Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paradoxes of Branding

I was going to post this as a comment on P&P's piece on the byelection, but I thought I'd post it on my own blog instead:

Here is one thing that everyone can agree on: this is no ordinary government. To Williams' supporters, he is super-excellent; to his detractors, he is super-terrible. But everyone can agree that he's super-something.

And with that comes super-expectations, which Williams himself has stoked furiously from day one. Since the day he took office, he has raised expectations and worked tirelessly to brand himself and the province as (to quote) the centre of the universe. Everything about this regime has always been super-sized, including its penchant for recklessness.

Thus the Williams brand depends on maintaining an image of invulnerability, which is why the Tories are so desperate to hold on to the seat. They know more than anyone how much their brand relies on the image of omnipotence.

Whereas a normal government could shrug off a minor loss in a byelection as part of the normal cycle of politics, the Williams government cannot afford to be mortal, because to do so would endanger the brand.

This helps to explain the strange fragility of the government, which over-reacts to any and all criticism with a disproportionate fury and panic. Even while they ride high in the polls, they act as if they are constantly under threat. They have a near-monopoly on power, yet they seem to be stressed out all the time. Why?

Well, because maintaining the brand of invulnerability takes an awful lot of time, energy, and luck. And sooner or later, lucky streaks end. If the Liberals win (which is still a big if), they may be able to start generating some momentum and perhaps get off life-support.

No one is suggesting that the Williams bubble will all of a sudden burst, even if they lose next week. But the bubble might develop a hole and start seeping support.

For a normal-government, that's the normal price to pay for governing. For a super-government, that's a looming catastrophe.

The interesting irony is that they are doing this to themselves. If there is a real story underneath all the rhetoric and posturing, it's the fact that we're witnessing how self-destructive this regime can be.

Tautology Alert Update:

Thanks to Nottawa for publicizing this fascinating little gem from the CP. It seems that MUN's political science professors have never met a tautology that they didn't like. But what's with the "key," as in "there is no key alternative"? Who said that the alternative had to be key, or does Jones need to have the key to the Chamber of Incredibly-Phenomenal Secrets before the Liberals can become an alternative? Or, since the Telegram is reporting that Williams has declared war on Hydro-Quebec, does "key" refer the suitcase with the launch codes?

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