May 25, 2008

On Underestimating Stephane Dion

Dion hasn't had it easy since taking the reigns of the Liberal Party. He's been portrayed as weak, indecisive, lacking personality, not truly having the support of the party and more. Even I have written criticisms of Dion. Some of these characterizations are not without merit and his personal polling numbers bare these perceptions. However, I don't think Dion has yet been completely written off and can - will - make a huge turnaround.

I think Dion's biggest obstacle is his public perception. As his public perception has soured, so have Liberals' since we were essentially looking for a saviour, of sorts, during the leadership campaign. Dion didn't provide us that instant boost and things have been rocky for quite some time and the hopes of an instant change of government dissipated. If public perception were to change, I have no doubts so would the Liberal naysayers'.

The problem with Dion isn't so much that he isn't without vision, leadership, strength or the like. He crafted the Clarity Act. At the time it was risky and bold, and yet time has shown that move to be both the right one and highly significant as separatism has been dying a slow death ever since. His campaign to be leader was plagued by similar sentiments that he faces now yet he's the leader of the party because he was willing to be himself and take chances on ideas and issues he believes in. Once again he's proposing a bold yet risky plan in the carbon tax and with it he's willing to lay everything on the line. He's once again being himself.

Dion relying on what has been successful for him the past will is a gamble because public perception isn't favourable. This is based on the dual problem of him being both a Francophone and an academic. Neither of these are necessarily liabilities. However, as a Francophone, Dion hasn't shown he 's fully mastered his English-speaking skills. As an academic, he doesn't provide a series of nicely-packaged one-liners. These combined compound the issue how the media and opposition like to toy with quotes as was seen in the attack ads the Conservatives used to air. They take advantage of the fact that Dion isn't a walking sound bite. In turn, the public became acutely aware of this struggle and with it weariness and skepticism grew. Yet, this is understandable. As John Ralston Saul states in The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense,

A leader who read and thought and spoke in more than sound bites would disturb us because he would sound undecided. He would be forcing us to listen and respond to the authentic noises of a human brain functioning in a position of responsibility. (pg.271)
The public has become so accustomed to the concept of urgency and unnatural, context-less clarity through the media and elitist politicians (i.e. Stephen Harper) via sound bites, it's hard to understand the person who has a vision or idea and wants to share it. That is why selling the carbon tax plan won't be easy. It's complex and it's a tax system. It can't be explained in neatly packaged sentences and it will be easily manipulated by the opposition. Yet, it will naturally force people to begin paying attention.

This is something that Dion has been successful with in the past - getting people to listen. The opposition will aid him because while they're running campaigns of manipulation and division - something that is quickly losing public favour - people will slow down and begin thinking for themselves and will give time to this bold plan and other aspects of Dion's (and the Liberals') campaign. Underestimating Dion and attacking him while not presenting anything of substance - which is what the Conservatives and the NDP are facing - will be to their own detriment. Dion has shown to be a survivor and a fighter in the past and we'll see that once again.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)