the reduction that our perceptions of the "outsider" could at first seduce our votes only to learn that such outsiders have merely mastered the game of garnering those votes, while failing to deliver policies and programs (for whatever reasons/excuses) that would be best for the body politic.
The pursuit of power and its eventual acquisition is a highly addictive narcotic; the seduction of our loyalty is also a highly addictive narcotic for us, and both politican and voter are in some danger by their respective seductions. While, on one level, we appear to be opening the political offices to what had been "outsiders" we are, potentially and simultaneously, lowering our individual and collective guard against further manipulation, without an increase in our insistence on oversight of the "brands" we select, because of their capacity to seduce us.
Globalization, in the political campaign arena, while it appears as a new garden of inclusion still harbours different and new dangers like purple loostrife of naivete, which, once it takes hold, is extremely difficult if not impossible to control or remove.

The globalization of local politics: Salutin

By Rick Salutin, Toronto Star, February 1, 2013
Former senator Jerry Grafstein, a mainstay of the Trudeau era, was hanging around the Ontario Liberal leadership convention last Saturday. “Where’s the big ideas, where’s the issues?” he muttered. Where, in a word, was the vision? Guys like him, in the age of Keith Davey, the legendary Liberal Rainmaker of Canadian politics, were big on The Vision Thing — a bitter term used by former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, who despaired of ever having one of his own, like Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the U.S. or Pierre Trudeau’s Just Society here. They held Thinkers’ Conferences where guys (always) with Big Ideas shared them with party hacks. That’s how the Liberals recruited Trudeau and much later, Michael Ignatieff, with opposite effects.
As the first ballot results were announced, Grafstein’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “It’s in play,” he gasped, meaning the leadership. Like everyone else, he assumed Sandra Pupatello would be well ahead of Kathleen Wynne since she had less downside: with her you got a woman but not, as Wynne herself said, a lesbian from Toronto. Yet there they were, two votes apart. It was like the dawn of a new age. You could almost hear strains of Thus Spake Zarathustra, from the Trudeau-era film, 2001, as the sun rose behind the monolith.
This isn’t the politics of ideas and issues anymore, though it has those. It’s the politics of inclusion. In the old days, the guys at the core articulated a vision and gathered “outsiders” — youth, women, ethnics — around it. But they stayed in effective control. Here the outsiders form a majority — it’s the point — and issues follow. Obama’s win in the U.S. is the prototype, but only in his second election.
First time round in 2008 was the old model: appealing to “all Americans,” including old white guys on Wall St., to join him. But last year, those guys were seriously gone. A majority had to come from outsiders: youth, blacks, Hispanics, gays, women. And it worked. You can form a majority without the old majority! They were it, and they came out and voted. I think this accounts for Obama’s emboldened tone since then. (It may also account for that supremely weird first debate with Romney, when Obama went virtually silent. Perhaps when directly confronted with an embodiment of the old white majority, he couldn’t quite bring himself to speak as he and his campaign had till then. His tongue stuck.)
It seems to me this has to do with globalization, but not the economic kind that leaders like Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan preached in the 1980s. This is globalized contact in myriad forms, including online games, person-to-person, unmediated by authorities and news anchors. Guess what they find: outsiders are the global majority — by miles. Authoritative males are few — and you don’t need them to learn what’s going on, or their blessing to act. There’s also a mingling effect due to vast migrations, based on economic needs and dislocations. This all runs counter to the explicit agenda of economic globalization, which plays people off against each other, isolates them and forces them to compete.
The shifts happen at an accelerating rate. Changes in racist attitudes proceeded slowly, starting in the 1950s. Gender attitudes have altered much more quickly. The speed in acceptance of same-sex marriage, even in the U.S., has been startling. Even more so with transgender choices; those weren’t even off the radar till recently. It’s partly the globalized, unmediated media — i.e., the Internet — which helps people see how normal apparent abnormality can be.

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