I’ve already written a post about how the Liberals are too in love with their storied past, and not engaged enough in the nuts and bolts of the future.
But I’m having another crack at it because of two things:
– A dinner I had last night with two of my oldest friends. We go back over 50 years!
– A statement I read in the paper this morning from Bob Rae, who had just accepted the role of interim leader of the Liberal party. He was quoted as saying that Liberal “values” – by which he meant a commitment to a united, federal, diversified, socially just and sustainable country – are “deeply ingrained in the fabric of the life of this country.”
Well, it’s not as if he’s wrong. Other Liberal values – oh, I don’t know, let’s say peace and freedom and prosperity and fulfilling employment and dignity for seniors and, what the heck, two chickens in every pot – are also probably “deeply ingrained in the fabric” of our life. But whenever I hear the word “values” tossed around as if it were a point of competitive differentiation, my old ad agency self kicks in and I think to myself: “Here comes another colossal mistake in branding.”
Which brings me around to my dinner with Barry and Michael.
We went through grade school and high school together, and we’ve stayed in close touch ever since. In political terms, we’re probably very typical of Toronto Baby Boomers:
– We’re not card-carrying members of any political party
– We’ve voted, at one time or another (and taking into account both federal and provincial races) for both Liberal and Conservatives and (in my case, I don’t know about my friends) the NDP
– We grew up under Louis St. Laurent and were not terribly impressed by John Diefenbaker
– We came of age during – and were swept away by – Trudeaumania
We also love nostalgia, particularly sports and movie trivia. At the start of last night’s dinner – as always – we tossed around some sporting names of the past. Michael pointed out that he’d just come across the name of Wally Stanowski, the only surviving member of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup winning team. Which led to a discussion of Gordie Howe and my impersonation of him in a typical interview with Ward Cornell (another trivia quiz answer from the past). You get the idea. We love to indulge.
But then I asked them about the election results. They were both satisfied, though not with any heart-goes-pitter-pat feelings about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. As to the fate of the Liberals, they couldn’t have cared less. Nostalgia? Harking back to the good old days? Invoking the traditions of Laurier et al? Not a flicker of interest. Did it even matter to them if the Liberal party disappeared entirely? Nope.
But what about these “values” that are “deeply ingrained into the fabric” blah blah blah? Not a flicker of interest.
The only thing that mattered to them was what might happen going forward. Where would we get the money to support a much longer (hopefully) life-span? None of us has retired, and all of us declared we intend to keep working for as long as possible. (On the genetic front, we all have reason to be optimistic, because we all have one parent still alive well past 80). We’re worried about the health care system. We’re worried about the challenges our kids face finding good, well-paying jobs.
In other words, nuts and bolts. Bread and butter. We’re looking for ideas, for programs that can actually work. We’re approaching all political parties from a position of pragmatic skepticism. All that matters is who’s got the goods for right now – and for going forward.
One final point – about “values.” We’re not excited about being told that there is something wrong with their “values” just because we may vote for one political party instead of another. We perceive that our “values” are perfectly sound and absolutely in synch with the Canadian mainstream that we believe we grew up in. If we give our votes to a particular party and we’re wrong to do so, it’s because outcomes prove us wrong – i.e. the party doesn’t deliver as promised – and not because there’s anything wrong with our underlying values.
So – based on my admittedly unscientific sample of a few Boomers shooting the breeze over dinner – here’s some bottom line conclusions which I present, free of charge, to the Liberals:
1. Assume that all Canadians share the right “values” – including those who vote Conservative and NDP.
2. Differentiate yourself based on your superior ideas about how best to deal with Canada’s future.
3. Louis St. Laurent was Prime Minister when Duke Snider played centre-field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Just because I still love the Duke doesn’t mean I’m going to invoke Louis next time I vote.