Flanaganism Spin-Off Thread: When, exactly, is enough enough?

So I’ve been thinking about that Tom Flanagan op-ed off and on all day — yes, apparently, I’m far more susceptible to his eerie powers of remote journalistic thought control than I realized — and there’s something I just can’t quite figure out.

To go back to Republicans for Ignatieff for a second — and only a second, I promise; please don’t go into conniptions in the comments — and its promise to spend the next week focusing on the “timely issue” of Ignatieff’s support for “targeted assassinations and coercive interrogation”: Leaving aside, for now, the question of who created it, even if they do have more material to unleash than is contained in that one essay that Ignatieff probably regrets more each day ever having written — is the central theme — This man supports torture and assassination!  –  really going to gain more traction with voters than it would if the same quotes were distributed via  news release,  or a Youtube attack ad?

You could ask the same thing, really, about those two sentences from Blood and Belonging, which have been making the rounds in the Ukrainian-Canadian community since 2005, yet will return, like Banquo’s ghost, in an upcoming Conservative ten-percenter — or his now infamous quip comparing the Canadian flag to a beer label.  The same , of course, could be said about the Liberals once again dredging up Stephen Harper’s “firewall” speech, or his characterization of Canada as a European-style welfare state, or his suggestion that Atlantic Canadians were languishing in a “culture of defeat”.

At a certain point, doesn’t the law of diminishing political returns kick in, and the response becomes not “Great Merciful Zeus! [Insert Leader’s Name] said what?” and “Yeah, so you’ve told us already. Got anything else?”?

I think it’s fair to say that the Not A Leader campaign did its most devastating damage over time, but that was partly because the target wound up reinforcing the central message through his own actions and inaction. It’s not like Ignatieff is suddenly going to spice up his standard stump speech by giving us his current thoughts on CIA-sponsored assassination plots, or Ukrainians, or the Canadian flag —  nor, I suspect, are any of those likely to become central issues in the next campaign. In fact, it almost seems as though, through constant repetition of the same lines, you run the risk of the public becoming largely inured to the central charge, rendering it harmless, which – you’d think – would be exactly the opposite of what was intended. In fact, I’d suggest that’s exactly what eventually happened with the Liberals and the “Hidden Agenda” — even if it was effective at first, it eventually became a punchline.

Then again, I’m not a political strategist, so it’s distinctly possible that I’m missing something. If that’s the case, I’m sure someone will set me straight.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.