Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Limits of the Politics of Anger

At any given time the electorate if pissed off about something. That is just the nature of politics, it is the root cause of partisanship and it is the reason why negative advertizing works.

For a politician to be successful they need to be able to tap into that anger. That is the reason why Mr. Ford won his election in Toronto. I followed that election and it was obvious that a significant number of the citizens of Toronto were very angry. At what? Take your pick. It was just a general anger but Mr. Ford did manage to tap into it very effectively.

There is, however, an inherent trap in coming to power on a wave of anger. That trap is two fold. Politicians who win by this means have great expectations placed upon them. If they are unable to meet those expectations the anger that gave them power quickly turns on them. As well, if the politician meets these expectations the anger cools somewhat and those who were angry begin to think clearly and examine what the consequences of the actions of the politicians they put into power and it is often the case that they do not like what they see.

There are many examples of the first part but I will name two.

Larry O'Brien was the Rob Ford candidate in Ottawa four years ago. He was the political outsider railing against the political establishment and tapping into the general anger of the people of Ottawa to the former administration. Although not as bombastic as Mr. Ford he made many of the same promises that Mr. Ford made this time around. Of course, Mr. O'Brien could not keep those promises and the results of the October 25 election speaks for themselves.

The Chretien Liberals came to power on a wave of anger against the GST. Although Jean Chretien never stated that he would get rid of the tax leading up to his victory he did not try to dissuade any Canadian who believed that he would, and there were alot of them. Of course, the Liberals did not repeal the GST and that was a big contributor to Mr. Chretien having his majority reduced from 20+ seats to 5 in 1997 and he would have lost alot more if it were not for the division of the political right handing him virtually every seat in Ontario.

Incidentally, that should be a story Mr. Hudak should take to heart over the next few months.

There are many examples of the second trap as well but I will name one.

Mike Harris rise to power was fueled by anger against Bob Rae. He made all sorts of promises that resonated with the voters on Ontario and they elected him. He did keep his promises and Ontarians gave him a second mandate but the original anger that put him in power faded and Ontarians became more aware of the cost of his promises, with Walkerton being the most dramatic. The result was alot of "buyers' remorse" amongst those who supported him and that resulted in Mr. Harris leaving half way through his second mandate and a massive loss for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in the subsequent elections.

Tapping into the anger of the electorate is very important requirement if politicians wants to enjoy political success. However, if that is the sole basis of their success they will find that it will be short lived. Anger will not sustain a government for the long-term.


Blogger kirbycairo said...

A couple of things - Wasn't there a promise in the so-called "Red Book" that Chretien would get rid of the GST and that is why Sheila Copps resigned her seat and ran again because she had reneged on the deal. Second, don't undervalue the degree to which homophobia won election for both O'Brian and Ford. O'Brian would have lost to Munter if he had not been smeared by unknown forces for being gay two weeks before the election, and I wouldn't be surprised that in a city of so many immigrants, Smitherman was defeated by his homosexuality. Perceived corruption and overspending no doubt helped both Ford and O'Brian but as Harper has shown there is a core of 30 percent who are ignorant and right-wing and will always vote conservative, and in today's atmosphere of disenchantment when many are not voting this core constitutes a very large minority. All the right has to do nowadays is sway a small portion of the voters and homophobia is a very good way of doing that.

October 27, 2010 8:18 PM  

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