Politics, Potatoes and T-Shirts

This is the month the federal Liberals will make a gut-wrenchingly difficult decision.

And no, I’m not talking about a decision related to foreign policy or to democratic reform or to the deficit; I mean the Liberals face the daunting task of choosing a new design for their official party T-shirt.

To see what I mean just visit the Liberal website which this month includes a survey asking loyal party members to help them choose among “3 amazing T-shirt designs.”

This, says the website, is “a fun and innovative” way for party members to show their support both for “real change” and “for Justin Trudeau”. (It’s also, of course, a fun and innovative way for the Liberals to get donations, since anyone who contributes $99 or more to the party gets a free T-shirt.)

Anyway, I’m bringing all this to your attention because the T-shirt designs on display actually tell us a lot about the Liberal Party’s overall communication strategy.

If you haven’t visited the site, I’ll describe the designs.

One features a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking his typically dreamy self; another design simply has two words “More Love”, while the last is basically a line drawing of a blank face topped with Trudeau’s trademark hair style, surrounded by the phrase, “Positive Politics.”

So what does this tell us about Liberal strategy?

Well, it tells us it’s a strategy that can be summed up in three words: vapid, mawkish, and schmaltzy. (For cynics, I’ll add a fourth word: nauseating. I mean, “More Love”! What are the Liberals, a political party or a hippie commune?)

Now, to be fair, cornball communications is not at all that atypical in politics.

The fact is, when conjuring up a political communication strategy, vapid and mawkish is usually the way to go; a political party wants a message that’s both emotive and concise, the fewer words the better.

And the phrases, “More Love” and “Positive Politics”, while certainly sappy, perfectly sum up the Liberal party’s optimistic brand, while their brevity ensures these slogans can easily fit not only on T-shirts, but on bumper stickers, billboards, lapel pins and they make for perfect Twitter “hashtags.”

Plus, as an added bonus “More Love” and “Positive Politics” are terms which distinguish the Liberals from their rival Conservatives, who are generally portrayed in the media as being for “More Hate” and “Negative Politics.”

Yet, what I think is unusual about the Liberal strategy is the way their platitudinous propaganda, which is fine for T-shirt slogans, is permeating all their government communications.

For instance, when our prime minister recently visited China, the Liberal International Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, declared the trip a success basically because the Chinese had bestowed upon Trudeau the nickname, “Little Potato.”

In fact, Freeland said she was “quite proud” of the moniker.

Is it just me or does anybody else find that odd?

I mean rather than emphasizing how the trip had advanced Canadian interests, Freeland chose to focus on Trudeau’s nickname, since I suppose she thought it was cute and affectionate and thus matched the Liberal Party’s schmaltzy language.

Mind you, Freeland was just assuming “Little Potato” is an affectionate nickname; for all we know, it might be Mandarin slang for “At least he has nice hair.”

Also, I can’t think of any other world leader offhand who has ever bragged about being called a vegetable.

Still, maybe this will work for the Liberals.

Maybe next year, the Liberals will have a T-shirt, emblazoned with a dreamy looking potato with Trudeau’s trademark hair style, over the words: “Our Prime Minister is Spud-tacular!”

(This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

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