“Just visiting”

The slogan of a series of rough but highly effective attack ads used by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party against Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff leading up to and during the 2011 federal election.

The “Just visiting” jibe, along with the interchangeable “He’s not in it for Canada,” exploited voter discomfort over the fact that prior to his high-profile entry into Canadian politics in 2006, Ignatieff had spent 34 years outside the country – as a journalist and academic in the UK and US.

Like all successful negative advertising, “Just Visiting” played on existing concerns and, brutal as it was, played to a larger – and generally accepted – narrative.

In his memoir detailing his brief life in politics, Fire and Ashes, Ignatieff writes of the devastating impact of the ad campaign and how it robbed him of his “standing” as a political voice. The campaign’s effect was in in a certain sense self-fulfilling; Ignatieff’s decision to return to his teaching position at Harvard after his defeat had his opponents chortling “I told you so.”

Today, references to “Just Visiting” are emblematic of the type of bare-knuckles attack ads pioneered by Harper’s Republican cousins in the US. Much as “Just Visiting” is shorthand for a type of go-for-the-jugular commercial, “Willie Horton” (1988) and “Swift Boat” (2004) do the same thing in American political circles. Indeed the phrase “Swift Boat” has become a verb in American political parlance: to “swift boat an opponent” is to utterly destroy a candidate through brutal attack ads, as conservative groups did to John Kerry in 2004.

Image Source: YouTube

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