Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Campaign by Proxy

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday April 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm)

Attacking your opponent with unfavorable comparisons is a long-standing tradition. Why is it so popular? Simple — having to prove that what someone does is wrong takes far more time and effort than alleging that they act like others with reputations for doing things that are wrong.

The Liberals had a policy, for some time now of anti-Americanism as campaign fodder, especially concentrated on painting the Conservatives as pro-US lackeys in the 2006 campaign, as Canadians deepened their antipathy for the US government. Moderately successful as a last-minute tactic in June of 2004, it was significantly less successful in January of 2006.

But merely alleging a parallel and parallel action are two different things, as the Liberals have now realized. Taking the lead from their purported southern siblings, the Democratic Party, the Liberals will present a motion to require the government to serve NATO allies with Canadian plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The political value of which rests on two foundations:

  • The average Canadian likely has trouble distinguishing between the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and some who can would not separate the two) . As a result, outrage over the situation in Iraq bleeds effortlessly over into Canadians’ impressions of the Afghan mission, particularly considering the dominant amount of airtime the former receives. Every report of Canadian casualties is measured in the context of the conflict they’re not engaged in. Small wonder that, absent any convincing explanation of Canadians’ purpose there (humanitarianism being no less vague than security), the public is closely split on whether the sacrifices are worthwhile.

    In that context, a motion to get out of Afghanistan is pretty much like a motion to get out of Iraq, and the Liberals hope to capitalize on that sentiment. The difference between this motion and earlier efforts is simple: this isn’t about saying no to being there, it’s about ending being there. The latter doesn’t look as negative, and isn’t an instance of saying “no” to foreign allies or badmouthing the mission the Liberals previously approved. Hence, no charges of hypocrisy.

  • Just as importantly, the motion is reminiscent of the Democrats’ bill down south. Not only does that give it the anti-Bush sheen the Liberals have loved to portray, it also rides on the coattails of coverage of that bill. Free publicity is free publicity, and there’s no reason to turn it down.

Just how the government will respond to the motion isn’t quite clear as yet. There’s every chance the motion will be backed by the other parties in the House, so defeating it isn’t likely to be a real option.

But, these more obvious points aside, it’s welcome to see that the Liberals are at last finding common ground with Canada’s largest economic partner and nearest ally.

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