Municipal Election 2006

Slick Marketing, Incoherent Raving, and Good Politics

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 25, 2006

I've mostly been ignoring the self-aggrandizing press releases of local candidates, but this one was just too good to resist.

Dave Shuttleworth, a candidate for Ward 7, just issued a released titled, "Muslim Support of Dave Shuttleworth". Muslims throughout the city may be surprised to hear of their support for Shuttleworth's campaign, but he explains it this way:

Former Muslim Association President Javid Mirza has expressed support for Dave Shuttleworth in Ward 7. Dave Shuttleworth is the only candidate Javid Mirza has identified in the ward. Javid has encouraged all muslims to vote in the November 13 municipal election.

Javid Mirza, an unsuccessful federal Liberal candidate for Hamilton Centre, is no more the spokesperson for Hamilton's Muslims than I am. Suggesting that we should regard his support as a proxy for all Muslims is misleading at best, and downright mendacious when you get down to it.

Shuttleworth's press release is a cross between an ad verecundiam (appeal to authority) and an ad populum (appeal to popularity) fallacy; Shuttleworth targets his ward's Muslims and appeals to the authority of Mirza, who ostensibly speaks for Muslims; then he appeals to the popularity he claims among Muslims to impress his ward's general population.

It may or may not be effective campaigning, but it's dishonest politics and sloppy policy.

There's a poorly-defined space in politics between slick, hollow marketing on one side, and incoherent raving on the other, and far too few candidates have managed to find and occupy this space.

Inside it, you find clear, specific policy ideas informed by a coherent system of defensible values and awareness of the salient facts. You find good instincts, a willingness to listen and to build relationships, and the recognition that politics should be about achieving tangible goals, not overheated dogma, tepid policy pablum, or rank opportunism.

Now, I don't mean to pick on Shuttleworth; his press release just happened to come in as I was thinking about this, and he's no worse than most of the candidates. However, his campaign is filled with such warmed-over patter as "Provide a strong voice on council" (what does that even mean?), "Work to find timely solutions to relevant issues" (as opposed to untimely solutions?), and "Move forward new initiatives that will impact ward 7" (impact in what way?).

This is not political speech; it's third-rate marketing copy - "cliche, clicher, clichest", as Trevor Shaw calls it. The closest Shuttleworth comes to an actual policy is advocating "more patrolling officers" to "deal with vandalism, break-and-enters and car theft", and even this is less a response to crime than an admission that he has no ideas on how to respond to crime.

Are vandalism, break-and-enters and car theft serious problems on the mountain? Are they getting worse or staying the same? Is any information available on who commits these crimes or why or under what circumstances? Has Shuttleworth - or Di Ianni, or Eisenberger, or [insert tough-on-crime candidate here] - given any thought to these questions at all?

We have no way of knowing from their campaign platforms, and that makes it difficult for voters to make informed choices. Judging from the responses RTH received from our candidates on five actions that will improve the city, there appears to be precious little imagination or engagement in any of the ward races.

A city council composed of people with only hazy ideas about what municipal government means and without even basic understanding of the challenges this city will face in the coming years and decades is a recipe for more of the same passive obesience to the focused efforts of interested parties that has mired this city these many years.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 25, 2006 at 11:11:40

In response to a question about this blog entry, I just looked up George Orwell's wonderful essay, "Politics and the English Language." As usual, Orwell puts it better than anyone else when he writes about what causes the badness of most political language:

"The first [problem] is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he [sic] is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse."

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orw...

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