Where are you when you get ahead?

The slogan of the Conservative Party of Canada during the last general election was “It’s Time For You To Get Ahead.”

All throughout the election, I pondered the reasons why I hated it and did not expect it to resonate strongly with voters, including conservatives.

First, it sounds selfish. With the emphasis always put on the word “you” which, in English, could either be second person singular or plural, it strikes the listener as principally individualistic.

Canadian voters, especially citizens who immigrated to Canada, do not seem to be driven by “getting ahead” but rather by providing the best life possible for their families, including, often, extended families and family members who demand a lot of extra attention and resources. While many are making sacrifices to ensure the best quality of life possible, “getting ahead” sounds decadent rather than sacrificial and necessarily implies a surplus which can sound extravagant.

I think most Canadians would say, “I don’t want to ‘get ahead’ without my family, friends, and neighbours having what they need. Maybe conservatives and libertarians are convinced that private citizens by their own initiative will be in the best position to directly know and serve the immediate needs of others, but ‘It’s Time For You To Get Ahead’ contains nothing acknowledging or rousing this sort of civic-mindedness, charitable giving, and philanthropic culture.

“It’s Time For You To Get Ahead” is rather flat and unaspirational because it is focused on means rather than ends. There is no mention of a goal; in fact, the slogan is actually vaguely and ambiguously progressive. It is progressive with no end in sight. After all, where are you when you get ahead? Perhaps you are better off than before but by focusing the conservative message on mere means – “more money in your pockets” – rather than any sort of good or noble aim or end, the message is a vacuous exhortation to an acquisitiveness without limit for no particular reason.

Okay, suppose that ‘getting ahead’ simply meant paying lower taxes so that families can have more discretion over how to allocate their resources, as the Conservative slogan-creator may have intended. Whether intended or not, the slogan still intrinsically connotes that some people are going to be better off and others are not because, after all, the only meaningful way that anyone can be ‘ahead’ is relative to others who are ‘behind.’ I think this is another reason why the slogan sounded decadent and unattractive to many Canadians.

And now we can analyze the slogan amid the pandemic. Let’s imagine that the Conservative Party had the foresight going into the 2019 election that there would be a major global health crisis and an ensuing economic crisis less than half a year after the election. Would the Party have still chosen the slogan, “It’s Time For You To Get Ahead.” Probably not. That’s fine because no one could have predicted the future, but amid the crisis, I wonder what slogan the Conservative Party would choose today.

Unless and until conservatives begin to focus on the aspirational ends (including of economic prosperity, i.e., the actual goods for which prosperity matters) and the true depth and breadth of the human person in community, I think the economic reductionism will continue to bore and alienate people as they yearn for and seek more holistic expressions of human flourishing.

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