Monday, June 27, 2011

Jack Layton Needs to Spend the Summer Taking "Speech" Lessons

Matt Latimer, a former George Bush speechwriter, wrote a book on his experiences at the White House. Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

In it he speaks of how excited he was to be hired to write presidential speeches. Pearls of wisdom that would be passed from generation to generation.

But once he joined the 'team", he learned that he was little more than an ad man. George Bush didn't want lavish speeches, he wanted slogans. If it wouldn't fit on a bumper sticker, it had no place in his parlance.

Harper insider, David Frum, also a George Bush speech writer, carefully crafted the gem, "axis of evil". My hero.

However, the most important task for speech writers in the Bush administration was crafting messages. When they were first considering bailing out banks during the economic crisis, many conservatives said that this was tantamount to nationalizing the banks, and sounded like socialism.

Bush needed the team to write a speech that made nationalizing the banks, not sound like socialism, despite the fact that it kinda' was.

Stephen Harper has increased government advertising by 300% and has the largest communications team, of any prime minister (maybe even larger than George Bush's or God's), and yet he doesn't really communicate with us.

And that's because this over bloated office has one function and one function only. To craft messages, so that things that are clearly wrong for our country, sound like the best thing since sliced bread.

They won the standoff with the NDP over the postal strike, because they carefully crafted the message as concern for charities and small businesses. Canadians soon forgot that it was not the workers who stopped the mail, but management.

I admired Jack Layton and the NDP for their filibuster, but it was doomed to fail from the get go. And that's because of messaging.

Layton, maybe still stinging from the booing his party got for suggesting that they drop 'socialism' from their constitution, met with postal workers and referred to them as his "brothers and sisters".

I didn't know if he was going to rap or break into a rendition of the Hymn of the Bolsheviks. What was he thinking? This is just the kind of ammunition the Harperites needed. Doesn't he remember this from Fox News North?

Instead of worrying about the term 'socialist', he needs to remove the nonsense from his own speaking. "Big oil, big banks and big gas" are just annoying now. And anti-corporation rhetoric will win him few favours with anyone. Instead he needs to focus on how to work with big business, to make them more responsible.

He sounds like a crotchety old man complaining about the yunguns' playing their 8-tracks too loud.

In the age of globalization "big oil, big gas and big banks" are going to be with us for a very long time.

Layton has some clever young people in his caucus. Tap into their youthful passion, and allow them to present some catchy alternatives to the same old jargon.

Because this legislation was important for all of us. It was not just about protecting good union jobs, that benefit small business and charities, but also, setting a tone.

In Mike Harris's Ontario, there was an atmosphere of distrust, as the government encouraged people to report their neighbours and co-workers, if they were bending the rules. General Motors, picking up on the vibe, placed a suggestion type box in their factory, encouraging workers to "snitch" on their fellow workers.

It didn't last long, because the union stepped in and the box was removed.

This time, management won over workers, and the nation rejoiced. The message is clear. They are the boss and will always be the boss, and if you want to keep your job, you do as you're told. How long before we see another "snitch" box?

During the Mike Harris years in Ontario, the clashes between government and unions were legendary and riot police became as normal a view at Queen's Park as the sculptures.

We need to stop this trend before it gets started, and the only way to do that is to convince Canadians, with messaging, that unions are important. Without them income disparity will only grow, and our middle class obliterated.

That's the argument the NDP need to present to the Canadian people. Referring to union workers as "brothers and sisters" only provides fodder for the right-wing media.

One of my readers posted a link to a column written by Harper's former VP at the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nicholls. In it he discusses the fact that Harper's ultimate goal was to completely destroy the Liberal Party.
Indeed, his desire to eliminate the Liberals is something he and I discussed way back in the days when we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition. His theory, as explained to me, was that conservatism would be better served in this country if Canada had a two-party system, one that pitted right against left, free enterprise against socialism, Conservatives against New Democrats. He believed that, in such a polarized political environment, a conservative-oriented party would have a huge advantage over its left-wing rival. When given a clear choice, voters will usually pick conservatism over socialism.
Astonishingly, Harper was able to convince Jack Layton that destroying the Liberals would be good for him too, so Jack complied.

Little did he know at the time, that he was setting himself up, because Harper is right. The majority of Canadians will never choose socialism over free enterprise. Now with the PCs eliminated and the Liberals weakened, we are moving toward a one-party state.

And that "my brothers and sisters" is the simple truth.


  1. Well said. A polarized country of left versus right leaves no middle ground. The so called mushy middle by it's distacors. Yet it is the where compromise is found, problems soved and advancements are accomplished. Our country is in grave danger.

  2. NO NO NO - Jack does NOT have to start talking like a Liberal nor thinking like one and putting political opportunism above all else.

  3. The Liberals did it all to themselves. They are not progressive and if you noticed, the Liberals were no where in sight of taking part in filibuster in parliament. In fact, Bob Rae was whining at the sidelines basically saying this is a done deal so why bother.
    So to suggest on the one hand that Layton needed a better message in defending workers rights, but on the other hand, to suggest that only Liberals could save Canadians and protect unions and middle class is just laughable.

    Part of defending is showing up and Liberals just weren't up to it - sister

  4. I think what this past election showed is that the 'mushy middle' becomes less and less attractive to the dwindling middle class when they can no longer afford to pay their bills, regardless of their work status...Because when that happens, people start to realize that the system is not working for them.

    Messaging obviously has its place in the current realm of politics, and the Liberals paid for that in the federal election by having no message at all - to go along with having no real policy offerings.

    But the real tale of the tape is in the wallet region, and as long as Conservative policy continues to drain those wallets, the message becomes clear. Does the economy work for you, or do you work for the economy??

    Daniel Beals
    Kingston, ON

  5. Good post, but it was a lockout, not a strike.