Being lippy to score political points

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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With all the hand wringing and tut-tut-tutting aimed at the "inflammatory" language used by Danny Williams and his chief honcho and potential successor, Jerome Kennedy, in their skirmishes with the health profession, it's wise to remember that these sort of verbal antics - ranting and roaring and practically spitting at the microphones - often work to great advantage for politicians.
Commentators, the opposition, political science types, editorial writers, and, of course, the ever-present "politically correct" word police, all jump on the bandwagon (I certainly have on occasion) when shoot-from-the-hip politicos like Sheriff Dan Williams and Deputy Dog Kennedy let loose with impolite, outrageous verbiage.
And sometimes, the choice of words deserves the booing it generates.
Last year, for instance, Williams and Kennedy were justifiably tarred and feathered when their tongues got lightyears ahead of their brains as they questioned the money the Cameron Inquiry was costing. Just about every normal-thinking soul in the province was outraged at the cruelty inherent in those self-serving remarks (self-serving in the sense that ministerial advisor/communicator types were the subject of critical scrutiny at around that time).

Value-added vitriol

But, on more occasions than not, if politicians exploit a degree of smarts, and pick and choose their spots for a dose of vitriol, the locker room language and/or provocative words, accompanied by body language designed to accentuate the anger (real or feigned), can work wonders in the living rooms of the great unwashed.
In this most recent example, where Williams and Kennedy were being chastised in some circles for calling pathology doctors "childish" and other uncharitable terms, I'd be willing to bet the majority of voters - Tories, Liberals and NDPers alike - were not all that concerned that the "temperature be lowered," that the rhetoric be tamed down, in order that doctors making hundreds of thousands of dollars not take umbrage.
The cheers from the cheap seats were probably, largely supportive: along the lines of "Give it to 'em, Danny, b'y!" "Nail 'em, Jerome!"
Highly paid doctors, especially those guilty, as a consulting company had concluded, of creating a "toxic" work environment, are not going to have many hankies thrust in their direction to wipe up those crocodile tears.
Aside from generating brownie points with the ballot-casters, such saucy, headline-grabbing language can also work as a effective strategy to divert attention from the accountability of the politicians themselves (after all, in this parliamentary system in which we live and breathe, continued incompetence eventually has to be answered with a minister's head on a platter or even that of the leader).
In the meantime, though, as I've suggested, some nasty fightin' words are not necessarily a bad thing for politicians.
Just a few examples off the top of my head (and there are many more): Brian Peckford's ballsy declaration to the powerful Pierre Trudeau to "not put words in my mouth … I'm quite capable of speaking for myself" brought the temperature gage up more than just a few notches in Canada, but in Newfoundland we applauded.
John Crosbie's angry response to a group of fishermen anxious to have him tarred and feathered on a Southern Shore wharf that he "didn't take the Goddamn fish out of the ocean" is part of his popular legacy.
Williams' regular assaults on "Steve" Harper, big oil and Quebec certainly haven't hurt his reputation.
Jean Chretien's Dirty Harry impression when he grabbed a protester by the throat did wonders for his popularity.

Picking victims
The politicians have to be careful, though, in figuring out just which organizations and individuals they can tear to shreds and those they can't touch with a 10-foot pole.
Here's a starting list:
Those you can attack? Journalists, lawyers (a bit of a conflict here, though, for the premier and his health minister), other politicians (see previous category), any prime minister, oil companies, the rich and famous, senators, open line show hosts, banks, big business, the CBC, seal hunt protesters, and so forth (add your own if you so wish).
Those you can't? Aboriginal people, the physically and mentally challenged, health-care consumers, nurses, women's groups generally, the SPCA, any charitable organization, firefighters, NTV, etcetera, etcetera.
The advice, of course, is free, just part of my feel-good Rodney King campaign: "Can't we just all learn to get along?"
Yeah, right.


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Through your words you express your creative power ------- apparently something Williams nor Kennedy is aware of .

  • Purple
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I'd have to agree Bob, for once. It sickens me to see Fred Hutton baby the premier on every interview, I want tough questions asked. But it probably isn't Fred's fault, Stirling would have him relegated to covering all late nights if he dare ask the Premier a tough question.

    .......and I thought Stirling was a Liberal but he must just be an opportunist.

    Just watch the NTV news, it's a joke, I mean they did several pieces on Danny's hair. If that makes't teh 6 o'clock news, it's no wonder he has a 90% + rating.

    It just struck me, Stirling might be a communist, he befriended Castro & he obviously likes are leader who has some similar qualities to Castro...........starting to make sense now :)

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Through your words you express your creative power ------- apparently something Williams nor Kennedy is aware of .

  • Purple
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    I'd have to agree Bob, for once. It sickens me to see Fred Hutton baby the premier on every interview, I want tough questions asked. But it probably isn't Fred's fault, Stirling would have him relegated to covering all late nights if he dare ask the Premier a tough question.

    .......and I thought Stirling was a Liberal but he must just be an opportunist.

    Just watch the NTV news, it's a joke, I mean they did several pieces on Danny's hair. If that makes't teh 6 o'clock news, it's no wonder he has a 90% + rating.

    It just struck me, Stirling might be a communist, he befriended Castro & he obviously likes are leader who has some similar qualities to Castro...........starting to make sense now :)