Elections on horizon - It’s time to turn on the radar

YESTERDAY presidential hopeful Senator David Norris announced that he had engaged media advisers to help him secure a nomination to contest next year’s election.

Like every other candidate in more or less every other public election of importance he realises that perception is at least as important as substance in the race for any powerful office.

History is replete with examples of people being elected to office because slick marketing campaigns had at least as much influence on the electorate as any policy issues or personal capabilities.

It may just be possible that the grocer’s daughter from Grantham would not have been a central figure in Irish, British and European history of the last quarter of the last century had it not been for a voice coach.

However, it is certain she would not have had it not been for the genius of the Saatchi brothers. Without them, and their ground-breaking advertising campaigns that made her seem so much more humane than she, her policies and her party actually were, Margaret Thatcher might have remained a strident but marginal figure. Not quite an Enoch Powell in an austere frock, but not too far off it.

Obama Barrack’s election was such a spectacular success for his communications strategy that less than three years later it is necessary to remind ourselves of the challenges he overcame to get to Pennsylvania Avenue. It is even more difficult to imagine how he might repeat, or improve on, the process when he stands for a second term. Especially as the opportunity to show that “yes we can” is much more than a marketing slogan is already passing. It is sobering to realise that his opponents have learned from his success, and who cannot be concerned by the continuing rise of Sarah Palin and her equally disturbing clones?

Closer to home, Enda Kenny has to deal with imagined or real leadership challenges because his ratings seem to reflect his clumsy public performances rather than his achievements in rebuilding Fine Gael and the electoral success that has brought.

This is hard to understand because his Dáil and public performances, no matter how uninspiring, are in no way overshadowed by the sullen, repetitive and dispiriting performances by Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

The reality is that neither are reassuring public performers on anything like a consistent basis, but does this really matter? It probably does, but that does not mean that it should. Maybe we put far too much value on the show and not enough on the script.

In the next year or so we face at least one election and probably two. One will be largely symbolic and, in the great scheme of things, of moderate importance.

The second, when it comes, will be of great significance; it may define our lives for a decade, so we should each turn on our radar and train ourselves to parse and fillet each and every statement.

The air will be thick with promises and possibility, and unless we can filter the marketing from the politics, the actor from the human, the fraud from the patriot, then we’ll more than likely end up where we started.

It’s time to start asking the hard questions and refuse to be told that we don’t understand what’s going on.

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